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What Is TESOL? What Is TEFL? Which Certificate Is Better – TEFL or TESOL?

What is TESOL?

You’ve been doing your research into getting certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) and you keep also running across the term TESOL. So, what is TESOL? Is TESOL certification the same as TEFL, or is it different? The short answer is, although there is a subtle difference in meaning, the terms TEFL and TESOL are usually used interchangeably when it comes to certification in teaching English.

Despite this common usage, however, there are actually differences in the meaning of these two terms. In this article, we’ll break down each acronym to explain those differences. We’ll also talk about TESOL requirements and other details of getting certified, such as choosing the right course, the cost to get certified, how long courses take, and whether TESOL certification expires.

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Is TEFL the same as TESOL?

These two acronyms are umbrella terms for training courses offered online or in-person (or a blend of both) that prepare English language teachers. Although technically these terms have somewhat different meanings, when it comes to getting certified to teach English as a foreign language or getting hired as a teacher, TEFL and TESOL are used interchangeably. In fact, when you’re shopping around for online TEFL courses, you may even see them described as “TEFL/TESOL courses.” Similarly, schools that hire teachers will make no distinction between the two. You might see an ad for a teaching job that requires “TEFL/TESOL certification,” for example.

Which is better, TEFL vs. TESOL?

In the context of getting certified and applying to jobs, one is not better than the other; they are simply two terms commonly used to describe the same certification. Yet, despite the fact that the terms are used interchangeably by most TEFL providers, language schools, and online teaching companies, there are subtle differences between the two. So, what is the difference between TEFL and TESOL? Let’s take a deeper look at these acronyms to explain.   

Find out how to choose the best TEFL certification.

What does TEFL stand for?

What is TEFL? TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It refers to teaching English in a country where English is not a primary language (rather, it is a foreign language). An example of TEFL would be a teacher from the U.S. teaching English in China.

What does TESOL stand for?

TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Does that sound more general? It is. TESOL includes teaching English as a foreign language (such as in the China example) as well as teaching English as a second language (TESL), meaning in a country where the primary language is English. An example of TESL would be a teacher at an English language institute in the U.S. who teaches students from around the world.

The important thing to keep in mind is that although there is technically a distinction between these two terms, they are widely used interchangeably, so either a TEFL or TESOL certificate will meet certification requirements for jobs teaching English. One exception to this is in reference to university-level studies. For example, if you decided to pursue a degree in teaching English, you’d earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in TESOL, not TEFL.

What is TESOL certification good for?

TESOL certified English teacher, Rachel, teaching English online

Rachel, an online English teacher

TESOL certification, just like its equivalent, TEFL certification, is what you need if you plan to become an EFL or ESL instructor either in a traditional classroom or online. You’ll see this requirement listed in TEFL job postings for online teaching companies, English language schools, and other institutes around the world that hire English teachers. Usually, a TEFL/ TESOL certificate of 120 hours is the minimum standard to qualify for these types of jobs.

If you’re not sure whether you’d like to teach English online, abroad, or some combination of the two, opt for a course like the Master Certificate + Teaching English Online Certification Bundle, a comprehensive, 240-hour course that qualifies you for both jobs online and worldwide. 

Meanwhile, you can also take TEFL/TESOL courses for various specializations. For example, you can help ESL learners prepare for English proficiency exams like the Pearson Test of English (PTE) or the IELTS. You can get TEFL/TESOL training specific to these niches, such as Micro-credentials in Teaching IELTS Exam Prep and Teaching PTE Test Prep.

What TEFL/TESOL certification do you need to teach English online? Find out!

What are the requirements for TESOL certification?

For most online or in-person TESOL courses, the only requirement to sign up is to have an English language level sufficient to succeed in the course. For non-native English speakers, the recommended level for certification usually ranges from a B1 to C2 CEFR level (CEFR is the Common European Framework of Reference, an internationally used standard for describing language ability level).

Each TESOL/TEFL provider will have its own guidelines regarding the required English level, which can vary somewhat depending on the academic rigor of the course. For most of Bridge’s professional certification courses, you’ll need to have a B1 CEFR level. You can find out details about certification prerequisites for additional courses by reading these TEFL/TESOL FAQs.

For the most part, there are no requirements for TEFL/TESOL certification beyond English language proficiency. You don’t need to have a college degree, nor do you need any technical expertise to take an online certification. That being said, there are a few TEFL/TESOL programs that are more advanced, or even university level (offering college credit), that may, therefore, have additional requirements beyond language level, such as a minimum education (a high school or university diploma).

How do I get TESOL certification?

The most common way to get TESOL certification is to enroll in an online course. Online TESOL courses come in a range of hours, such as 40, 60, 100, 120, or 150, and usually provide the flexibility to complete coursework when it’s convenient for you.

See how online TEFL/TESOL certification works.

You can also take in-person TESOL courses in a traditional classroom setting, either locally or in the country where you plan to teach. These courses are typically four weeks long and often follow an intensive, full-time schedule. In-person TESOL courses are, however, less common nowadays, as most people choose to get certified online, especially since COVID-19 changed the way TESOL courses are delivered, moving them to the virtual space. There’s essentially no difference in certification quality with in-person vs. online TESOL courses.

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How much does it cost to get a TESOL certificate?

The cost of TEFL/TESOL certification courses varies depending on some different factors, such as whether you take an online or in-person course, the number of hours of certification, whether the course includes tutor interaction, and the level of the course. You can expect to pay about $200 USD for very minimal online TESOL certification (of about 40 hours) and closer to $400-500 USD for online certification of 100 hours or more. If you opt for university-level online training or a classroom-based TESOL course, the tuition can be substantially higher – usually between $1,000 to $2,500 USD.

Read more about why selecting an accredited TEFL/TESOL course matters.

How long does it take to get a TESOL certificate?

It usually takes between one to three months to complete a self-paced online TESOL course. This depends on the number of hours the course consists of (they can be anywhere from 40 to more than 150 hours) and how much time you can dedicate to working on your course each week. Most people choose to take a TEFL/TESOL course of 120 hours in order to qualify for the most teaching jobs, and this type would take about six weeks to complete, working on it part-time.

Classroom-based TESOL courses, on the other hand, are almost always four weeks long since they are intensive, full-time training.

How long does TESOL certification last?

TESOL certification does not expire; once you receive your TESOL certificate, it lasts a lifetime. Some teachers continue building on their initial certification in order to qualify for more jobs by upgrading their course to add more hours of training or by earning a specialized TEFL/TESOL certificate in a high-demand teaching area, such as teaching English online or teaching young learners, or a shorter TEFL/TESOL Micro-credential course certificate in a current ESL topic, such as Teaching English Using Podcasts.

Find out what comes next after you complete your TEFL/TESOL certification course.

Hawra Saleh, Bridge grad, with her TESOL certificate

Hawra, with her Bridge TEFL/TESOL certificate

TEFL and TESOL are common acronyms in the world of English language teaching and they are used interchangeably by most TEFL providers and language schools. Despite this common usage, it’s helpful for anyone entering the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages to have a clear understanding of what TESOL certification is and the nuances between these two terms.

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Jennifer is from Tampa, Florida, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and psychology. After a short career in social work, she gave in to wanderlust, got TEFL-certified, and moved abroad to teach English. She has taught students of all ages at language centers in Costa Rica, Morocco, and Spain.