THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EFL AND ESL?

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In the TEFL world there are loads of different acronyms relating to different aspects of the field. In fact, the TEFL world can be a downright confusing place to be. Even if you are familiar with the meanings of the acronyms, you may not be totally aware of their meanings or their applications in the real world.  This is often the case with EFL and ESL. This blog explains the difference between EFL and ESL.

What do EFL and ESL stand for?

EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. ESL stands for English as a Second Language.

What do EFL and ESL mean?

English as a Foreign Language and English as a Second Language refers to the situation in which your students are learning English. For English learners, there are two different scenarios they may find themselves in: a) living in a country where English is the first language of the population or is widely spoken, widely used and is often the language of education, government and business – for example, a Chinese learner living in the UK or a Hindi-speaker living in India; or b) living in a country where English is not widely used or spoken and the majority of the population don’t speak English or at least not to a high level – for example, a Spanish speaker living in Spain.

What is the difference between EFL and ESL?

Besides the above, not much. Effectively the same language is being taught. The differences come in in terms of syllabus and course design. ESL learners are often immigrants in an English-speaking country, a fact which undoubtedly influences the content of their English language learning syllabus. They might be a student or an employee, so their need for English is immediate and urgent. EFL learners, on the other hand, may need English for further study or future work but there is not the same sense of urgency because they are not yet in the situation where they need the language; they are preparing to use the language, or they may be learning English simply for the fun of it.

There is also the difference between EFL and ESL in learning methods. ESL learners typically have more opportunities to practise their English outside the classroom. Because they are in an English-speaking environment, they are exposed to authentic English every day. EFL learners only have their EFL classroom in which to practise the language, unless they take it upon themselves to find opportunities outside the classroom.

What does this mean in reality?

As you will soon realise, these two terms are used interchangeably fairly regularly. ESL is more often used to refer to English teaching in the US, whereas EFL is more likely to be used in Europe. This makes sense. At the same time, though, teaching English to foreigners in the UK is known as TEFL, which doesn’t really fit the definition. Besides, those learners learning English in the US do not necessarily only speak one other language; in other words, English may not be their second language but it could be their third or fourth.

As an EFL (or ESL) teacher, you do not need to worry about these labels. What you do need to worry about is your learners, their reasons for learning the language and the best way for them to do that.

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