This post, English teaching acronyms and testing acronyms, what they are and what they mean, is part of the most common strategies used for teaching English. One need to know all the acronyms to avoid confusion with your employers and your students.
Like most modern skill sets, English teaching has its unique set of acronyms. Many are related specifically to teaching English to non-native English speakers and also to examinations that non-English speakers can take in order to prove that they have attained a good level of written and spoken English.
Mainstream teaching acronyms
The two most important acronyms you’ll initially need to know as a teacher are:
TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TEFL is a teaching method that is used to teach English to people in a country where English IS NOT the local language, e.g. teaching English in Spain or Argentina.
TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
TESOL is a teaching method that is used to teach English to people in a country where English IS the local language, e.g. teaching English in the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand.
TEFL vs. TESOL
The main difference between the two teaching methods revolves around communication which is the key to successful teaching.
In a TEFL environment your class will have a common language, e.g. Spanish if you are teaching in Argentina or Spain. As you are teaching in a Spanish speaking country, in an emergency (if you can speak some Spanish) you can make an explanation in Spanish that everyone will understand.
In a TESOL environment your class will NOT have a common language. Your class can be from any country. Your class will be composed of immigrants or foreign students that want to learn English e.g. from Russia, China, India, Brazil, France, Spain, Poland, etc. This means that you are forced to communicate in English or some other non-verbal form in order to explain something to your class.
For this reason, teachers must be trained and exposed both to TEFL and TESOL so that they are able to use either teaching method. TESOL is also the name of a US organisation that provides international support for teaching English to non-English speakers. TESOL the organisation is not the same as TESOL the teaching methodology.
TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
TESL and TESOL are synonymous. The UK, Ireland and New Zealand generally use the acronym TESOL. The USA, Canada and Australia generally use the term TESL. There’s usually some debate about which country uses which acronym but the bottom line is that:
TESL = TESOL
Other teaching acronyms that you may find
These acronyms are initially less important but you should familiarise yourself with them for future use as a mainstream English teacher.
Study area acronyms
BE – Business English – English for business or commercial use. It is sometimes used incorrectly to describe teaching English classes at a business location.
EAL – English as an Additional Language – Provision for school children whose first language is not English.
EAP – English for Academic Purposes – entails training students, usually in a Higher Education setting, to use language appropriately for study. EAP courses are sometimes used to raise students’ English levels so that they can enter university.
EFL – English as a Foreign Language – the study of English by a resident of a non-English speaking student e.g. a class of students in Spain.
EIL – English as an International Language – the study of global English e.g. American vs. British English etc.
ELF – English as a Lingua Franca – the study of English as the (usually) chosen method of cross-cultural communication. E.g. a Japanese business person and an Argentinean business person choose English as their method of communication.
ELL – English Language Learner – someone who learns English.
ELT – English Language Teaching – a term covering all aspects of teaching English.
ESL – English as a Second Language – the study of English by a resident of an English speaking student e.g. a class of immigrant students in the USA.
ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages – the study of English by a resident of an English speaking student e.g. a class of immigrant students in the USA.
ESP – English for Special Purposes, or English for Specific Purposes – often used as a synonym for Business English, this is the acronym for teaching English to people that need to learn a very specific type of English, e.g. air traffic controllers, doctors, politicians, accountants, lawyers etc.
TYLE – Teaching Young Learners English – a specialised area covering teaching methods for children and teenagers.
Main testing acronyms
The following testing acronyms all relate to a few well-known and internationally accepted tests.
BULATS – Business Language Testing Services.
IELTS – International English Language Testing System.
TOEFL – Test Of English as a Foreign Language.
TOEIC – Test Of English for International Communication.
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TEFL acronyms and terms
The TEFL profession uses a whole range of acronyms, terms and abbreviations. Here’s a guide to some of the more common ones you’re likely to encounter.
TEFL and ESL definitions
EFL English as a Foreign Language
ESL English as a Second Language
TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESL Teaching English as a Second Language
TESOL Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and traditionally refers to teaching in non-English speaking countries. TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language and refers to teaching in English speaking countries, to non-native speakers living or working there.
In practice, the acronyms TEFL and TESL are often used interchangeably, and both are covered by the all-encompassing TESOL, which stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
ESL and EFL teaching terminology
CALL Computer Assisted Language Learning
CALL refers to language instruction through the use of technology. It usually refers to using language learning software to teach specific language points.
CEFR Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The CEFR is a standardised system of describing ability in a language, allowing anyone involved in language learning and teaching to easily gauge the competencies of a learner. It also helps employers and educational institutes to see if a candidate has the level of language they require. It consists of a 6 point scale, ranging from A1, through A2, B1, B2, C1 and up to C2. A language learner with a C2 level is a competent user of that language.
DOS Director of Studies
A Director of Studies is an academic manager in a language school or institute. The role of the DOS usually includes recruiting, advising and developing teachers, planning courses and curricula, scheduling and coordinating classes, meeting clients and liaising with sales and management staff.
EAP English for Academic Purposes
EAP involves teaching students who are studying, or who intend to study, in higher education in an English speaking country. This could include teaching study skills or preparing students for an exam such as the TOEFL.
ELL English Language Learner
ELT English Language Teaching or Training
ESP English for Specific Purposes
ESP refers to teaching English to a learners with specific needs and objectives, and usually refers to teaching professionals in a specific field. For example, doctors may require medical English, bankers may require financial English, company directors may require language for negotiating or making presentations.
K12 Kindergarten to 12th Grade
K-12 is not specific to English language teaching, but you may see job advertisements asking for K-12 ESL teachers. The term is common in the USA and refers to teaching children from kindergarten through to 12th grade.
L1 A student’s first language
L2 A student’s second language
If someone asks you if you use L1 in the classroom, they are asking if you use your students’ native language, or if you only use L2, i.e. English.
STT / LTT Student Talking Time / Learner Talking Time
The amount of time that students (learners) spend talking during a class (ideally as much as possible).
TPR Total Physical Response
A teaching methodology based on language learning through physical movement.
TTT Teacher Talking Time
The amount of time the teacher spends talking during a class.
YL Young Learners
Most language schools and institutes make a distinction between Young Learners (usually up to the age of about 16) and adult learners, and offer different courses accordingly.
TEFL teaching qualifications
CELTA Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
The CELTA is one of the most internationally recognised and accepted entry-level qualifications. The old name for the CELTA was the CTEFLA (Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults). There are many other entry-level qualifications.
CELT-P Certificate in English Language Teaching – Primary
A qualification for teaching 6-12 year old learners. Previous Young Learner qualifications offered by Cambridge English were the CELTYL (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Young Learners) and the Young Learner Extension to the CELTA.
Delta Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults
The Delta is a higher level qualification, usually studied after two or more years of teaching for career progression. The old name for the Delta was the DTEFLA (Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults).
TKT Teaching Knowledge Test
The TKT focuses on the core teaching knowledge needed by teachers, whatever your background and teaching experience.
PGCE Post Graduate Certificate in Education
PGCE is a UK teaching qualification required to teach in the state sector, and is not specific to language teaching.
IDLTM International Diploma in Language Teaching Management
The IDLTM is designed for teachers looking to take on management responsibility.
ICELT In-service Certificate in English Language Teaching
ESL exam acronyms
BEC Business English Certificates
BULATS Business Language Testing Service
CAE Certificate in Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced
CELS Certificates in English Language Skills
CPE Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency
FCE First Certificate in English or Cambridge English: First
IELTS International English Language Testing System
KET Key English Test or Cambridge English: Key
PET Preliminary English Test or Cambridge English: Preliminary
TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language
TOEIC Test of English for International Communication
YLE Cambridge Young Learners English Tests
Acronyms for Professional Associations
IATEFL International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
TESOL TESOL International Association