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Basic definitions in English language teaching

These are the most common acronyms currently used to describe English language teaching.

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
English taught to learners, both overseas and in the UK, who do not normally live or work in an English-speaking country. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) refers to teaching people     whose first language is not English, but who need to learn it for work or leisure. These students are usually adults who are paying for the courses themselves, or their company is. They are often highly     motivated and literate, and already have an aptitude for languages. The most dynamic area of TEFL is working with young learners. Find out about using a PGCE and specialist qualifications to teach EFL to children and teenagers.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is different again. English is spoken as a common second language in the context of official communication and administration in many countries where several other language groups co-exist – such as Nigeria, Kenya, India and Singapore. Another term that may be used in this context is TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Language). English taught to non-English speakers who live in the UK and who need English for study or other purposes, in primary, secondary and tertiary education. EAL was formerly referred to as ESL (English as a Second Language) or E2L.

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is often used to mean the same thing as TEFL, but it is also used to describe English language teaching to people living in an English speaking country who are not native English speakers – such as refugees and first generation immigrants. This teaching is provided by the state, and supported in the UK by the Learning and Skills Council. Students do not pay for their own lessons. In the UK, TESOL courses provide students with a level of English that will allow them to integrate into the country’s educational, work and cultural environment. There may be a need to teach basic literacy and other life skills as well. TESOL is the expression which is used to cover all forms of English teaching to non- English speakers; sometimes also used instead of EAL or ESL - see below.

  • TESP (Teaching English for Specific Purposes)
  • ELT (English Language Teaching - a general, inclusive term used in the profession. Especially British English),
  • EAL (English as an Additional Language)
  • EIL (English as an International Language),
  • ELF (English as a Lingua Franca),
  • LFE (Lingua Franca English),
  • ESP (English for Specific Purposes),
  • EAP (English for Academic Purposes),
  • EYL (English for Young Learners),
  • ESL Education (English as a Second Language Education),
  • ESL Endorsement (US State Certification in TESL),
  • AppLing/ESL (Applied Linguistics/ESL Emphasis),
  • LA (Language Arts).

Academic courses such as Master of Arts and further professional qualifications in TEFL/TESOL allow teachers to specialise in a particular area of expertise.

  • MA (Master of Arts),
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • MSc/MS (Master of Science),
  • MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching),
  • MPS (Master of Professional Studies),
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy).

The MA/MTeach TESOL is a postgraduate programme in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages offered by some Universities.  

It is one of the few Master's in TESOL programmes in the UK which incorporates a teaching practice component and is designed for both experienced teachers and those with little or no previous teaching experience.

The MA/MTeach TESOL runs over three semesters.
Students who complete the first semester only can gain a Postgraduate Certificate in TESOL (60 credits exit).
Students who complete the programme after the second semester can gain a Postgraduate Diploma in TESOL (120 credits exit).

Students who complete their dissertation in the third semester can gain an MA/MTeach TESOL (180 credits).

The following links will help you navigate your way through to finding a course that is suitable for you.

  1. How to choose a TESOL/TEFL course suitable for you.
  2. Basic definitions in English language teaching.
  3. What should I know about course providers?
  4. Centres with courses accredited by The College of Teachers.

For further information on TESOL and TEFL qualifications offered by The College see TESOL Qualifications.

If you are an institution interested in course accreditation please see the steps to course accreditation.

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