TEFL vs. TESL vs. TESOL

While all of these certifications equally qualify you to teach English to English language learners, choosing the right certification for you depends on where you want to teach and what you plan to do with your qualification.

Here's what you need to know to understand the differences between these common English teaching qualifications

  TEFL TESL TESOL

Acronym definition

Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Teaching English as a Second Language

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Who is this course for?

A TEFL certificate is for individuals of all experience levels who plan to teach abroad in countries where English is not a first language.

A TESL certificate is suited for individuals who plan to teach domestically in Canada or in countries where English is a first language.

A TESOL certificate is for individuals who are interested in teaching in English and non-English speaking countries.

Course focus

A TEFL course will teach you how to teach English to students with little to no opportunity for English immersion in their home country. A TEFL certification course may include units specific to teaching abroad covering topics such as resume preparation and teaching destinations.

A TESL course is a highly respected qualification in Canada and will qualify you to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to students whose first language is not English.

A TESOL course will prepare you to teach English to non-native English speakers, and will cover English language teaching strategies useful in EFL and ESL classrooms.

Where can I teach?

With a TEFL certification, you can teach abroad in countries where English is not the native language, for example Korea, China, Brazil etc.


TESL-certified teachers commonly teach in private native-English language schools in English speaking countries such as Canada.

Like a TESL certificate, a TESOL certification is often used for domestic teaching within English speaking countries but could also be applicable internationally.

What type of teaching job can I get?*

Suitable for many careers, individuals with a TEFL certification use their training in a variety of paid and volunteer teaching positions abroad such as ESL Instructor, Certified Teacher, and Administrative roles.

A TESL certification will allow you to work in native-English schools as a language support teacher, or an instructor in a private language school to newcomers or recent immigrants, in an English-speaking country.

Similar to TESL-certified teachers, TESOL certificate holders are most competitive for domestic teaching jobs.

Note: TESOL is commonly used by membership organizations like TESOL International and by universities to refer to their graduate degree programs, such as a Master of Arts in TESOL.

What is the benefit of this course?

A TEFL certification is the most widely recognized and highly-regarded certification to teach abroad in foreign countries where English is not the first language.

A TESL certification is recognized by TESL Canada, an organization that validates ESL teacher training programs that meet the national Canadian standard.

Like a TESL certification, a TESOL certificate is is regulated by governments in countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia.

Important considerations

Since there is no single international governing body to accredit TEFL certifications, it’s important to choose a TEFL course that will be recognized by international employers and has been developed by a reputable university or institution.

A TESL certificate must be recognized by TESL Canada, an organization that validates English teacher training programs that meet the national standard.

TEFL and TESOL are often used interchangeably, however, TESOL certification is not always as widely recognized internationally and can be incompatible with some foreign curriculum plans.

*Teaching jobs may have more requirements in addition to having an English teaching certification

While all three certifications will qualify you to teach English, you need to keep your desired teaching location when selecting the course that’s right for you.

If you would like to teach domestically within English speaking countries, choose a TESL or TESOL course. If you want to teach abroad, choose a TEFL certificate for its global compatibility, recognition and continued success rate among teachers looking to teach overseas.

Want to learn more? Download our TEFL brochure to learn more about earning your TEFL Certification from the University of Toronto OISE.

Earn your TEFL certification online from the University of Toronto and teach abroad with industry-leading training in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

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TEFL vs. TESL vs. TESOL

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