What Is TEFL?

< Back to the TEFL News
TEFL Teacher in Thailand

Are you interested in teaching English and confused by all the terms your seeing? What is TEFL? Is it different from TESOL or ESL? TEFL stands for Teaching English as Foreign Language, and it’s a widely used term used to describe both the occupation of teaching English as a foreign language (usually abroad) and also the certification you’ll need in order to qualify for these jobs. There are many more terms used in this field, which we’ll help you navigate, as well as answering your questions about qualifications to TEFL, how to choose the right TEFL certification, and what to expect in your TEFL course.

What is the difference between TEFL and TESOL? What do other TEFL terms mean?

Lost in acronym land in your research into teaching English as a foreign language? For example, what does TEFL mean vs. TESOL? You’re not alone in your confusion! The world of TEFL has many different abbreviations for similar teaching situations, and it can get a little confusing. Let’s clarify with a quick overview of common terms.

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

This term applies to teaching English in countries where English is not the native language- it’s a foreign language. For example, this would be the case if you were living in Korea, teaching Korean students.

TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

This term applies to teaching English in countries where English is the native language. This would be the case if you were a teacher at an English language center in the U.S., teaching a group of students studying abroad from Brazil. While you may not see the term TESL a lot, you will very commonly see ESL, such as “ESL students” to refer to second language learners.

TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

This catch-all term applies to both types of English language teaching  – in a country where English is the native language (ESL) or in a country where the first language is not English (EFL). It is commonly used interchangeably with the term TEFL, however. For example, a school may ask if you’re TEFL/TESOL certified, and the answer for any BridgeTEFL course graduate would be yes!

This term is generally only significantly different from TEFL when used by universities, since a graduate degree in teaching English would be a Master’s in TESOL program (not a Master’s in TEFL).

ELT – English Language Teacher

This is another rather broad term that you may see, to a lesser degree, in your research into teaching English as a foreign language. Like TESOL, it’s an umbrella term for a person who teaches English to speakers of other languages.

TLD – Teaching the Linguistically Diverse

TLD is a term often heard in the American public school systems, more so than in the TEFL realm. It applies to teaching situations in which students come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds, including those who’ve never spoken English, those with some English knowledge, and native English speakers.

Why get TEFL certified?

TEFL certification is the primary qualification needed to teach English as a foreign language. Earning your TEFL certification opens doors to travel opportunities, cultural experiences and even high salaries in some cases. The question is, why not TEFL?!

Travel the world and earn money

A recognized TEFL certification is your passport to the world. Live in another country rather than just pass through as a tourist. As a TEFL teacher, you can gain deeper insight into your host culture and get paid at the same time. TEFL certified teachers can also teach English online, which creates oppportunities to become a digital nomad, working from anywhere!

Meet Rachel, a digital nomad teaching English online from Mexico! 

Improve your resume

While TEFL certification will, of course, lead to English teaching jobs, TEFL certification extends even beyond that! Employers everywhere prefer candidates that are flexible, take initiative, and can adapt to new situations – all skills that you will develop by getting TEFL certified and teaching English abroad.

Develop a career

Teaching English can lead to a career in education either abroad or at home. It can also give you important intercultural experience and contacts to help you set up new businesses or work with international companies.

Change your life

Whether you want to see the world before entering the workforce, take a break from the rat race, or simply experience another culture, TEFL makes it possible. With the new insights into yourself and the world, you’ll broaden your perspectives and your future opportunities

Change the world

Lastly, TEFL enables you to empower people around the world with English skills that can benefit their lives in various ways, such as qualifying for more jobs or achieving academic or personal goals. Knowledge of English also enables people to participate more effectively in the global community; by giving them a tool to express their opinions in an international forum, you’ll contribute to a multicultural global community and the spread of cultural tolerance.

Read more about how learning English changes students’ lives!

TEFL Teacher in China

Who can TEFL?

If you’re reading this, YOU can! Anyone who speaks English and a desire to help others learn it can be a TEFL teacher. Here are a few common profiles of TEFL teachers.

Recent high school graduates

A year or two out in the world before going to university or starting work is a useful “gap” experience. This practice is very popular in Europe and is gaining popularity elsewhere, as well.

University graduates

A stint working in another country before starting a career at home provides memories for a lifetime, boosts your resume with international experience, and may even change the direction of your career.

Mid-career changers

Those who are tired of their 9-to-5 desk job find an adventure teaching English abroad is just the break they need from the rat race. Plus, many TEFL employers worldwide are happy to hire teachers who have a bit more life and work experience.

Post-career retirees

Living abroad and contributing to a community as a teacher can be the perfect next chapter for those who have finished their first career and are ready for something completely new. For anyone who has always dreamed of living abroad, TEFL the chance to do just that.

Read an interview with Wes, who taught English in South America after retirement. 

Non-native speakers of English

Typically, non-native English speakers have a deeper insight into the nature of learning a foreign language and can use this to their advantage to become excellent teachers of English as a foreign language.

TEFL Certified Teachers with certificates

Do I need a TEFL certificate?

In an increasingly competitive job market, most employers select only qualified TEFL teachers. (The exception to this can be if you hold a university degree specifically in education, although many teachers still get certified.) Employers know that a TEFL certificate indicates that you’ve been trained with the specific skills you’ll need to manage a classroom and effectively teach English language learners, and it also shows professional integrity and reliability. A TEFL certificate helps you stand out in the hiring process as a prepared, highly marketable candidate.

However, a TEFL certificate is more than a piece of paper! The training you’ll get in your TEFL course will give you skills you need (such as lesson planning, classroom management, and teaching grammar) to enter your first classroom with confidence.

How do I choose a TEFL certificate?


Most prospective English language teachers get certified via online TEFL courses because they have advantages like convenience and affordability. Most are self-paced, accessible anywhere in the world, and well within the average person’s budget. Best of all, online TEFL certification is which are widely accepted by employers worldwide.

Number of hours

TEFL certification of at least 100 hours is generally considered the standard for language schools around the world, though some jobs may accept fewer hours, or even require more (such as 120 hours).


TEFL courses deliver the fundamental knowledge necessary to be a TEFL teacher. Online programs test comprehension of course content through online quizzes and/or written assignments. The best online courses provide trainees with their own personal tutor, who answers questions and gives personal feedback on written assignments.

How important is TEFL accreditation?

Because TEFL courses are not universally standardized, the content and quality may vary greatly from one organization to the next. It is important to check for references from program graduates as well as external recognition, such as TEFL accreditation or university affiliation, of the organization providing your course.

Questions to ask a TEFL certificate provider:

  • Are you accredited? If so, by whom?
  • Is the accrediting agency recognized by a major university, government department, or government-approved body?
  • Can you direct me to a government or university website that details this recognition?
  • Can you provide a street mailing address in the US, UK, Australia or another English-speaking country for your company?
  • Can you give me an email list of referrals of graduates from this course?
  • Can you show me the qualifications of your trainers?
  • How long have you been running TEFL training courses?

Learn more about BridgeTEFL accreditation, recognition by the U.S. Department of Education, and university affiliation.

What is a TEFL course like?

TEFL courses usually cover similar fundamental concepts, including the following:

  • Classroom management
  • Error correction
  • Eliciting information
  • Lesson planning
  • Teaching receptive and productive skills
  • Phonology
  • Vocabulary
  • Analyzing and teaching grammar
  • Developing fluency activities
  • Language testing and professional development

Reading and video content

Online TEFL courses typically present material via reading or video. BridgeTEFL online courses offer a combination of reading assignments, example teaching videos showing actual TEFL instructors in the classroom, interactive assessments to test yourself on what you’re learning, and quizzes (both practice and for a grade).

Written TEFL assignments

Online TEFL courses usually require short assignments to check comprehension on concepts learned. These written assignments, trainees might be asked to analyze a part of speech, justify their choice of activities for a lesson plan, or reflect on other aspects of the course’s content. I BridgeTEFL courses, there are short written assignments in most modules and these assignments are graded by your personal tutor.

Personal TEFL tutor

Most online TEFL courses include a tutor, though the level of access and interaction with this tutor can vary. In BridgeTEFL online courses, a personal tutor grades essays and sample lesson plans that are submitted in most modules. TEFL tutors are also available via a communication feed on your course home page, to answer any questions you have as you work through your course.

TEFL teaching practice

Some TEFL courses offer the option of adding an observed teaching practicum to your online training. In this type of component, such as the Bridge Guided Teaching Practicum, trainees get to apply the skills they’ve learned in their course in an actual classroom with real English learners. Teachers prepare and give lessons that are observed, critiqued, and graded. Many employers prefer this kind of experience so it can be a great way to boost your TEFL resume.

TEFL job placement assistance

Quality TEFL courses include a module or presentation on getting a teaching job after graduation, as well as job placement assistance. BridgeTEFL courses include a Job Advising module to help graduates take the next steps in their English teaching careers. Bridge also provides access to the BridgeTEFL Job Board, where teachers can search open positions worldwide, or create a Teacher Portfolio to showcase their skills and make it easier for employers to find them. Bridge also offers personalized job placement counseling, free job resources such as eBooks and Country Guides, and even specialized Teach Abroad programs that line up the job for you!

Read more about Bridge job suppport for graduates!

Ready to earn your TEFL certificate and begin your teaching adventure? The 12-week Bridge IDELTOnline program is a comprehensive, university-level course that provides a recognized and accredited TEFL certification, while our self-paced online TEFL courses offer certification in a flexible self-study format. Get started today! 

August 9, 2019