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.


Hi, so does it mean that by taking ONLINE tefl course we will be able to teach? and On-site efl course is not an obligation ?

I wonder do I have to do a on-site efl course to become a teacher, for example in Thailand or in Spain… or is it also acceptable to get a efl certificate by doing online course?
thank you.

I am a secondary teacher from India. I have a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor’s in Education, Masters in English literature and Masters in Education degrees from India. I have more than 12 years of teaching experience in elementary schools and more than 3 years teaching experience in secondary schools. I will be moving to Canada in March and I want to teach. Which course will benefit me most: TEFL, TESOL or TESL? Can I do it online before I come to Canada or I should do it when I reach Canada?

Hi Anjali,

This is a question we hear very often. Which certification is designed for teaching within Canada?

TESL certification is ideal if your plan is to teach within ESL classrooms in Canada.

That said, if you plan on teaching students online who reside outside of Canada, TEFL is your best choice.

If you decide TEFL is right for you, I recommend beginning the course at your earliest convenience. If, however, you choose to opt for TESL, a portion if not the entirety of the course will be conducted in person.

- Elspeth

Elspeth Chalmers
Useful article! Thank you so much
Azzeddine Tamlakoutan
Hi Janani,

Thanks for your question. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign language and a TEFL certification is a certification that qualifies you to teach English in countries where English is not the first language.

There are many different types of careers in English teaching. For instance, some subjects like Math or Science may be taught in English and thus a TEFL certification will be invaluable to you in those cases. Subject-specific teachers may be very experienced in the classroom, but it is typically a challenge teaching a group of non-native English speakers for the first time.

For more on the difference between teaching your subjects at home versus teaching them abroad, check out this blog: https://teflonline.teachaway.com/2016/05/teaching-abroad-versus-teaching-at-home/

If you have any further questions, please feel free to email us at teflonline@teachaway.com


Elspeth Chalmers

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