views updated Jun 27 2018

TEFL Short for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Also EFL alone. The teaching of English to learners in or from countries where it has not been traditionally used. The terms (T)EFL, (T)ESL, and TESOL all emerged after the Second World War, and in Britain, no distinction was made between (T)EFL and (T)ESL before 1950, both being subsumed under ELT (English Language Teaching). EFL and TEFL are usually pronounced ‘ee-eff-ell’ and ‘teffle’. Informally, someone engaged in TEFL is a TEFLer.


The teaching of English as a foreign language has been common since at least the mid-19c, and for most of that time was comparable to the teaching of any other foreign language. However, with the explosion in the importance of English since the Second World War, teaching it to foreign learners has been so institutionalized that it has acquired a distinct name and acronym. Traditionally, such teaching has been mainly in the care of local teachers at the secondary and tertiary levels in such countries as France and Germany. It has been primarily cultural, more or less on a par with learning a musical instrument. In EFL, however, the teaching has mainly social and economic importance, and such cultural aspects as literature have a secondary role. The focus of (T)EFL is largely on everyday communication, business, and access to English-medium education. In such work, the place of native-speaking teachers has become significant, particularly in privately run schools and colleges. Currently, in Britain, EFL is largely a private, often entrepreneurial activity, ranging from well-established and respected institutions to ‘cowboy’ outfits. Rates of pay for teachers are generally low, conditions of service vary, and the quality of teaching varies with them.

Current situation

Between 1960 and 1990, as demand for courses in Britain steadily increased, TEFL became a significant earner of foreign currency. Some 1,000 private language schools, mainly in southern England, provide short courses for some 250,000 students a year, mostly young adults. A wide range of course materials, published and unpublished, has been produced to cater to this demand and the needs of learners elsewhere. There has been a great increase in radio and TV courses and the provision of examinations and certificates of attainment. The British Council is closely involved in EFL, providing scholarships for foreign students to attend courses or obtain higher degrees in applied linguistics and EFL/ESL. Organizations include the Association of Registered English Language Schools (1960) and the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) (1971). Associated publications include the ELT Journal and EFL Gazette. Teachers at British language schools were at first mainly graduates in English Literature, usually without training as language teachers. In the 1970s–80s, however, there has been a move towards professionalization. Centres for research and development in applied linguistic and EFL/ESL have been established in such universities as Edinburgh, Lancaster, and Reading, strengthening the academic base of the profession and helping to provide teachers with an awareness of the theory and practice of foreign language teaching.


EFL, as represented by the major language schools and the universities in Britain, generally aims at a working command of the spoken and written language. Methods tend to be eclectic and the range of materials wide, generally emphasizing fluency and accuracy. Features of grammar are explained after rather than before being used. The explicit teaching of grammar is not dominant and most teachers do not consider that command of the language is a consequence of knowing a set of rules. The four skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are by and large taught in an integrated way. Classroom activity varies, and pair work, group work, tasks, and projects are all favoured. Reading and writing tend to be taught with practical aims in mind: letters, reports, notes, instructions, stories. Many teachers create their own materials as a supplement to, or a substitute for, published courses, which are available in great variety. By and large, teaching techniques are flexible, varying according to a student's level of attainment (beginner, intermediate, advanced) as well as the aims of the course and students' hopes and expectations.



views updated Jun 11 2018

TEFL (ˈtɛfəl) teaching (of) English as a foreign language