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Terminology: TEFL or ELT?

What's the difference between TEFL and TESOL?
© UCLES 2017

There are lots of different terms and acronyms which people use when talking about English language teaching. For example, there’s TESL, TESOL, TEFL and ELT. A lot of the time they have the same meaning, which is, teaching English to people who don’t speak English.

  • There are a number of ways to talk about teaching English. These are ELT, TEFL, TESOL and TESL.

  • Another similar group of terms is EFL, ESL and ESOL. They are all very similar and are all a way of referring to the subject of English when it isn’t your first language.

  • Lastly, you might see the terms EAP and ESP. These are both about the subject of English, but for particular uses, rather than general English. For example, English for Engineering is an example of ESP.

Here’s a list of the most common acronyms and what the letters stand for which are used to describe English language and teaching. In the next step we’ll talk about what they mean.

Teaching English Language
TEFL – Teaching English as a foreign language EFL – English as a foreign language
TESOL – Teaching English to speakers of other languages ESOL – English for speakers of other languages
TESL – Teaching English as a second language ESL – English as a second language
ESP – English for specific purposes EAP – English for academic purposes


Are there any other acronyms you’ve heard and are not sure what they mean? Tell us what they are in the comments section and we’ll answer the most popular ones in the end-of-week email.

© UCLES 2017
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