What is TEFL?

‘I am an EFL teacher and trainer’.

A typical retort to this comment is: ‘What’s that?’

For the uninitiated EFL means English as a Foreign Language. EFL therefore describes the situation where learners are learning English in a context where the official language is not English. In other words, Spaniards learning English in Spain or Japanese learning English in Japan.

My profession, ELT (English Language Teaching) adores abbreviations. These acronyms are a shorthand that are easy to bandy around if you are ‘in the know’ but what if you do not know what the letters stand for. TEFL, for example, is an acronym that describes the subject – Teaching English as a Foreign Language. However, unlike other subjects such as Maths or History there are other acronyms that describe variations such as TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) amongst others. TESOL is primarily used in the US where obviously English is the main language and not a ‘foreign’ language.

In order to enter the TEFL profession you need qualifications (initially a TEFL Certificate). This is where the confusion often arises. The question I am mostly frequently asked is: ‘What is the difference between a TEFL Certificate and CELTA?’ This is not a straightforwardOhhh an invitation question to answer because CELTA is a TEFL Certificate. CELTA (accredited by Cambridge) is the most widely known and internationally recognised initial TEFL qualification. I would recommend doing a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) if you are serious about teaching EFL. There are centres worldwide offering full-time, part-time and online / blended options such as my centre in Istanbul (www.iti-istanbul.com). iti-logo-med-large-37a71d4b7c54d91468d35691cd0f8759

When choosing a TEFL course it is important to check that it includes at least 6 hours teaching practice (TP). A TEFL course without teaching practice is going to be of limited value as training to teach has to include time spend planning and practising in a real classroom situation and getting feedback on your performance. Beware of courses that only include ‘micro-teaching’ as this means teaching your colleagues which is not the same as teaching real learners at all.

So to sum up, if you are interested in a career in ELT and want to teach EFL then the first step is to get a TEFL qualification. I would recommend a CELTA course as it includes TP. When you complete the CELTA I guarantee you will be armed with many more acronyms!


About Tom Godfrey

I am an ELT teacher and teacher trainer. I am Director of ITI, Istanbul a training institute in Istanbul. I am also founder of Speech Bubbles theatre which performs musicals to raise money for children and education.
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2 Responses to What is TEFL?

  1. Hi Tom!
    Happy to see your blog!
    Good luck!

  2. courses TEFL says:

    TEFL Test

    Everyone knows that TEFL simmers with testing, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the high standards of the course and the need for all round skill development of students. However, with so many information on different tests flying around, it can be quite difficult to understand what’s what and key differences between them. In fact you may even know about certain tests without being aware of their label or what purpose they serve. So to start off with, let’s take a look at different tests that are relevant to a class of foreign learners.
    The Three “P”‘s
    Placement, Progress & Proficiency are the three P’s of TEFL testing and serve as the pillars for TEFL teachers.
    Placement test is useful to find the ideal course for a student, especially when a concrete syllabus will be used during the course. This helps in places where there are numerous courses available to be pursued and the student is confused on what suits their goals and skills the best.
    A progress tests helps determine how much the student has learnt, and is conducted both during and after the completion of the course. This should ideally revolve around the course content.
    Proficiency test, on the other hand measures the fluency and mastery of the English language away from the confines of the curriculum. It is used to assess the proficiency of specific spoken/written skills in contrast to a generalised assessment.
    Norm & Criterion Testing
    Norm testing helps in finding out the skills and progress of a student relative to other students and arriving at a percentile score by making a comparison. This is usually used in courses where there is big demand and only those scoring a 80th percentile or such will be selected. The idea is that rather than the mark, the rank plays the crucial role. So even if your marks are low, as long as they’re better than 80% of the students, you’re selected.
    Criterion testing on other hand makes no such comparison but rather focuses on the ability of the student to meet a certain criteria/standards of the test.
    Language Dominance Test
    This is important since TEFL students are bilingual, its very likely that their native language overpowers their English. So you’ve got to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of both the languages of a student and design a curriculum that better suits their profile. For instance, some students may be great in writing creative essays in English but fall back to their native language while making conversational small talk.
    These tests are used after the completion of the course to get feedback from the student on the curriculum and and teaching methods. This helps in preparation of future courses.
    Direct & Indirect Tests
    Direct tests are used for assessing a student’s ability in writing/speaking/reading in a straightforward manner. For instance, to check their ability to write letter/essays, they’ll be given a topic and asked to write an essay on it.
    Indirect tests on other hand assesses their knowledge of a specific skill with the use of multiple choice questions, comprehension, jumbled sentences, etc.
    There are also integrative tests which involve a combination of different skills. For example, you might be asked to listen to a speech and then write a essay either supporting or denouncing the content of the speech.
    There are more tests tucked away in a TEFL teacher’s arsenal and we shall explore them all in a subsequent article. Until then, please share in the comment, your preferred type of testing for a TEFL class.

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