Teaching Terminology: What Do ESL, TEFL, TESOL, EFL, CELTA, DELTA Mean?


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If you’ve ever considered teaching English then it’s likely you’ve come face to face with some of the industry’s acronyms.  For someone considering a job abroad for the first time, they can be overwhelming and it’s not easy to determine which are worth understanding and which are of no value.

This post aims to correct that – we’ve taken 6 of the most common teaching terms and explored what each means, how they might apply to you, and which fits best for where you are in your career.

What does ESL mean?

ESL stands for “English as a Second Language” and is the most common term when it comes to teaching English.  Compared to some of the terms on this list that are actual certifications, ESL is an umbrella term that applies to the entire industry just as F&B applies to the restaurant industry.

It’s most commonly used to describe the type of work you do instead of a certification or training that you’ve received.

What does EFL mean?

Similar to ESL, EFL means “English as a Foreign Language” and is used to describe a job or industry.  Some experts might argue that an EFL approach to teaching differs than ESL, but the differences are negligible and both terms are used interchangeably to describe teaching English both abroad and domestically.

What does TEFL mean?

The TEFL acronym represents “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” and is the first teaching certificate on this list.  A TEFL certificate is often required for quality ESL jobs and is the bare minimum for anyone considering a career in the industry.

Recognized globally, a TEFL certificate is earned through a course administered by experienced teachers and aimed to equip you with the skills needed to manage a class of English learners.  While courses vary in quality and price, the best ones are usually taught in person instead of online.

What does TESOL mean?

TESOL means “Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages” and is quite similar to TEFL. Oftentimes either acronym will be used to represent the same thing, though TESOL is more commonly used to describe teaching English in a native-English speaking country (for example, if you taught English to immigrants in America).

However, when it comes to jobs abroad, there is very little difference between a TEFL and TESOL certificate.

What does CELTA mean?

CELTA is an acronym for the Certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and is overseen by the University of Cambridge.  Similar to a TEFL, a CELTA is a certificate program designed to prepare you for a career in teaching English.  However, the CELTA is much more intensive and is often considered the equivalent of an associates degree  (though it’s important to recognize it is not a degree, it’s a certificate).

The CELTA program typically runs for 4-5 weeks for a fulltime student and allows the recipient to command much better jobs, higher wages, and more prestigious positions once completed.

What does DELTA mean?

The DELTA is an advanced teaching qualification and requires a CELTA to obtain. Unlike certificate programs, earning a DELTA means you receive a diploma that is the equivalent of a master’s degree in the subject and is often viewed as a necessary step for those pursuing head teacher positions, especially at universities.

The DELTA program is also approved by the University of Cambridge and can take upwards of a year to complete, depending on how much time the student has to dedicate to it.

Which one is for me?

For new teachers trying to evaluate if teaching is a career worth pursuing, our advice is to go with a basic TEFL certificate (either in person or online).  Assuming you are also a native speaker with a 4-year degree, a TEFL will open any door you need for an entry-level position.

If you’re a seasoned teacher looking to boost your skills and job prospects then a CELTA is the best way to do that – though it’s only worth investment if you’re planning on being involved with English teaching for a long time.

Finally, a DELTA might be worth it if you’re looking to work for a university, teach in a native country, or compete for a leadership position.  However, we echo the advice of other teachers when we say you should have at least of 2 years experience teaching with a CELTA before pursuing a DELTA.


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