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Has the Jargon Got You Down?

By Mary Catharine Breadner

Like other industries, the EFL world has an abundance of jargon. From acronyms to theory, it is almost impossible to follow when you are a beginner. When I first started, I had to learn many of the acronyms and jargon during my training, before I was even working in the industry.

Let’s start with the basics, what is the difference between EFL, ELT, and ESL. These three seem to be used interchangeably, but they have very distinct meanings. EFL is English as a Foreign language. These days, most teachers who work in countries where English is not the primary language are teaching EFL. For example, in my case, working in Portugal, where most people’s first language is Portuguese, means that I am teaching English as a foreign language.  Teachers who  teach English in English speaking countries, to learners who didn’t learn English as their first language, are for the most part teaching ESL, or English as a second language. All of this, not to be confused with ELF, which stands for English as a lingua franca, which means when two people whose first language isn’t English use English to communicate. Finally, we have ELT, which is English language teaching, probably what most of you reading this already do or are thinking about doing as a future career. I often get asked, what is the difference? And the answer is, each of these acronyms which look similar has specific meanings and uses. The best advice I can give is to learn them and be able to know which one or ones apply to you.

The next most common question is about teacher training and teacher qualifications for those who are looking at job postings or trying to research how to enter the ELT industry for the first time. Let me start by saying, I am not endorsing one or the other, and you’ll need to do a lot of research on your own before really deciding. But here are a few of my thoughts.

Common questions include:

What is a TESOL? What about TEFL? Is it better to have a CELTA or a DELTA? Is it better to get a CELTA or Trinity? Like above, the world of teacher qualifications is also a minefield of acronyms. TESOL is the umbrella term for the field we are all working in: Teaching English to Speakers of other languages, and the rest are all certificates or programs that qualify teachers to teach English. CELTA, DELTA, and Trinity are all programs for teachers, and they are well known. CELTA and DELTAare both offered by Cambridge, the CELTA is a certificate and the DELTA is a diploma. The DELTA is considerably more intense and requires a substantial skill set to even enter the course. The CELTA and the Trinity(short for the TrinityCERT TESOL) are qualifications that are highly respected worldwide and recommended to anyone wanting to teach overseas as a career. The best advice I can give you is that a certification is important and before you commit to one or the other look at some job postings that you really want and see what they require. It is important to note that some qualifications include practical teaching experience, something that some employers require, so before signing up for an online-only qualification ensure that you don’t need any practical teaching experience to land your first job. It is also important to talk to people currently working in the field to see what they think is the most useful.

So, once you know what type of training you need or want, you’ll have to turn your head to all the acronyms that teachers use in the classroom and professionally. There are so many, and I am only going to discuss a few. The best list with definitions that I have come across is from the Teacher Training Organization at, check out their list of EFL ESL Teaching Terminology.

But let’s go over a few. The first thing that hit me, moving from what was the traditional teaching method I had been exposed to, where the teacher does most of the talking from the front of the room, and the students do most of the listening, was that in an ESL classroom, that is not the case, you will be encouraged to increase Student Talk Time (STT) and reduce the Teacher Talk Time (TTT) as much possible. The idea is that we want students to take risks, apply language and learn as much as possible in the classroom so they can build confidence to speak outside our classroom walls.

The next most important concepts are Productive Skills and Receptive Skills. Most likely your lessons will revolve around improving students productive and receptive skills, productive skills are language production: writing and speaking, and receptive skills: reading and listening. Most, if not all, standardized English tests are also based on these 4 components. You will need to plan to expose students to all four of these skills. They are the basis for most ESL programs.

Speaking of programs, you will also need to know the importance of the coursebooks, the workbooks, and the teacher’s book. Each plays a role in your classroom. The coursebook will guide the content expectations, what the students are projected to learn over the course of the semester or academic year. The workbooks are generally supplementary material that will support students, and you as the teacher, when the coursebooks don’t have enough practice exercises. And finally, the teacher’s book. This is an invaluable resource, it will give you ideas and help to provide some background information on the concepts and content in the coursebooks. And unofficially, there is your very best friend, the internet! There are literally thousands of resources, ideas, and other teachers to connect with online. So, don’t be shy, and connect with others, I am sure that at one time or another everyone struggles with similar challenges making our classes more engaging and impactful.

And finally, there is another wide range of tools, that unfortunately carry another host of acronyms. From the Interactive Whiteboards, commonly referred to as IWB, or the Learners Management System (LMS), usually an online platform designed to support learners or assign homework. There are also the types of classes you might teach, from English for Special Purposes (ESP), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), or the most common Business English.

This might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it gets easier. And it seems that the more you learn, the more jargon will appear.

Keep reading, keep reaching out to other teachers, and most importantly ‘just ask’.

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