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The Difference Between ESL and EFL, or TESOL

By: Amy Nutt

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English as a Second Language, or ESL, has many similarities to English as a Foreign Language, or EFL. In fact, the two types of learning may seem the same to some observers. However, there are some notable differences between these two approaches to learning English. The terms are often used interchangeably, but understanding the differences can help you to be clear when you speak of them. Also, the term Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is sometimes used in place of ESL or EFL, depending on the situation.

What Is ESL?

English as a Second Language, or ESL, is a term typically used in Canada, Australia, and the United States to refer to people who come to the country with another primary language and learn to speak English secondarily. It is also sometimes used to speak of people who live in a country where English is the official language, but the vast majority of the population speak another native tongue. Thus, English is the second (or third or fourth in many cases) language learned by the individual.

English as a Foreign Language, or EFL, refers to learning English in a country where English is not the spoken language. This is in contrast to ESL, where the individual is learning the language in a country that has English as its primary language. In many countries, EFL is taught in the public school system, as English is quickly becoming an internationally important language. Sometimes the term EFL can be used to describe the learning of English in an English speaking country when just visiting for a short period of time with the intention of learning the language.

The goal of teaching ESL is to teach the individual to speak enough of the language to function within society. In other words, the goal is to help the individual function in their new country, attend school if applicable, and get a job. The goal is not to make the individual as fluent in English as he or she is in the native tongue.

Most people who learn EFL do so in order to graduate from their school program. Some will learn the language in their home country in order to help them succeed in their line of work if they are working for a company that has an international scope. For instance, someone living in India who learns English in order to work at a call center could be described as learning EFL.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Sometimes the term Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is used to describe both ESL and EFL. It is used in England, for instance, to replace the term ESL, as this term assumes English is the second, not third or fourth, language of the student. It is typically used when teaching immigrants, usually adults, as other terms are used within the school system when teaching non native English speaking students. In the United States, however, the term TESOL has become an umbrella term used by people who teach non native English speakers, regardless of whether they are teaching ESL or EFL.

As more and more people are immigrating to English speaking countries and English continues to become the language of international commerce and trade, the need for both ESL and EFL programs that do a good job of teaching English to non native speakers will continue to increase. The Internet is making it even easier for people to learn English as an additional language. The demand for these programs is not likely to decrease any time in the near future, so teachers who can teach English to speakers of other languages are going to have job security for many years.

Author's Resource

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Author of the original work: Наталия Когут.
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