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- The field of language education has many acronyms and abbreviations.
- The acronyms all have specific purposes.
- Teachers should pay attention to using accurate language to describe their students.
- Language proficiency measures a student’s ability to speak, listen, read, and write.
Educators love abbreviations and acronyms. The field is full of them which makes it confusing even for teachers who work in the field. English language learners (ELLs) or English learners (ELs) describes anyone who is learning the language of English. It does not describe people who were born in English-speaking homes. Schools and language programs help English learners become proficient users of English.
This glossary of acronyms and abbreviations will help you differentiate between types of language learners and types of language programs.
ESL – English as a Second Language
ESL is a term that describes students whose native language is not English and whose second language is English. This term is often misused to describe all students learning English. This term becomes inaccurate when your students speak more than one language prior to their study of English. For example, many West African students already speak several languages including their native language, French, and Arabic. Describing them as an ESL student is inaccurate because English would be their third language, rather than their second.
ELL – English Language Learner
As I mentioned above, ELL or English Language Learner describes students who are learning English. This term is broadly used because it does not delineate how many languages a student speaks. This is a great umbrella term to describe any students who are learning English. The term EL or English learner is also an accepted term.
ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages
ESOL or English for Speakers of Other Languages describes students who are learning English and may also speak additional languages. This term is more likely to be accurate than ESL, however it is not concise. The phrasing can be confusing to people who work outside of the field.
EFL – English as a Foreign Language
EFL or English as a Foreign Language describes students who are in their home country and are learning English most likely in school. Students who are in the United States studying Spanish are studying SFL or Spanish as a Foreign Language because they are studying another language in their home country.
EAL – English as an Additional Language
EAL or English as an Additional Language describes students who likely speak multiple languages and are learning English. It is a broad term, but is not widely used.
TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TEFL or teaching English as a foreign language is a sub-field of English language teaching. TEFL instructors teach English internationally in the home country of their students. They typically receive a TEFL certification offered through private programs around the world. The certification is equivalent to 20-120 hours and does not equate to an official state teaching certification.
TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
TESOL or teaching English to speaker of other languages refers more broadly to teaching English students whose first language is not English. While TEFL refers only to English programs outside of English-speaking countries, TESOL can refer to all English learning programs. Educators certifications that qualify a person to teach in the U.S. public school systems are in TESOL or ESOL.
TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
TESL or teaching English as a second language refers to language programs in English-speaking countries for students whose first language is not English. Similarly to ESL, the term has been phased out because it does not accurately describe English learners who have learned more than two languages.
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- Reserved for locations where English is not the primary language and is therefore a foreign language
- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
- Describes English language programs regardless of the local language and can be used as a general term
Becoming an English Language Teacher
- Teaching in the United States: If you want to teach English learners in the United States, the minimum qualifications are a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certification. Teaching in the public school system will require a state licensure in TESOL which can be attained through an accredited university. The qualifications for teaching adults will vary, but a college degree is the minimum expectation. There are education programs that focus specifically on teaching adults.
- Teaching abroad: If you want to teach English abroad, you should learn more about the qualifications that individual countries accept from teachers. The Ministry of Education will be able to offer information. Most employers will require a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL or TESOL certification. TEFL certification programs are shorter and more cost effective, however it is important to choose one that is accredited. Most employers will care about the quality of the training you received, its reputation, and number of certification hours.
If you still have questions, comment below.