Within the world of English language teaching there are many acronyms used to describe what type of teaching is involved in any particular scenario. EFL is one of the more common ones you will come across and it stands for English as a Foreign Language. You will find EFL is most commonly used when describing the teaching or learning of English in a non-English speaking country, such as Spain, Japan, or Mexico.
What’s the difference between EFL and ESL?
It is very common for either of these acronyms to be used when talking about any situation where a student is learning English, however, there is a technical difference between the two. As previously mentioned, EFL is when the student is learning English in a non-English speaking environment, for example, a Japanese student learning English in Tokyo. In this scenario there is often no pressure to learn quickly as the student doesn’t need to speak English other than the few hours they spend in English classes each week.
In contrast, ESL should only technically be used when talking about a situation where the student is learning English in an English speaking environment, for example, a French student learning English in New York. The major difference between the two scenarios is that the EFL student will mainly only speak English within the classroom and then speak their native language outside, while the ESL student gets to speak English both inside and outside the classroom.
What’s the difference between teaching EFL and teaching ESL?
Although both situations involve much the same curriculum of learning, how the teacher organizes the class can be slightly different in each scenario. In EFL classrooms English is generally taught in a traditional manner, where the vocabulary and grammar is worked through in a graded order of difficulty. As this type of student rarely has the opportunity to practice English outside of the classroom it is important that they get to practice as much as possible with games and exercises during class time.
One of the biggest boosts to learning that the teacher can provide in EFL situations is to help the students find genuine opportunities to practice the language outside of the classroom. Setting up a pen pal scheme is one great option for reading and writing practice, while spoken English practice can often be arranged via field trips and English speaking clubs. Another issue that is common in EFL teaching is a lack of motivation. For students who are rarely exposed to natural English outside the classroom it can be hard to stay motivated. One option is to connect English to the individual student’s hobbies and interests. English speaking communities can be found online for almost any conceivable pastime.
In contrast, ESL students need to learn English quickly and efficiently as they will need it to communicate with their new English-speaking classmates or work colleagues and for daily life outside the classroom. As day-to-life life provides countless opportunities to practice English in ESL situations, students often progress quicker than they might in an EFL situation where genuine practice is not so easy to come by.
ESL students, who are usually immigrants or refugees, in a new and unfamiliar environment will often need to learn practical things such as how to fill out forms, how to talk on the telephone, or how to navigate a shopping trip, etc. These immediate practical needs might have to come before general grammar instruction while the student finds their feet in the community. A class of ESL students might also contain people from many different countries and cultures, which means they will need to learn about the local culture and how their culture is seen by locals in order to fit in quickly. Finally, ESL teachers regularly find themselves helping out students with individual problems such as providing assistance with an online job application or guidance on how to access local services, etc.