So, you’ve been doing research about getting certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) and you also keep running across the term “TESOL”. You might be wondering what TESOL is, what its difference is with TEFL, and whether their certifications are the same. The short answer is that these two terms are quite similar but they have one subtle, but important, difference in meaning, however they are usually used interchangeably when it comes to teaching certifications.

Despite this common usage, however, we’re here to break down each acronym to explain those differences. These two acronyms are umbrella terms for training courses offered online or in-person (or a combination of both) that certify and train English language teachers. 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 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.

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 and language schools or online teaching companies, a deeper look at what these acronyms stand for will explain the subtle difference between TEFL and TESOL.

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 taught as a foreign language). An example of TEFL would be teaching English to others in China.

On the other hand, TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 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 teaching English in a country where the primary language is English. An example of TESL would be teaching English to language learners in the U.S.

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.

However, other than this, these two are very similar and either one is beneficial for your career as an English teacher!