What is the difference between EFL and ESL?

Given the widespread use of English in global media, government, and business, it is no surprise that hundreds of millions of people are learning English worldwide. Catering to this immense demand are countless teachers, both native and non-native English speakers, instructing in schools, language centers, private firms, colleges, universities, and online classrooms globally. Although these teachers often have a robust understanding of the English language, they may not necessarily be familiar with the multitude of acronyms used within the industry, including EFL, ESL, TEFL, TESL, TESOL, ELT, and more.

What do EFL and ESL actually stand for?

EFL and ESL represent the two primary categories of English language learning globally. While understanding these definitions isn't mandatory (since they are frequently used interchangeably), being knowledgeable about them can be beneficial during job interviews, discussions with superiors, or casual conversations with colleagues. Their technical definitions are as follows:

  • EFL (English as a Foreign Language) is used to refer to the study of English in any country where English is not commonly spoken.
  • ESL (English as a Second Language) is used to refer to the study of English in a country where English is commonly spoken.

What are the main differences between EFL and ESL?

Beyond their technical definitions, there are certain distinctions between these two types of English language learning. First, ESL learners typically have a more immersive experience than EFL learners as they are constantly exposed to the language in their daily lives. It is considerably easier to acquire a language when you are constantly interacting with it at work, through local media, shopping, and socializing, etc, as opposed to only hearing or speaking it during a few hours in an EFL classroom.

The second major difference pertains to culture. EFL students may learn conversational English but often miss the nuances of the language's social usage in native-speaking countries. In contrast, ESL students regularly engage in real-life situations, enabling them to apply classroom learning to their daily life. EFL learners may not have the opportunity to converse with native English speakers at all, as teachers in these contexts are often non-native speakers themselves.

Also read: What is the difference between TEFL, TESOL and CELTA?

Teaching strategies for English as a second language

Given that ESL students need to learn English to navigate their daily lives, it is important to initially teach them practical language uses such as asking directions, negotiating prices, and filling out forms. However, key language areas such as tenses and other grammatical topics shouldn't be ignored as they become crucial once the basics are mastered.

Another important aspect of teaching in an ESL context is introducing local culture. Regular lessons should include content about the country's history, celebrations, festivals, and general etiquette, ensuring students quickly acclimate to their new surroundings.

Teaching strategies for English as a foreign language

Motivation often poses a significant challenge for EFL students and teachers due to the limited exposure to English. To address this, it is essential for the teacher to adopt strategies aimed at maintaining high classroom morale. Lessons and individual activities should always be engaging and relatable to students. Utilizing culturally relevant resources like music, films, and literature can be beneficial, as can interactions with native English speakers. While native English-speaking teachers may have an advantage here, you can also integrate activities like English-speaking pen pals or inviting non-teaching individuals to visit the class and participate.

Also read: What are TEFL acronyms?