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Teaching ESL vs. EFL - What’s the difference?

Teaching ESL vs. EFL - What’s the difference? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

ESL is English which is usually taught to students in an English speaking country. EFL is English which is taught to students in a foreign, non-English speaking country. As it is true of many European countries, where is common to learn to speak more than one foreign language. For these reasons ESL is typically the term used in the United States, an English-speaking nation, whereas EFL is more often the term of choice in countries where English is not the native language.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Sumeyra Y. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

What's ESL? What's EFL?

In learning ESL, the learner is learning English within an English environment. In this case, English is spoken outside the classroom. The learner here learns English to understand and speak it outside the classroom. The situation is different in EFL learning, the learner learns English inside a classroom, but continues to speak her/his own language when leaving the classroom.

An example of an ESL situation is a Japanese boy who immigrates with his family to America; he speaks Japanese at home with his parents, but during the rest of the day and at school, he must speak English. He needs to learn enough English to be able to keep up with his schoolwork and communicate well with his schoolmates.

On the other hand, the Egyptian girl learning English in an Egyptian school learns English as a foreign language. She must understand and speak English only during her English lessons – perhaps 3 times a week. The rest of her day in school and at home, she will speak her own language. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t know much English or if she learns slowly; this will not affect her day-to-day life in and out of school as it would for the Japanese boy.

Teaching ESL versus teaching EFL

Teaching ESL is different from teaching EFL. This difference influences the content and methods used to teach the English language.

In many ESL classes * Students learn General English that helps them feel comfortable in school and communicate well with their new friends. * They are also taught the kind of English language and skills that will help them to be successful in their other classes, history, mathematics etc. which are all in English. This is typical of most programs in ESL situations. * Students have extensive daily exposure to English-speaking culture, although their understanding may be limited by their language skills.

In many EFL classes * English is often taught in a traditional way; i.e. based on step-by-step learning of a number of grammatical structures in a graded order of difficulty. * As the learner has to master the language in his class and has no chances to practice English outside his class, the methods and techniques chosen should allow him/her to use the language both fluently and accurately. These techniques should ensure maximum exposure to the language. * English is often taught in a traditional way; i.e. based on step-by-step learning of a number of grammatical structures in a graded order of difficulty.

ESL Students Need...

1. Hands-on English lessons suitable for their immediate needs.

If you’ve got a class full of recent immigrants struggling with how to fill out forms, teach them to fill out forms. If you’ve got a group of foreign doctoral students, teach them how to talk to their academic advisors. There may be a place for general grammar instruction, but not until more pressing needs are met.

2. Explicit cultural instruction.

These students come from many places, all very different from your classroom. Teach them about your cultural norms. Teach them how to get along in your society. Tell them how people from your culture see their culture. You might not think this is traditional English teaching, but it will generate fascinating discussion. Understanding culture is an invaluable step towards fluency.

3. Bridges towards integration.

As an ESL teacher, you may not consider yourself a guidance counselor, but be ready to suggest concrete ways for your students to address their daily problems in your local community. Whether that means referring them to an immigrant assistance association or helping them apply for a job online, you’re likely to be the first person they ask for help. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need, and be ready to do more research when asked.

EFL Students Need

1. Lots of practice using English, especially orally.

Get them speaking in the classroom, but also teach them where to find opportunities to practice speaking English outside of class, and reward them for doing so.

2. Exposure to living English.

Never lead your students to believe that English is a set of rules and words to memorize. It is the living, breathing creation of cultures and communities around the world. Do whatever you can to reveal this depth. Pen pals, non-traditional teaching materials, and field trips are great ways to make English come alive for your students.

3. Reasons to learn English, and motivation to stick with it.

English can be very theoretical when you’re growing up in a village in Belarus. Find out about each student’s other passions and tie English into them. There are so many English communities online and off that it’s possible to find a tie-in for almost any other area of interest. Social networks are powerful tools.

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