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Decoding TEFL

If you’ve ever been vaguely interested in teaching English abroad, you’re likely to have encountered TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, TESL, and probably some hundred other acronyms, abbreviations and terms in your search. Even to a professional teacher working in the field, a lot of these terms might be confusing and for a rookie, downright intimidating. So in this post, we will try to decipher the various terms and try to understand where and why they’re used and what exactly do they mean.

First thing to keep in mind is that there’s no central agency or independent body that decides on common accepted term/course. So don’t be perturbed if you’re deluged by seemingly similar but confusing terms on your Google search.


This is most common and widely used term you’ll encounter across the seas, where the career path of teaching English to foreigners is open. It essentially can be expanded to Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

This is used mostly in countries where English is not a native language. For instance, for a Spanish or Japanese populace, English is a foreign language and you, the overseas teacher are in charge of teaching it to the local community. The TEFL certificate gives you the authority and legality to pursue this profession.

It does encompass a lot of different courses though, from in-classroom courses to online tutorials, private classes, etc.


In many places, you’re likely to encounter the term TESOL rather than TEFL. TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

As you can see, it basically means the same as TEFL and both the terms are used interchangeably. The distinction however is that TEFL is more commonly used by americans while TESOL is preferred by Europeans. Why? We have no idea. Same reason apartment/flats, lift/elevator, etc are used based on the geography.

Rest assured, the two terms are the same and are never discriminated by employers or anybody else.


The whole picture changes completely though if you remove the O from TESOL.

With such a small change, your whole career path will change from teaching overseas to looking inward.

TESL stands for Teaching English as Second Language and certifies you to teach English only in your resident country to immigrants and those who do not use English as their primary language. So you cannot go abroad and teach foreigners.

However, there’s no separate TESL certificate, and people usually hold an ESL qualification by obtaining it as a part of their teaching degree, or after working abroad as a TEFL teacher. Still it makes sense to recheck your institute’s certifications and make sure you are qualified to go overseas.


CELTA is a type of TEFL program, except for the fact that it is developed and administered by Cambridge university, UK.  CELTA , standing for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, is an acclaimed and top notch course whose course standards of excellence are maintained throughout the centers around the world, whether it’s Colorado or Cambodia.

There are then other courses which are based on CELTA, or follow the standardized curriculum of their country.


Now we’ve got acronym thing sorted out, let’s try and see which course might suit you. Firstly, an online TEFL course though quite cheap (400-$500), and accepted in many countries like south america is seen less favourably in comparison to in-classroom coaching programs.

As for the TEFL vs CELTA debate, the choice depends on your abilities and how much work you’re willing to put in. A TEFL certificate is accepted the world over and will open the doors of most companies/academies, while a CELTA is very intensive and requires you expend a lot of energy and expenses ($200-$3000). The curriculum is tougher and training much more comprehensive than a normal TEFL program and can sap your resources. The fruits of your labor should you acquire your certificate though is unparalleled; put simply you’ll be the first choice in most interviews, especially in European countries, and would be prepared to face any challenge that your teaching career can throw at you.

Exam Madrid Team
Exam Madrid Team
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