Explaining ESL and EFL


 I remember when I first started this journey that the ESL and EFL meant nothing to me. The I was confused and at a stage I thought they were exactly the same thing. I’m hoping that this will unconfuse a couple of people and also give you that extra bit of info to help narrow down your choices.

The essential difference is that EFL is the UK term whereas ESL is more of an American term.

But there is a further distinction, an important one:

ESL is teaching English to non-native speakers in an English-speaking country. The class is usually of mixed nationalities. Students have a more practical need for English, and more opportunity to practice it. They will often also have constant exposure to an English-speaking culture.

When doing my TESOL course we taught students like the above in varying degrees.

ESL Students:

  1. Lessons planned to their specific needs. Going to the doctor, filling in forms or even just reading a childs’ report card.
  2. They should be taught cultural norms and the way in which native speakers use the language. It can cause a lot of problems for them if they do not understand things like tone and even sarcasm.

EFL is teaching English to non-native speakers in a non-English speaking country. They often have very little exposure to English and very little chance to practice with native English speakers.

While teaching children in Hong Kong I have found this to be especially true. with the minority have English-speaking nannies/house keeper or parent, the majority of children do not get to practice English outside of the classroom. In fact some parents cannot understand more than a rudimentary level of English.

EFL students:

  1. To practice English as much as they can. I often let my kids, even phonics students, have a good 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class just talking. Sometimes its absolute nonsense. But, at least they are using English.
  2. A chance to see the many sides of English Language. Not just the boring rules and vocabulary. Play around with tone and voices, make up songs. Anything to show them that English can be used in a very wonderful and powerful way.

In the long run it just depends on which one you want to teach. While ESL seems like the easiest option it can often be more challenging. You will have adult students, often those who have a larger knowledge of grammar than you do…Shock, horror,gasp.

Good Luck! 🙂