EFL and ESL: two sides of the language teaching coin

EFL and ESL: two sides of the language teaching coin

The world of teaching English comprises plenty of abbreviations. You have probably faced many of them: ESOL (English for speakers of other languages), ELL (English-language learner), ESP (English for specific purposes), EIC (English for international communication) and others. The “celebrities” among them, ESL and EFL, stand for English as a second language and English as a foreign language respectively. Representing the borderline of acquisition techniques, teaching methods and needs of learners, they still remain confusing for some educators, especially those who feel curious about implementing techniques of ESL in their initially EFL classrooms. Do we really need to cross the methodological line in our belief that ESL is way more efficient? Or is it better to resist temptation? Let’s discover the issue that has gained more popularity than we’d expected before.

According to Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada, authors of the widely acclaimed book called “How languages are learned”, the differences in acquisitions have to be taken into account from very early childhood since such information influences our teaching practice significantly: “This background is important because both second language research and second language teaching have been influenced by changes in our understanding of how children acquire their first language. …one significant research finding concerns the similarities between the first and second language acquisition”. The latter point sounds attractive, though starting early childhood the innate learning language capacity does differ. The response to these differences lies in the very existence of EFL and ESL concepts. 

ESL: turning “second” language into the first 

ESL, or English as a Second language, is taught in countries where it is used as a primary communication tool and an official language. ESL programmes serve the specific need: they pay special attention to the practice that will be necessary for the further integration of a student into society. Regarding young learners and juniors, it means adjusting them to use English regularly in the classroom. 

Teacher’s role

Learners’ survival skills are at stake here, and teachers should consider personalised or differentiated methods to apply in the classroom to achieve the best results. Another key feature of a teacher in an ESL classroom is in providing not only language but relevant cultural and historic insights. 

How the language is taught

  1. A teacher focuses on helping students to become confident language users whose receptive and productive skills are equal to the skills of their English-speaking peers. Among the reasons to achieve native-like fluency are educational emigration, English-speaking life and work environment and others. 
  2. Despite working with multilingual learners, educators may provide full exposure to L2 due to the lack of command of learners’ native languages. 
  3. Along with the General English course, which is needed to build confidence in a student’s daily communication, specific purposes are also taken into account as students are supposed to study other subjects entirely in English. 

How to choose classroom activities 

The content should be diversified: ideally, daily communication practice should be wisely mixed with socio-cultural aspects of living in a country. Think about the insightful video and audio materials that contain these aspects and transparently cover them. Presentations and subsequent Q&A sessions or lively discussions are of great help. Other activities may include problem-solving tasks as a milestone of real day-to-day communication. 

EFL: teaching and learning language in a non-native environment 

EFL abbreviation refers to the situation when the target language is taught outside of the English-speaking world as a part of a curriculum in schools, colleges or universities. Initially perceived as a foreign language, English in these classrooms doesn’t offer the same level of exposure. 

Teacher’s role

A lower degree of daily language practice makes the comprehension speed of learners lower, and students may experience difficulties with developing crucial skills. First and foremost, educators need to understand how to deal with the issue of limited hours of guided practice. 

One of the most obvious solutions is to offer your group or/and individual students higher intensity of classes to be held. At least 2 or 3 hours per week is a comfortable pace that provides much-needed efficiency and visible results. If you are not sure how to convince students to book more classes, check the recent research conducted in Skyeng. 

How the language is taught

  1. Since the language immersion is significantly less intensive in comparison with ESL, EFL students are provided with step-by-step language instructions and materials, in which the difficulty level of language content is graded. 
  2. Although EFL teaching methods are regarded as more traditional, a teacher’s task is no mean feat: assuming that there is a little chance students will dive into an English-speaking environment right after a lesson, he/she has to make the most of activities targeted at fluent and accurate use of the language during the class.  

Classroom activities

Fluency over accuracy principle is of utmost importance here, and to maximize the first, teachers should be familiar with the communicative approach techniques. Interviews, role plays and scavenger hunts together with other relevant activities should be offered to students to ensure real and effective communication. Using authentic materials may inspire students to simulate all the aspects of target language use after analysing how natives act in different situations. 

ESL, EFL and things they share

In terms of basic language content being taught, there are no differences between EFL and ESL, though such things as a course syllabus, the place of language input and output should be taken into account along with individual purposes. Nowadays we are all living in a world where it’s easy to switch between various language environments. What it means is that students’ roles are changing too: they may start with attending EFL classes and eventually end up being ESL students. Not only should we be ready to help learners to cross this acquisition gap smoothly but also examine the ways of maximizing certain types of ESL content in our EFL curriculum (aka “lack of real communication” curriculum sometimes). 

The great news is that more and more learning materials are becoming EFL-student-friendly. For instance, the CLIL approach has become a real game-changer, thus giving EFL learners more chances to discover other subjects’ content solely in the target language, just like in English-speaking educational institutions. Another key factor is the expanding community of native and non-native English teachers who collaborate and exchange ideas on teaching, boosting professional skills and students’ engagement. This conceptual shift affects the very existence of the EFL and ESL borderline, which is becoming more obscure with the constantly elevating language competence of students we teach. 

What are your thoughts about the further methodological existence of these concepts? Are they to stay or to go? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.

Анастасия Яковлева

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