TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language; TESOL is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
In other words, they are different ways of referring to the same thing. In some cases a distinction is made between TEFL and TESL, where the latter term refers to Teaching English as a Second Language (that is, to learners who aim to settle permanently in an English speaking community). ELT is English Language Teaching
As worldwide demand for English increases, so has the demand for teachers of English. English has become the language of international communication, meaning that people from all parts of the world need English to do business with each other, travel, access internet, appreciate films and music and so on.
The prospect of travel abroad and experiencing new cultures attracts a lot of people to English language teaching, and the opportunity to teach is, itself, exciting.
Many people teach and travel for a few years and then move to other professions, in some cases fame and fortune! Famous former Teflers include Bob Geldof, Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Nick Hornby!
Others decide to make a career of it and go on to work towards further professional qualifications such as a Trinity Diploma in TESOL or DELTA, and finally a Masters in EFL. Many Teflers are career-change people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s, who have opted for a change of career and lifestyle.
If you want to find out more about TEFL in general and get a flavour of the profession, a good place to start is our TEFL links page, which includes links to other TEFL sites offering jobs, courses, materials, discussion forums and so on.
Choosing the right course
In some parts of the world demand is such that schools are prepared to employ people to teach without a qualification. However, in order to increase your range of job prospects, and feel more confident in your ability to teach effectively, it is wise to undertake training.
There is often confusion about TEFL Certificates, TESOL Certificates and CELTA qualifications.
External monitoring of Cambridge CELTA and Trinity TESOL courses provides a mechanism of quality control, which “self-monitoring” TEFL courses cannot provide and leads to British Council recognition of both qualifications. Many courses claim “international recognition”, but this means very little in itself, without regular, external monitoring of the course.
Some employers and immigration authorities will insist on a Trinity or CELTA certificate.
There are many self-monitoring courses on the market which are very similar in structure to Trinity and CELTA courses, but, although some of them may provide very effective preparation for teaching, they do not have the equivalent credibility.
Online TEFL courses, such as our own TEFL Starter course, can be very useful, as long as they are understood to be a taster or introduction to teaching. They are no substitute for a course with face-to-face teaching practice.