If you’re preparing for a career in English language teaching, degree types like TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) versus TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) can be confusing. . In fact, they are often used interchangeably, in part due to similar subject matter and terminology.

But they are not the same, and if you are exploring this career, you will need to understand the difference so that you can follow the right path to achieve your goals. Here’s what sets them apart.

TESOL vs. TEFL: What’s the difference?

Although they sound similar, the two acronyms describe two different teaching contexts.

  • TESOL refers to teaching English to individuals and groups who speak another language. This can be in the United States or abroad.
  • TEFL refers to teaching English in places where English is a foreign language. It is particularly useful for those who are passionate about teaching English in multicultural contexts.

TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language, sometimes just ESL) is another acronym that is often confused with TESOL and TEFL. English as a Second Language is especially common for K-12 education systems, and the acronym refers to teaching students who have a different native language.

TESOL/TEFL Career Paths

With over a billion people studying English around the world, the career prospects for those wishing to teach English are at an all time high. In the United States alone, more than 4.5 million public school students are learning English. On top of that, over 5 million households in the United States are considered to have “limited English proficiency”. Not only is the job market huge for English teachers today, but it is likely to grow in the future, especially in areas with large immigrant populations.

While many of these promising jobs are found in schools, from primary to college, English teachers are also needed in businesses, government agencies, publishing, and more. This variety of opportunities within TESOL/TEFL careers provides teachers with places to thrive, no matter what drew them to the field.

“Some people get into this career field because they love the English language,” said Mary Shepard Wong, PhD, director of TESOL Field Programs at Azusa Pacific University. “Others get into it because they like international students or learners from different cultures. Some like the experience of traveling or living abroad while teaching.


Whatever decision you make as you consider TESOL vs. TEFL, APU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has the opportunity to help you take the next step on this exciting career journey. These opportunities include:

  • TEFL certificate: This two-course certification provides the foundational qualifications you need to start a career.
  • TESOL Certificate: Students taking this 18-unit course typically teach in the K-12 system, but they may also be looking to advance their skills (and earn a raise).
  • Master in TESOL: This 33-credit master’s program offers students the best value for money, as it opens doors to teaching English as a second language in colleges and adult schools.

The programs build on each other, which means you can start with TEFL certification and add additional courses later as you progress in your career.

“Start with the TEFL certificate to see if you like it and find out if that’s what you want to do,” recommends Richard Robison, PhD, director of on-campus TESOL programs at APU. “If you decide to quit, you have the bonus certificate for your CV. If you decide that teaching English is something you want to pursue, you are already two classes away from your Masters program.

Whichever route you take, demand is high everywhere, opening up a wealth of options at home and abroad. In fact, a certificate or degree in TEFL or TESOL can be one of the most mobile.

Want to know more about TESOL vs TEFL opportunities at APU? See APU’s TESOL programs for more information on degrees and certifications.