TEFL, TESL and TESOL: What’s the Difference?

Today on the blog we tackle some frequently asked questions about TEFL/TESL/TESOL and how to choose a training certificate that is right for you. Still have questions or need more information to help you make a decision? Feel free to contact our office and one of our program staff would be happy to speak with you.

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

TEFL, TESL, TESOL are NOT certifications or qualifications, these are terms that refer to where and to whom you are teaching English. These terms are used interchangeably, so it can sometimes be confusing to know what they mean!

  • TESL refers to Teaching English as a Second Language: programs in English-speaking countries for students whose first language is other than English.
  • TEFL refers to Teaching English as a Foreign Language: programs in countries where English is not the primary language and is not a lingua franca.
  • TESOL, which stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, is a general name for the field of teaching that includes both TESL and TEFL.

What type of certification do I need to teach ESL/EFL?

There is no single degree or certificate program that authorizes an individual to teach ESL/EFL in all fields or in all parts of the world, so the type of credential you need really depends on where in the world you would like to teach, and to whom.

  • Teaching in Canada: If your primary goal is to teach English to adults in Canada, generally speaking, the minimum qualification to teach English is a bachelor’s degree and a TESL/TESOL certificate from a TESL Ontario or TESL Canada accredited program.
  • Teaching overseas: If your primary goal is to teach English overseas, you may want to contact the department or ministry of education in the country where you plan to work for more information about that country’s education. Generally speaking, most overseas employers demand that applicants have at least a Bachelor’s degree and some sort of TEFL/TESL/TESOL certification. It is important to note that because these terms are used interchangeably, completing a TEFL certificate in order to work overseas is not necessarily better than completing a TESL or a TESOL certificate. Most employers will prioritize the quality of the training you receive over whether the certificate was called TEFL, TESL or TESOL.
  • Teaching in Canada and overseas: If you would like the option to teach both here in Canada and overseas, it would be wise to invest in a program that meets the minimum standards to teach here in Canada (e.g. TESL Ontario/Canada accredited programs), because TEFL certificates or EFL programs do not qualify you to teach here.

Any advice for comparing Certificates and TEFL/TESL/TESOL training programs?

It’s important to note that not all programs TEFL/TESL/TESOL are created equal, and as there are no international standards for regulating this type of training, it is always wise to do some research before investing in a training program. After consulting with applicants, employers and graduates, we’ve created a list of some questions to consider when selecting your training. This list is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully give you a starting point in your search.

Questions to consider:

  • Where in the world do you want to teach? What are the general requirements for English teachers in that country/region? If your primary goal is to teach overseas, do you also want the option to teach in Canada in the future?
  • What are the admission requirements to the program? (This will give you a sense of who the other students will be, and the rigor of the program)
  • Who accredits the training program? Programs that are accredited by professional organizations (e.g. TESL Ontario or TESL Canada( are evaluated/reviewed annually to ensure standards are maintained.
  • Who are the instructors? What are their credentials/qualifications?
  • Do potential employers want you to complete a practicum placement?
    • Is there a minimum # of hours that are required? Do employers have requirements or qualifications required of practicum supervisors?

What is the difference between the TESOL Certificate program offered through Woodsworth College and the TEFL Online program offered through OISE’s School of Continuing studies? Are they related?

Check out our FAQ section for more information.

Still have questions? Feel free to contact us and speak with a University of Toronto Advisor.