ESL Acronyms Defined

The field of English as a second language is rife with confusing acronyms, and teachers themselves are often confused about what to call their profession.

TEFL, TESL, CTEFLA, and TESOL are the most common designations and are often used by teachers interchangeably, even though they do have slightly different meanings depending on who’s being taught. ESL schools usually distinguish between the terms, though, so it’s good to know the difference.

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and correctly refers only to teaching English to pupils who are in a non-English-speaking area, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, and most Eastern European countries. When checking out ESL schools, make sure that they teach TEFL instruction if you want to teach overseas.

TESL means Teaching English as a Second Language, and describes the teaching of English to non-native students in countries like America, where the students need to learn English to function in everyday society. TESL can also refer to teaching English in a country like Singapore or Hong Kong, where English is an official language but most residents have a different first or “home” language such as Mandarin Chinese that they use in the home or most social situations.

TESOL, meaning Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, is a good catch-all term, since it refers to pretty much any kind of English teaching as long as it’s to non-native English speakers.

This term can be confusing though, since it also refers to TESOL, Inc., which is the world’s largest organization of ESL instructors.

CTEFLA stands for Certificate for Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults and is generally used in reference to the certificate given to successful participants in the Cambridge certificate program. This certification is also known as RSA (Royal Society of Arts) certification, RSA Cert, RSA Cambridge CTEFLA, or RSA/CTEFLA. This program is the most widely recognized EFL program in the world, and courses are offered at universities and training centers all over the world. Courses last either one month (full-time) or two months (part-time), and instruction is aimed particularly at English teaching in foreign countries (EFL). We’ve noted schools below that offer the Cambridge program.

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