Home / What’s the difference between TEFL and TESOL
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When you start researching possible TEFL options, there is a lot of terminology that might confuse you. This is especially true if you are a newbie to the TEFL world. There are many terms that pretty much mean the same thing but some are completely different. Understanding the TEFL jargon will help you understand which TEFL course is right for you and which TEFL branch you want to get into. There are many different courses for both so you need to make sure you choose the right one for you!

If you are already on this page, then the term “TEFL” probably won’t be the most mysterious for you. You’ll probably have seen this term more than any others when searching things about the English teaching world. However, the term “TESOL” might throw you off a bit. Are they the same? No, actually! Let’s have a look at some key differences between TEFL and TESOL and what this could mean for you as a future TEFL (or TESOL!) teacher. 

What do they mean?

Starting off, what do these terms actually mean and stand for in the English speaking world?

TEFL – This means Teaching English as a Foreign Language 

TESOL – This one means Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages 

They sound the same really don’t they? They’re actually not when you look at them more closely!

What’s the difference then?

TEFL is the most common term for this field as it’s used as a general term for anyone teaching English as a second language to students. However, it technically means something more. It means teaching English as a second language to speakers who don’t live in a country where English is an official language. This is the most common with teachers going to live in their students’ home country. 

On the other hand TESOL  means teaching English as a second language to students who are living in an English speaking country. They are teaching students who have travelled there to live or to study English! Many students travel with the aim of improving their English on a shorter, intensive course and immerse themselves in the English speaking environment. 

So thinking about the two, we can see a difference, a small difference but there is one! If an English teacher decides to go and live in Italy and teach students (probably Italians!!) English, then this is TEFL. As the teacher is living in their country, the class will mostly be of the same nationality as they are most likely from that country. 

However, if an English speaking teacher is living in a country such as the UK or Ireland, and teaches a class of students who are from abroad, then this is technically TESOL. TESOL classes can be mixed nationalities because the students come from different places to go and study in an Anglophone country. They might also be one nationality who have travelled together as a group to take classes.

The important difference is essentially where you are teaching. Are you teaching in your own country or are you teaching abroad? The confusion is when these terms are used interchangeably as they can be. TEFL is referred to more in Europe whereas TESOL is more commonly used in North America and Australia. You should bear this in mind when you look at adverts based in different countries. TEFL vs TESOL

What does this mean for you?

In terms of your certification, it doesn’t make a big difference. TEFL certificates in general prepare you well for both types of teaching as they involve the same skills. In general, employers won’t differentiate between TEFL or TESOL certificates as they will know you are qualified for either scenario. It might be the case that some TESOL employers would like to see more experienced teachers for their courses but there aren’t any big roadblocks in general. 

If you know that what you definitely want to do is TESOL, rather than TEFL, then it wouldn’t hurt to take a course to train you specifically in this context so you feel 100% prepared. It will also let you stand out amongst the CVs that might be sitting in the potential employer’s inbox. The more specialised the qualifications in TEFL, the better you stand out amongst the TEFL teacher crowd. It will also show the employer that you have considered the requirements carefully for this context and are serious about taking up a role teaching TESOL.

What are the requirements for TEFL and TESOL courses?

As long as you are motivated and willing to commit the time to studying and learning all you can, there are no strict requirements for TEFL or TESOL courses. Both require you to be focused and be able to fit studying into your schedule. Of course, it’s crucial that your English is of a good level! The courses can be time-consuming so you should make sure you can dedicate the time to finishing it once you start.

For most employers, the requirements will also be the same whether it’s for TEFL or TESOL. A high level of English, a TEFL or TESOL qualification and, depending on the country, a degree. Some employers also ask for 2 years’ of experience but this will vary from school to school. Schools in North America might prefer a TESOL certificate from a program in their country as they are more familiar with this terminology. 

For TESOL classes, cultural knowledge of the country where it is taught is also often preferred. If students travel to the UK to learn English and learn about British culture, then they will want a teacher that is able to incorporate this into their language teaching. It doesn’t mean that only native speakers will get hired but teachers should have some experience of life in that country to  get their CV noticed. If you have received your education in an English speaking country, this will be an advantage to put on your resume. Difference between TEFL and TESOL

What should I consider if I want to teach English?

If you want to teach English then you should think about where you would like to do this. In your own or an English speaking country? Or do you want to start a new life abroad in a non English speaking country? This is the first step towards your new TEFL career. This can help you decide how to approach applying for jobs and where.

Based on this preference, you can deduce whether a TEFL or a TESOL certificate would be more appropriate for you. As we’ve seen, there’s no big difference but you might as well put the extra thought into it! Ensure that whatever course you take, it is accredited and will be valid for your employers. Take care with specific country requirements which might prefer one over the other.

Next, you can consider what other skills you might have that will help you gain employment in this area. If you are teaching TESOL, then ensure you stress that you are able to incorporate culture into your lessons. A knowledge of the local education system is also often preferred. If you are teaching in a TEFL context, then knowledge of your students’ mother tongue might impress more when employers consider your application. 

For any TEFL or TESOL job, it’s important to prepare your CV and cover letter to cater for that context. Although the differences are subtle and your CV will be qualified for both the majority of the time, employers will be more interested if you show you are a perfect fit for the role. Ensure you read what skills and competencies the employers are looking for and demonstrate how you have acquired those skills.

Choosing a TEFL or TESOL course 

Whatever path you decide to go down, there are some key factors when choosing the right course for you;

Is the course accredited?

A valid provider must accredit the course you are doing. This means that the course has been evaluated and assessed to be appropriate for the learner, level and subject. Employers can often verify your certificate on the provider’s website, showing that it is legit. A valid provider must accredit the course you are doing. 

Minimal requirements

Ensure that it meets the minimal requirements for TEFL courses in terms of hours (normally 120 hours). Anything less than this and your employer won’t feel that it is valid as you haven’t had enough training for the role.

Face-to-face or online

Find out whether the course is face-to-face or online and decide if this is right for you and your learning. Online courses can be a great way to fit the course into a busy lifestyle as you can go at your own pace. Face-to-face can be more sociable as you will meet other teachers but they tend to have a fixed timetable.


Find out how much support you have. Online courses tend to have a lot more independence in terms of studying so it’s good to see if this is suited to you or not. It’s important to organise your study time and take control of your learning.


What are the forms of assessment? Do you have to complete quizzes or essays? How many of these do you need to do? What is the pass rate? Don’t leave any surprises when it comes to how you will actually pass the course!


In terms of price, check the industry standard. Don’t be tempted by a €20 course, these will be done in a few days and will not fulfil the minimum requirements in the TEFL field.

Whether you decide to explore TEFL or TESOL more, there is a lot of crossover. You will be qualified to teach both with English language skills and TEFL (or TESOL!) qualifications. It may be the case that you start out teaching in one context and then decide to venture into the other later on when you have more experience. Often, teachers might head abroad to gain experience of living in another country and then return to their own country to use their English teaching skills at home and switch to TESOL!

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