What's the difference between TEFL, TESL, and TESOL?

What's the difference between TEFL, TESL, and TESOL?

Updated February 11, 2022

TEFL, TESL, and TESOL are all certifications for teaching English to English language learners. All of these certifications offer the same level of qualification to teach English.

The one that’s best for you depends on who – and where – you plan to teach. If you are looking to teach abroad it is important to choose the right certification so that you are prepared to be the best teacher you can be. 

So, which course is right for you: TEFL vs. TESL vs. TESOL? Read on to find out!

Update on ESL certification courses in 2022

TEFL, TESL, and TESOL certifications are still accepted by schools around the world seeking to hire international teachers in 2022.

TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

A TEFL certification provides the skills needed to teach English abroad in countries where students do not speak English as their first language, such as China, Japan or Brazil. TEFL certification is the most widely recognized and highly regarded qualification of its kind around the world.

While a 100-hour TEFL certificate is the minimum requirement set by many hiring bodies abroad, it’s important to note that at least 120 hours of TEFL training is the commonly expected standard for the highest salary teaching jobs around the world.

TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

TESL is a qualification for teaching students whose first language is not English, but are currently living in an English-speaking country.

For example, teaching temporary students, workers, or recent immigrants to countries such as the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. A TESL would be suitable for jobs in these countries such as a language support teacher for school students whose first language isn’t English.

TESL courses are most relevant for those looking to teach English within their home country. TESL is also a highly respected ESL qualification in Canada.

TESOL – Teaching English to Students Learning English as a Second Language

This qualification is newer and gives some flexibility as to whether you teach English overseas or in an English speaking country.

However, while TESOL courses may cover a broader range of topics, they tend to study them in less depth. TESOL courses are not as widely recognized and are sometimes incompatible with some curriculum plans.

The University of Toronto offers an online TEFL certification due to its global compatibility, wide recognition and continued success with students. 

To learn more and compare our courses, click here.


Hey :)

What are the steps to become TESL-certified?
Do you have a course for that, or should I start with a TEFL and then progress from there?

Jana Fourie
Hi, I’m Mahtab.

I live in Toronto but I’m not Canadian.
I want to teach ESL but I’m not sure if TESOL or TESL certificate would match my need.
Would you help me please?

When choosing a TEFL course, the two most important things to ask yourself are: Does this TEFL course meet the minimum requirements to teach English abroad? and does it offer you the proper training you need to be successful in the ESL classroom? If it does those things than choosing an in-person or online course is more a matter of preference.
Elspeth Chalmers
Choosing an in-person or online course is more a matter of preference. In-class experience is not usually a factor for employers when hiring teachers. Moreover, an in-person course is not a guarantee of a well-recognized TEFL course. What you should look for instead is a course length that meets the minimum requirements in these countries and that is offered by a reputable provider. As long as you do that, you can be sure that you’re TEFL certificate is going to be recognized worldwide!
Elspeth Chalmers
Hi, I wonder are the certificates obtained by on-site courses and online courses are equal?

(EFL)… If I complete 120 hrs online efl course, would my certificate underline that I took online course (not on-site)?
thank you very much for your time.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.