TEFL, TESOL, TESL – What’s the difference?

When it comes to teaching English as a foreign language, there are lots of acronyms out there, with TEFL, TESOL, TESL being the main ones.  It’s easy to get confused when you’re new to the subject, but what you’ll find is that many of them are very similar in meaning.

TEFL, TESOL, and TESL are three of the most common and here’s a quick guide to what each stands for:


This stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is normally used to define teaching abroad.


This stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and is most commonly used for teaching to non-English speakers within the United States, but can be used for teaching abroad too.


This stands for Teaching English as a Second Language and is much the same as TESOL in that it is teaching non-native English speakers.

In practice, the skills needed for all three of these disciplines are the same, as you are still training someone who wants to improve their level of English – no matter their first language, or where you are teaching.

TEFL/TESOL methodology is designed to get across concepts such as grammar and vocabulary in an effective way to students who don’t speak the language.  They pick up these language items through an immersion class that’s conducted entirely in English, as this is the most effective way of learning a new language.

With the courses from TEFL Org, you will have an in-depth study of these methodologies and will learn just how to plan and deliver the best English lessons you can.

What’s more, our courses will certify you in both TEFL and TESOL, so no matter where you choose to teach you can do so with confidence.

For more information about our courses, feel free to get in touch via email, live chat or call us on 332.255.2417.

To view our range of course options visit our Courses page.

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19 thoughts on “TEFL, TESOL, TESL – What’s the difference?

  1. I currently have 80 hour TESOL certification from 2014. I’m deciding between the 80 or the 100 hour TEFL courses. I can save some money rather than 120hr. I was told by a representative of Greenheart Travel that I should have 120 hour in one course program. Is that necessary to acquire a teaching job in China, or is it acceptable for my TESOL and TEFL combination? I want to know before the 2 day TEFL sale is over. Thank you!

    1. Hi Mez,

      Most employers look for a total of 120 hours of training in either TEFL or TESOL, so you would only need a further 40 hours of training to be eligible. One other point to note is that to get a teaching visa in China you will also need a college-level degree.

      Our sale is still available today, so you can get a great deal on our courses!

  2. IIam a certificated math teacher interested to teach Math or English overseas. I need to meet basics requirements to teach in Russia or Serbia because I planning to move move to one of these places.

  3. I have a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in English, and I am certified to teach language arts for grades 5-12. I want to become certified to teach English as a Foreign Language in the US and abroad. I’m wondering if I need to enroll in a complete program or if someone in your institution could look at my previous coursework and tell me what additional courses I need to take. I also need to know if financial aid is available. Thank you for your reply.

    1. Hi Diana, your degree and experience are both fantastic additions to your TEFL resume, all you would need now is a TEFL certification. This is required by English language schools to ensure you’re familiar with the specific methodologies of teaching the language to non-native speakers. Generally we recommend a course of 120 hours or more to get the best possible qualification to teach overseas, but if you are looking to teach on a short-term basis you could take a shorter course to get qualified.

      If you’ve got any further questions get in touch with us at info@tefl.org and we can help you out!

  4. Hi, I am mainly interested in getting an English teaching position in Poland. I know the jobs opportunities might be scare, however, I’m planning on moving there anyway since i was born there. I’ve lived in the states for most of my life, have an English degree from a four year university, and Polish fluently with a high reading and writing level. Basically, my question is whether speaking the native language where you’ll be teaching is a major advantage to getting a teaching position? Is it a disadvantage? As in, to they prefer non native speakers to teach the TEFL/ TESOL courses? Thanks!

    1. Hi David, Poland’s a great teaching destination and with your degree and a TEFL certificate you’ll be in a good position to find work there. Speaking the native language isn’t normally required, as schools look for you to speak English in your classes, but it is definitely helpful in settling in to the school community and the place your are living, which is an advantage!

      If you’ve got any further questions get in touch with us at info@tefl.org and we can help you out!

  5. Are there some areas abroad, particularly in Asia, that do not require a Bachelor’s degree, but rather, just the 120 TEFL certificate?

    1. Hi Sarah,

      In Asia, the only place that we’d really advise teaching without a degree would be Cambodia, as there are less strict visa regulations there. There are lots of positions available however in Europe and Latin America to teach without a degree.

      If you’ve got any further questions please feel free to get in touch!

  6. I plan on getting a TEFL certificate as well as getting an associate degree. I was planning on getting a degree in Spanish, but would it be more beneficial to study English instead?

    1. Hi Ria,

      An English degree would look slightly better on your teaching CV, but most of the time the actual degree subject is irrelevant. The main concern however is that a bachelor’s level degree is normally the level required for teaching visas, so that might be worth some further consideration if possible.

      If you’ve got any further questions please feel free to get in touch!

  7. II am thinking of teaching in Italy as I fell in love with Italy a while ago. Are there any age limitations as I am a Senior Citizen?

    1. Hi Ellen,

      That’s great to hear! Italy’s a very popular destination and one that’s generally more friendly for older EFL teachers so there’s a good chance you can find a dream job for you.

    1. Hi Magaly,

      Yes this certificate would be exactly what you need if you are looking to deliver lessons privately either in a language school or in a community group. The course will guide you through all of the elements you need to learn to teach English effectively, including teaching styles, lesson planning and how to teach grammar points.

  8. Hello!

    I am interested in an internship to teach in Thailand and/or other parts of the world. I am a certified music educator in Virginia and in Florida with over 26 years of professional experience as an educator, ten of which have been in public and private school classrooms with K-5 students. After surviving cancer a few years ago, I feel that the world is truly my oyster. I feel empowered and emboldened to teach globally, as I always did in the music classroom through a world music curriculum I developed and taught. It would be such an honor and a thrill to teach students in other countries. I just need information as to how to begin. Is a 150 hour course the way to go? I tried to learn more here about the teaching internships available but when I click on the link it gives me an “oops” error. Not sure what that is about? Maybe it means they are no longer available? Please advise! Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Jane,

      Thanks for getting in touch, great to hear of your teaching experience and glad you’re feeling ready for new adventures after some difficult times.

      Our best courses for teaching abroad would be our 140-hour Premier TEFL Course, which includes our classroom course and our 120-hour online course. You can view more about that course here: https://www.tefl.org/us/courses/combined-tefl-courses/140-hour-premier-tefl-course/

      In terms of our internships, both our Vietnam and Thailand internships are available, but there is an age limit of 35 set by the schools there for those internships unfortunately. However, there are lots of other TEFL opportunities available, which you can view on our UK site’s Job Centre here: https://www.tefl.org.uk/tefl-jobs-centre/

      If you’ve got any other questions please feel free to get in touch!

  9. I want to have the ability to teach abroad as well as to teach English as a second language in usa, would tefl certification be best to cover both situations or the tesol?

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