Some people have a hard enough time trying to fathom what ESL is let alone the multitude of other ESL acronyms there are. Of course you don’t need to know absolutely all of them, but it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with a few before you take the plunge into ESL teaching. Knowing these acronyms that are commonly used in ESL may make the difference between getting that job and not getting it (yes, it’s known to have happened before) and of course they’re going to make you appear more knowledgeable from the outset instead of you faking a polite smile and nodding your head when you hear FLT or ESP and wondering “What on Earth does that mean?”
Firstly, we’ve got to distinguish between the two most common acronyms that you’re most likely to hear, ESL – EFL. Many people to this day will tell you they’re the same thing, but this is not the case. While they are similar, they do have their differences – so what are they?
The main difference between ESL and EFL is related to the particular students that are being taught and their location. ESL stands for English as a Second Language and EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. A teacher, who is English born, working and teaching in Poland, is most likely teaching mono-lingual classes of Polish students – this means that they (the students) are learning English as a foreign language just like you might have done with French or German at school. Whereas an English born teacher teaching in London will be teaching a variety of nationalities of students; these students may or may not be living in London permanently, but either way they’re studying English in an English speaking place which means it’s necessary for them to know English, which is why it is called English as a Second Language.
Here, it’s also worth mentioning ESOL which stands for English to speakers of other languages. This is similar to ESL; however, ESOL is generally thought to be of a lower level of English. Imagine immigrants or perhaps refugees entering an English speaking country who have very little English. They’re more likely to join a life skills class where they learn the basics in both English and numeracy to help them assimilate into everyday life.
Gone are the days when students sat down with books and learned a second language in the traditional method. These days, depending on the school or institution there’s a lot of great (and sometimes daunting) technology to use. If a potential employer asks you about your CALL experience, they basically want to know what your experience is with Computer Assisted Language Learning. This could mean using your laptop that’s hooked up to a projector, it could mean controlling your students from the main computer in a LL (Language Lab) or, it could mean using special learning software on your LCD board (Smart board).
If you do some teacher training courses related to ESL teaching, there are also a number of acronyms that you’re going to hear. You’ll definitely hear TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). It’s even quite likely that your first course you do when beginning a training course is a TESOL course, and this is also the name of a reputable English teachers association. Other variants of this include TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). While on your training courses for the first time, you’ll almost certainly hear the terms L1 and L2. This is not a way of numbering students; it is a way of highlighting and referencing their languages. A learner’s primary language is their L1 (their mother tongue) and the language that they’re learning is their L2. When setting out into the world of teaching for the first time, you’ll quickly become acquainted with the 5W’s (Who, What, Where, When, and Why), especially if you’re teaching lower level groups. If you’ve never taught before, you’ll soon discover that the 5W’s become indispensible in your lesson.
There are a number of English classes other than general ESL classes that you may also teach such as EAP (English for Academic Purposes). This includes pre-sessional courses at college or university level to acquire or brush up on their English skills to fulfill their academic courses. As a NS (native speaker) teacher, you’ll be required to help these students achieve their English goals so they can follow English courses in whichever country they’re living in. Additionally, if you’re working at an institute that holds many adult classes, you may get the opportunity to teach ESP (English for Special Purposes). ESP relates to specialised courses that have been tailored to a particular need, usually a profession or field of expertise such as EST (English for Science and Technology). Other popular courses that fall under the ESP umbrella are Medical English, Business English, English for Marketing, and English for Tourism.
There are other acronyms related to English language learning and over the years when you become a more experienced language teacher, you’ll slowly begin to familiarise yourself with more. Till then enjoy what you’re doing and have fun because when the teacher has fun, so do the students.
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