ESL acronyms – A Guide

The smallest bit of research into teaching English as a job brings up an amazing array of new and confusing ESL acronyms. ELT, ESL, TEFL, CELTA……I mean, just to start with, what do ESL mean? Is it the same as TEFL? The same letters are used for the job and for the courses…..different ones use different letters.

It can all be baffling.

In this post, we’ll try to demystify some of the alphabet soup that is TEFL acronyms and abbreviations and explain what they mean.

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General ESL Acronyms

Let’s start generally with what the discipline is called. You’ll see it called ELT, ESL, TESOL, and TEFL, depending on where you look. These four may have different words, but they are exactly the same thing.

ELT – English Language Teaching

ESL – English as a Second Language

TESOL – Teaching English to speakers of other languages

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Basically, all the above ESL acronyms mean that you teach English to students who have a different first language. It doesn’t matter whether these students are in an English speaking country, in their home country or somewhere else, it’s the same thing. Somehow, you help students to improve their ability to communicate in and understand English.

Officially, ESL means teaching English to people to whom English is a commonly used second language, generally people living in an English speaking country. This covers teaching refugees and children in schools who’ve moved from a different country. TESOL and TEFL, however, tend to refer to teaching English in a non-English speaking country. However, all three ESL acronyms are used intermingling.

What makes this all more confusing, is that the teacher training course providers use the same acronyms for their courses. In fact, TESOL is used for courses and as the name of one of the professional bodies. Generally, it’s just a generic term to mean teaching English.

ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages

This one is a bit different. It’s usually used to talk about language provision to people learning English because they have to live and work in English speaking countries. These classes usually focus on practical aspects of life such as applying for jobs, dealing with the bank, understanding pay slips and working with your child’s school.

A big letter A to represent letters used in TEFL acronyms

New to teaching English? Read all of our posts on advice for new TEFL teachers, all written by real teachers working internationally

TEFL Acronyms for Courses

If you want to be an English teacher, it’s a very good idea to get yourself some training. There are many different qualifications out there to choose from, with a multitude of acronyms. This is where it gets really confusing.

CELTA – Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

This is the most well-known of the teaching qualifications, and the longest-running.  It’s run by Cambridge University, who also run many of the international English language exams for students and who have a huge English language teaching publishing arm. You don’t need any experience to do it and it includes both taught input and practical classroom experience with real students. You can do the CELTA all over the world, both full-time and part-time, and there is now a course which can be partly done online.

TESOL – Teaching English to speakers of other languages (as above!)

The only real CELTA equivalent is the Trinity TESOL certificate, run by Trinity College, London. Again, you don’t need any experience to do this, and it includes taught input and practical classroom experience. You can do this course all over the world as well, although it is less widespread than the CELTA.

The CELTA and the Trinity certTESOL certificates are accepted worldwide and by the big English language teaching companies such as the British Council and International House.

However, a lot of other companies also use the name TESOL to describe their certificate. This name alone does not guarantee quality or acceptability.

If you are looking at a non-Trinity TESOL, you need to check out the course and the organisation carefully. Find out who accredits the course and if it is a genuine accreditation organisation. Check out if your teaching practice is with real students or teaching your classmates.  Google it and see if any reviews or positive and negative stories come up from past teachers.

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign language (as above)

TEFL is also a term used by many companies to describe their certificates. As with TESOL, it doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s just four letters.

TESOL and TEFL are common ESL acronyms for online courses. Some programs even give you two certificates, one with each acronym on it, which quite frankly, it overkill! However, they use it as a selling point and claim it makes them better. Be careful. We have a post on what to look for when choosing an online course that will be useful for you.

ESL courses for teaching children

CELTYL – Cambridge English Language Teaching to Young Learners

This is an extension course to the CELTA course, specialising in teaching children. I’m not sure that your initial teaching qualification needs to be an actual CELTA to take it, but you do need some kind of teacher training qualification. This course seems to have stopped now.

TYLEC – Trinity Young Learners Extension Certificate

This is the Trinity version of the course above, again an extension of an initial teacher training course specialising in teaching children.

Not sure what kind of job teaching English you want? Read our post on different types of TEFL job.

Diploma level teaching courses


This used to stand for Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults, but they have dropped the capital letters to make it just a name. This is because you can now do a Delta if you teach children. The Delta consists of three modules: Modules 1 and 3 can be taken online, but Module 2 includes teaching practice, so it needs to be done either at a teacher training centre or at your own school with a local Delta tutor. It takes about 1-2 years to complete.

DipTESOL – Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language

The DipTESOL is the Diploma level course from Trinity College London. The content is very similar to the Delta, but the delivery is slightly different. Again, it takes 1-2 years to complete, but most of it can be done online, with the teaching practice element done over 2-4 weeks at a training centre.

The Delta and DipTESOL are Diploma level qualifications, designed for experienced teachers of English who want to develop their knowledge and skills. The Delta is run by Cambridge University, and the DipTESOL by Trinity College, London.

These are longer courses – about three months if you do it intensively or up to three years if you do it while working. You need a minimum of two years experience to take one, and it’s recommended that you have more.

Kris has the Delta and Kate has the DipTESOL, so if you want more information about them both, send us a message.

If you want some idea of what course to choose, check out our blog What qualification do you need to teach English?

Letters, many of which make TEFL abbreviations

Professional bodies’ TEFL Abbreviations Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (again!)

This is an American based professional organisation for English teachers. They publish a journal, run conferences and have a jobs portal. Teachers need to pay a fee to join. They don’t accredit teaching qualifications, but they do give some useful advice about how to check out accreditation from course providers.


This is a British-based professional organisation. They run an annual conference every year in the UK and at least one online, and have associate organisations around the world who also run conferences. We are both members and present at the Ukraine conference regularly.

Teachers who join get regular copies of their magazine each year. Again, they do NOT accredit teaching qualifications.


ELT Exam Acronyms

IELTS – International English Language Testing System

The exam that students take if they want to study or work in an English-speaking country. Co-owned by the British Council, IDP Australia and Cambridge English, it is very common for students wanting to go to the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as international universities in other countries.

It tests four skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing. There are two types: Academic, for study abroad, and General, for work. They only differ in the reading and writing components.

There is also IELTS Life Skills now, which is an exam for migration and visas. It’s designed to test students at lower levels.

TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language

Exam for students wanting to study in the USA. Again, tests the four skills. One of the differences between IELTS and TOEFL is that TOEFL is 100% computer based, whereas the speaking test for IELTS is done with a real human.

TOEIC – Test of English for International communication.

Another American test, this one aimed at people working in English.

Cambridge Exams

Cambridge University has a suite of exams to test students English levels. They are probably the most popular apart from IELTS and TOEFL. You can get jobs preparing students for them all over the world. They come with their own range of ESL acronyms:

FCE – Cambridge First, or First Certificate in English.

Upper-Intermediate (B2) level test.

CAE – Cambridge Advanced English

As it says on the tin, an advanced level test.

CPE – Cambridge Proficiency in English

The highest level of English there is. It was the very first official international English qualification, apparently, designed for local officials working for the British Empire.

KET and PET – Key English Test and Preliminary English Test

Lower level English tests, PET is A2 (pre-intermediate) and KET is B1 (intermediate).

PTE – Pearson Test of English

Not to be confused with PET, Pearson publishing company also have a suite of English tests. The adult tests are known as Levels 1-5, with level 1 being for A2 and 5 for C2 (see below for explanation of these TEFL acronyms). Pearson also has an IELTS equivalent called PTE Academic.

There are many more English language tests, but these are the ones you will see most frequently.

CEFR – Common European Framework of Reference

Another ESL acronym you will see related to English levels. This is the European measurement of language levels, using a set of ‘Can do’ statements. The levels are A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2, with A1 being the lowest level and C2 the highest. Coursebooks, exams and sometimes English classes use these letters to describe student levels.

Letters that make up common ESL abbreviations

Teaching ESL Acronyms

OK, lastly, here’s a round-up of some of the other TEFL acronyms you might read about in English teaching. It’s by no means exhaustive.

EAP – English for Academic Purposes

This means teaching the language English students need at English-speaking universities. This usually involves a lot of writing, listening to lectures and academic reading.

YL – Young Learners

Students aged from around 2, to about 16 years old.

ELF – English as a Lingua Franca

Most conversations in English as likely to take place between two non-native speakers, rather than a native and a non-native, so ELF focuses on what they would need to communicate effectively.

CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning

Teaching English through other subjects, such as science, maths and history. This is becoming popular in private schools internationally, where part of the students’ curriculum is delivered in English, rather than in their 1st language.

PPP – Presentation, Practice, Production

The most widely known teaching ‘method’, where you present new language to students, give them opportunities to practice it and then they use it in a real communicative situation.

TBL – Task Based Learning

Another method, where you give students a task to do in English, monitor how well they do it and then give them feedback and language work based on what they found difficult to do.

TTT – Test, Teach, Test or Teacher Talking Time

Three letters, two meanings. We don’t make this easy, do we? Test Teach Test is a teaching method where you test students on a language point, then teach what they don’t know, then test them again.

Teaching Talking Time is how much time teachers spend talking, compared to their students. The aim is not to have this so high. Inexperienced teachers (and more experienced ones sometimes, actually), tend to talk too much and not give students time to say anything and practice communicating.

Well, that’s all the ESL acronyms I can think of right now. No doubt I’ve forgotten some important ones. If you think I have, feel free to comment on this blog and I’ll try to add them.

If you are interested in letters and teaching, Scott Thornbury has a blog called An A – Z of ELT where he talks about lots of them. There’s a book too which is pretty good.

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7 Responses

  1. Pramod Chandran says:

    I am a bit confused between Trinity TESOL and CELTA, the reason being Trinity TESOL is available in a location near to me.However, if CELTA is capable of making a difference between getting selected for a position and being rejected , then of course I have to go for it.Which one is ideal?

  2. Reena says:

    Hi kate
    I am still confused about which course I should be doing please help me and I can only do it online and what is the cost of the course

  3. Aayushi says:

    Hi! I would like to know that which course should i need to opt for teaching english abroad as non native Indian speaker.

  4. poline says:

    Hello! Please help me with my thesis ((I can’t remember one methodology/strategy for teaching a foreign language. This is an abbreviation. Each letter is one step in learning (theory, for example), where the last step is a creative task. The bottom line is that after going through all the steps, the student firmly remembers the material.

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