Most teachers will be aware of what the three basic acronyms above stand for in our field, but in case you aren’t here they are again:
– English for Speakers of Other Languages
– English as a Foreign Language
– English as a Second Language
In the UK the first two, and especially ESOL, have become quite important as well as having their own distinctive characteristics. During my last trip to the UK I had some conversations with teachers working in both sectors and they explained to me how they differentiate, in very broad terms. I thought I’d share.
EFL has been seen as English for foreigners, taught at private language schools (and increasingly on university short courses) to a largely middle class European or Asian clientele who wished to learn English for general or academic purposes. If you go to Oxford for a summer course, stay with a host family and go on day visits to London then you are probably doing EFL.
ESOL in contrast is English for new migrants. It focuses on English as a component for settling and working in the UK. ESOL had its origins in the 1960s, and was started informally by local councils. ESOL used to be sometimes referred to as ESL, and indeed the equivalent in North America is still called ESL in many contexts. ESOL has now grown into a major sector in the UK, more recently encompassing a whole “skills for life” focus and syllabus and has its own SIG (special interest group) now at IATEFL and its own special qualifications.
There seems to have been, at least historically, an ideological division between the two sectors. ESOL is seen to have had a more co-operative and anti-elitist ethos. I certainly know several English teachers who, disillusioned by teaching well-heeled and wealthy kids abroad have gone back to the UK to work in ESOL. Maybe it is part of the desire to help and make a difference that drove these people to language teaching in the first place. However, with new standards and curriculum guidelines in place, does this ethos still hold true? As one reader of my other blog said: attempts to actually do any learning or teaching (in ESOL) are often severely hampered by a constant pressure to quantify, exemplify and justify what has been learnt, what’s being learnt, and what’s going to be learnt, through meticulous lesson plans for teachers, and individual learning plans for learners.
I personally have taught plenty of EFL in Mexico, Spain and the UK. But I’ve also taught ESL in Canada (what would be considered ESOL). I like both, and each presents its own challenges. What about other readers? Which would you prefer to teach? If you teach ESOL, do you think my explanation above is a reasonable one? Post a comment.