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Mark Crocker

Alumni Experiences

The Difference Between Teaching ESL and Teaching EFL

The Difference Between Teaching ESL and Teaching EFL | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In my experience, many teachers are not really sure about the difference between teaching ESL and teaching EFL in the classroom. In this post I will try to explain both situations and give some insight into each as they are actually quite distinct.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Amal S.

The Basic Difference

ESL refers to teaching English as a Second Language in a English-speaking country where the student's native language is not English, while EFL refers to teaching English as a Foreign Language in a country where English is not the primary language.

Potential Problems of Both Situations

In the ESL classroom, students are often from different countries, backgrounds and religions which can make it difficult for the teacher as he/she has to be conscious about what they are teaching to avoid causing any cultural offence to the students. This can also be true for EFL teachers, but these students will normally be from the same country, religion and culture making it easier for teachers to be familiar with one culture rather than many.

In the ESL classroom students often group with other students of the same culture and nationality as they feel more confident with someone they have something in common with. This can make it difficult for teachers because students will often resort to using their native language rather than English. This can also be true in the EFL classroom, although in this situation everyone will speak the same language instead of multiple languages. Also, while it might be a choice for EFL students to study English, it is often more of a requirement for students in the ESL classroom as they are living in a English speaking country and need to have the communicative skills to speak and write so that they can live their lives with ease. The different motivations in these situations can be noticible in the attitude of the students.

Also read: Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in the Classroom While Teaching English Abroad

Typical Students of EFL and ESL

Those that are interested in EFL classes are generally from a business background, students who want to study abroad, or students who simply want to expand their language skills. In contrast, people who study in an ESL classroom are often immigrants that need to study English so that they can work and socialize within their new society. As a ESL or EFL teacher it is important to stay positive, find a common denominator and be prepared in advance. As an EFL teacher, you will be immersed in a new culture and language and the best way to deal with the new environment is to do your research before you accept a new job offer. Even though both EFL and ESL have their own classroom challenges, the best way for teachers to overcome this is to be open to questions and to be repetitive so that students understand all of the subject that is being taught.

Also read: The 5 Most Common Types of EFL Students and How to Deal with Them

The Importance of Speaking English in the Classroom

In reality there is not much of a difference between ESL and EFL in regards to the language itself, but rather the syllabus content and where the language is taught. However, in both the EFL and ESL classroom, it is important that students understand that the only language they should be speaking is English. Often when students are frustrated, confused, or don’t understand something in the lesson, they will fall back on their fellow classmates to translate into their mother tongue. While this is sometimes a useful tool, I personally think that teachers should always encourage everyone to speak English in the classroom to fully maximize the students' learning potential.

Also read: 7 Awesome ESL Conversation Activities to Really Get Your Students Talking

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