Survival Guide to TEFL Acronyms

If you want to be an effective teacher, you need to distinguish your grammatical apples from your grammatical onions, and know what people are talking about when they refer to CBT, TTT, or PET.

But never fear – here are all the acronyms that you will need to know (and a few extra)

Acronyms about teaching and learning 

In the classroom and in the staffroom, you’ll find your colleagues referring to myriad of terms with abbreviations and acronyms. 

BL : Blended Learning.This is when a course is part online and part face to face.

CBT : Computer Based Teaching

CLIL : Content and Language Integrated Learning This refers to combining the teaching subjects (such as science, history, maths etc)  and language – whether the language learning is more important, or the subject depends on the context. 

L1 : First or Native Language In a classroom you will hear other teachers saying “try not to let the students speak L1”. They mean although you might be in Spain teaching a group of Spanish students, don’t let them speak Spanish to each other in class!

L2 : Second Language

NNEST : Non-native English-speaking Teacher Some of the best teachers of English are those who have learnt it as a second language themselves. They often have a far better grasp of grammar than native speakers. Whether somebody is a native speaker or not is really irrelevant as to how good a teacher they are. 

NS : Native Speaker Somebody who has the language as their mother tongue. (For example a person growing up in France would probably be a French native speaker.)

STT : Student Talking Time In a classroom, this is the time that students are talking.

TL : Target Language In a classroom, the language that you are teaching – whether it’s English, German, French or Yiddish. 

TTT : Teacher Talking Time This is when the teacher is speaking and the class are listening. For a communicative classroom, keep TTT to a minimum  - your students need to speak, not just listen to you!

YL : Young Learners  The age range between VYL (very young learners), YL (young learners) and teenagers is not absolutely defined. But teachers generally talking about YL classes generally mean somewhere between aged 8 to 15. 

VYL : Very Young Learners Very young learners are aged between about 2 and 8. There are curricula designed precisely for them! 


Acronyms about the industry 

CEFR : Common European Framework This defines the language levels that learners can have, split from A1 (beginner) to C2 (very good). This is used in books, exams, testing etc – you’ll get very familiar with it!

CUP : Cambridge University Press  A very well-respected publisher of textbooks for the ELT industry.

DOS: Director of Studies A DOS is a manager in a school, usually the line manager of a group of teachers. They will be a qualified teacher themselves, and might still teach (depending on the size of the school and the number of teachers they manage). Similar terms might be Academic Manager or Director of Education. (You’ll also find ADOS – Assistant Director of Studies). 

EAP : English for Academic Purposes This is specific curricula, most probably taught in universities designed for the specific language and writing style necessary in an academic context. 

EFL : English as a Foreign Language Used to describe English teaching in foreign countries, where English is not the first language.

ELF : English as a Lingua Franca  “Lingua Franca” just means the common language spoken amongst a group of people whose first languages are all something different. In this context, conveying meaning is the most important thing. 

ELICOS : English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students ELICOS programs have been designed for students who require English language training before commencing formal studies in Australia. They are specific to Australia. 

ELT: English Language Teaching Everything about teaching English. This is used interchangably with the term TEFL, to encompass everything about the industry. 

ESOL : English to Speakers of Other languages You are most likely to hear this term in colleges in the UK, where it refers to curricula and courses for their students who don’t have English as a first language. 

ESP : English for Specific, Special or Scientific Purposes Courses specially designed for a specific purpose – for example “English for Aviation”

GE : General English Many language schools will advertise a GE programme – it’s just general English as opposed to English for Medicine, or English for Conversation etc. 
IATEFL : International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language IATEFL is an organisation run for and by English language teachers. They hold a massive conference in the UK every Spring with thousands of attendees and hundreds of talks. There are IATEF specialist interest groups ( for management, for Young learners, for learning needs), there are affiliated conferences and groups throughout Europe (e.g. IATEFL Hungary), and there are online workshops and webinars. 

OUP : Oxford University Press  A very well-respected publisher of textbooks for the ELT industry.

TEFL : Teaching English as a Foreign Language The whole wonderful industry that surrounds Teaching English!
TESL : Teaching English as a Second Language Pretty much interchangeable with TEFL and TESOL.

TESOL : Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Pretty much interchangeable with TEFL and TESL.

Acronyms about tests and exams

Like it or loathe it, you’ll come across exams and testing at some points in your TEFL career. There are probably more acronyms surrounding this than in any other sector of the industry. There are many exams awarding bodies and exams go in and out of fashion, so throughout your career you will come across these terms and many new ones. 

Some tests and exams are for language learners, such as IELTS – some are for teachers such as CELTA, CAM, etc

BET : (Certificate in) Business English Teaching A course developed by International House which gives teachers the skills and knowledge to teach Business English.

BULATS: Business Language Testing Service These tests were primarily concerned with the use of English in a business or professional context. People may still refer to them, but they have recently been discontinued. 

CAE: Certificate in Advanced English This was the old name for a very popular exam offered by Cambridge English Assessment, now called “C1 Advanced”. It confirms people at the C1 level on the CEFR, and is an in depth exam that confirms the learner has the language skills that employers and universities are looking for.

CAM : Certificate in Advanced Methodology A course developed by International House and moderated by Cambridge Assessment English, which gives teachers a deeper understanding and knowledge of the principles of English language teaching

CELTA : Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults The gold standard qualification for starting a career teaching English as a foreign language.

CPE : Cambridge Proficiency Examination This was the old name for a very popular exam offered by Cambridge English Assessment, now called “C2 Proficiency”. It confirms people at C2 on the CEFR.

DELTA : Diploma in Teaching English to Adults You might take this after the CELTA and after a few years teaching experience. It covers more advanced techniques in communicative ELT teaching. 

FCE : First Certificate English Another of the Cambridge suite of English exams, now renamed “B2 First”

IELTS : International English Language Testing System This is one of the world’s most popular tests of English. It is “high stakes” which means its accepted by governments for visa purposes and universities for entrance purposes. Because of this, exam conditions for candidates to take the test are very strict. 

KET: Key English Test Also recently renamed the “A2 Key”, this is a basic level Cambridge exam for those new to learning English. 

OET : Occupational English Test A popular test for specific professions wanting to demonstrate their level of English for a job, for example nursing and medicine

PET : Preliminary English Test The PET test, now renamed the “B1 Preliminary” is a Cambridge exam that shows that you have mastered the basics of English and have practical language skills for everyday use.

TOEFL : Test of English as a Foreign Language This exam was developed and is assessed by ETS (Educational Testing Service), based in the USA.

TOEIC : Test of English for International Communication This is another in the suite of exams offered by ETS, (Educational Testing Service)