ESL versus EFL According to

According to, In an ESL situation, the learner is learning English within an English environment and needs to understand and speak English outside of the classroom too. In an EFL situation, the learner learns English inside a classroom, but continues to speak her own language when she leaves the classroom. From 2000 to 2005 I taught adults in California. For two summers I was asked to teach English to Hispanic employees of two local businesses at their jobsites. The employers wanted to give their Spanish-speaking workforce the opportunity to learn English so they could assimilate more easily into their English-speaking environment. My objective was to teach practical communication skills. In these contexts it was important that they learn basic, everyday English. It wasn't necessary for them to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of grammar, just a recognition of words and the ability to function in the community. I didn't use a textbook and created handouts from various resource materials. Students were given pictures with words like 'woman', 'women', 'man', 'men' and I attempted to assist them with their pronunciation.

We learned numbers, days of the week, months of the year, how to ask for directions, how to fill out an employment application, common foods, i.e., practical, everyday information. There was no homework, nor textbooks for the students to use. They did not receive a grade nor were they required to attend class. So in that sense it was not a traditional ESL classroom, but the emphasis still was ESL-based. 'Typically, this sort of English is learned to function in the new host country, e.g. within the school system (if a child), to find and hold down a job (if an adult), to perform the necessities of daily life.'

( English_language_learning_and_teaching)

In stark contrast, my experience during the past several months in Spain (an EFL setting) has been predominantly with students between the ages of 12-15 for whom English is a required school subject. Their motivation in coming to me is to review English with a native speaker, as the teachers in their school are Spaniards and don't emphasize speaking or pronunciation, as they themselves don't speak English very proficiently. What I found is that, as a result, the students have very little occasion to speak English in the classroom. The emphasis is on grammar, and their exams are all written. I've been surprised by their high level of grammar knowledge and reading comprehension, yet I've found that they cannot take this ability and effectively transfer it into a speaking situation. They are able to learn the material in order to pass their exams but cannot effectively hold a conversation. Pronunciation problems abound, as they don't have a chance to really learn how to speak the words they're learning in class. They have book learning but limited practical experience.

In my experience in Spain, adults in an EFL setting come to class because they want to learn to use English in order to advance in their careers. They have a practical reason, and their motivation is high, but again they have limited opportunity to use English in an everyday context.

In conclusion, both from my personal experience as well as research I did on the Internet, it appears that there is a distinction between ESL and EFL. In an ESL classroom it may be multilingual whereas in an EFL setting it would typically be monolingual. Goals of the students are different and the emphasis in the classroom is also different. If I were in a predominantly English-speaking country, I would be teaching English to non-native speakers who have immigrated to that country and need to learn how to effective assimilate into the culture. On the other hand, in a country where English is not the predominant language, I would be teaching it to students who are living in the country where they are native speakers and the reason they would be taking my class would be to get a better grade in school or to advance in their profession. Course objectives as well as materials I would use would reflect that distinction and I would need to be flexible and adaptable to each specific situation.