Frequently Asked Questions
TESOL stands for “teaching English to speakers of other languages.” This term refers to a set of professional skills, knowledge, and identities for teaching English in a comprehensive, systematic way. TESOL students learn about the structure of English, along with principles of language pedagogy, so they can design learning experiences that are engaging and relevant to their students.
TFL stands for “teaching foreign languages.” This term refers to a set of professional skills, knowledge, and identities for teaching languages that are not dominant in local contexts (e.g., French in the United States) in a comprehensive, systematic way. TFL students learn about the structure of their teaching language, along with principles of language pedagogy, so they can design learning experiences that are engaging and relevant to their students.
TESOL, TEFL, and TESL all refer to teaching English to non–English speakers. TESOL is a generic term that refers to teaching English to speakers of other languages. TEFL means teaching English as a foreign language; that is, in contexts where it is not the language of wider communication. TESL means teaching English as a second language. The term TESOL is increasingly preferred, as it makes the fewest assumptions about English learners. English is not always a second language to English learners, who may already speak two or more languages. Similarly, many English learners live in countries like Malaysia or India, where English is one of many official languages; it is thus inaccurate to refer to English as a “foreign language” to these learners.
A TESOL certificate is a less comprehensive version of a TESOL master’s degree. Certificate students study language analysis, language teaching principles, the structure of English, and related skills. Master’s students learn these and similar skills in a greater degree of depth. Master’s students also delve more into the academic side of language education, spending time on fields like applied linguistics and sociolinguistics.
In order to become foreign language teachers, most people enroll in a teacher preparation program. Such programs are based on sets of professional standards that outline the knowledge, skills, and identities required of foreign language teachers. Some foreign language teaching jobs require professional licensure (e.g., working in a K–12 public school), while others do not (e.g., working in a university’s foreign language program).
Graduates of TESOL and TFL master’s programs frequently work in K–12 programs, colleges, and universities as teachers, assessment specialists, curriculum developers, or program directors. Others find similar positions with programs that send teachers abroad for diplomatic, business, or other purposes. TESOL and TFL professionals may also find work as teacher educators, training future language teachers. Note that in the U.S., many states require professional licensure to teach in K–12 public school contexts.
TESOL and TFL graduates are in high demand by schools at all levels of education, from preschool to postgraduate. Others work for government organizations like the U.S. Department of State or the Defense Language Institute, in addition to other institutions that engage in international and intercultural diplomacy.
A language teaching degree is a great first step in building your professional network, which will open doors to jobs and help you stand out from other job applicants. If you are an American citizen, you may consider applying to diplomatic programs run by the State Department, which sends English teachers to other countries in hopes of building cultural and economic ties between those countries and the U.S. You can apply directly to education institutions in the countries where you want to live. Joining nonprofits that coordinate teaching services internationally is another option.