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TEFL / TESOL / TESL / CELTA / DELTA – What’s The Difference?

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​So you’ve decided it’s time to research more about the best way to live overseas. Teaching English abroad seems like it could fit the bill, but when you get on Google to look up anything to do with teaching English abroad, you quickly find yourself immersed in a complicated new world of acronyms:  TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, ESL, EFL, DELTA and so forth.

Don’t worry, we’ll help you understand the differences between each term, and which one you need to take. First off, let’s clarify what ESL and EFL are and that they’re not certifications in and of themselves:

ESLEnglish as a Second Language.

This acronym typically refers to English language education in countries where English is the official language. Examples of ESL students would be recent immigrants or foreign exchange students studying English in a country where they can be immersed in the language.

EFLEnglish as a Foreign Language.

While confusingly similar to “ESL”, this term is usually used when referring to English language education in countries where English is not the official language (most of the world). Students in this situation often speak their native language in their daily life and only encounter English in a classroom.


TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

TEFL is the most popular and common acronym used to refer to teaching English abroad. A “TEFL certification” refers to the training courses and certificate that are commonly required by language schools and institutes around the globe seeking to hire English teachers.

Be aware that “TEFL” does not refer to a singular body, company, certification, or school.  It is an industry acronym and there are many TEFL schools, TEFL training programs, and certification options of varying degrees of quality, length and expense.


TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

In North America, “TESOL” is more typically used when referring to teaching English to non-native speakers in native English-speaking countries such as the U.S.  Hence, if you want to earn a Master’s degree for teaching English as a second language in your local public school system that degree will likely be in TESOL. 

It is common for British, Canadian and Australian training centers to issue a certificate in TESOL as that is also used for domestic teaching and regulated by their governments.  The US does not have any domestic regulation for teaching English in private language schools and therefore most US and European training would use the term TEFL for teaching abroad.


TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language.

Just like TEFL, a TESL certification enables you to teach English to non-English speakers. The main difference between TEFL and TESL , however, is where you are actually teaching.

A TESL certificate usually refers to people who plan to teach to non-native English speakers living in a native-English-speaking country. In other words, you’d seek a TESL qualification if your primary interest is to teach in a country where English is the first language, such as the United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, or Australia.

However, if your primary interest is in traveling and teaching English overseas, then you should seek a TEFL certification.


CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.

CELTA is a specific brand of TEFL certification that is awarded by the University of Cambridge’s non-profit assessment organization, Cambridge English Assessment.

The course is offered by a variety of different schools and educational institutions around the globe. It is the equivalent of a 4-week, intensive 120-hour TEFL certification, and trains you to teach English to adults only.

It should be noted that many CELTA providers offer limited (usually local) job placement assistance or none at all. The vast majority are language schools and the CELTA organization does not coordinate with other CELTA schools on assistance. So, each school is on their own with regard to resources for job assistance and placement.


DELTA stands for Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults.

Similar to CELTA, DELTA is another certification brand awarded by the University of Cambridge’s non-profit assessment organization, Cambridge English Assessment.

A DELTA qualification is restrictive in the sense that it is only offered to qualified teachers who already have at least one year of teaching experience. Therefore, DELTA should be only be considered as an option for experienced teachers who are seeking more credentials from Cambridge English Assessment, specifically.

While it may look good on your resume or CV, you absolutely do not need a DELTA to teach English overseas.

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