The ESL Educators’ Guide: The Difference Between ESL/EFL Teaching Methodologies

Today’s ESL article covers some important points for teachers who are considering a career in ESL. What’s the difference in ESL and EFL teaching methodologies is a guest post written by Dorit Sasson, a professional ESL instructor and thought leader for teachers.

As one who has taught both ESL (English as a Second Language) in the States and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in Israel, there are several important things you need to know before entering an EFL or ESL classroom. Here’s the scoop on ESL and EFL teaching methodologies and why you need to consider them carefully before embarking on a career as an ESL educator.

1. Is there really a difference between ESL/EFL teaching methodologies?

The major difference between ESL and EFL methodologies is the status of English. In such countries like Israel, English is primarily taught as a foreign language. This means that students from primary to high school level study English in a formal school setting for a set number of hours per week. The major language for business, trade, etc. in Israel is Hebrew/Arabic yet Israelis use English to communicate with friends, make business transactions, etc. In India, however, the expectation is to teach English as a second language and that is because English is the language for politics, trade, commerce, etc. In both cultural and social contexts, the expectation to learn English is very different and this has deep implications for teaching.

2. How does this difference play out in day to day teaching?

The primary difference is the motivations for the students. The adult ESL learners I teach in the States have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for learning English. They study English for an external purpose – to get a job, communicate at the supermarket store, speak to their kids, etc. The stakes are very high as many don’t want to return to their respective countries. They want to thrive in America. Many of these learners also possess intrinsic motivation – which means, they study the language for the sake of learning it and have a real deep desire.

When I taught EFL in Israel for twelve years, I had to constantly unique and interesting ways to keep my language learners on task. Learning English is not a given for these students and I did my best to work with the discipline problems – some of which were culturally influenced. One of the biggest challenges was maintaining their attention for the entire lesson. I also had large heterogenous classes.

Depending on where you teach in the world, class size, cultural attitudes, and expectations can play out in the classroom.

3. What are some things teachers must do to prepare themselves for successfully teaching these learners?

The main thing is to pre-assess your learners on the first day of classes, so you can get a good feeling of who can read, write and speak successfully. A pre-assessment is an organizational tool to help you identify differences between current performance and desired performance. It allows you to determine what the students already know and what they are capable of doing. You can then determine what concepts and/or skills students still need to know, or learn, in order to complete necessary tasks.

4. What types of methodologies work for these groups of language learners?

I would say that it’s more of getting to know the learners than worrying which methodology works better than another.

Here are some of the methodologies I’ve found that work:

  1. When teaching grammar, for example, teach more inductively – i.e. give the example and have students elicit the rule.
  2. Use open-ended activities as opposed to close-ended activities. Brainstorming for example is a great open-ended activities because it allows for multiple responses to one teacher cue. Also, it appeals to heterogenous classes, because all students are working at their own pace – the stronger students are participating while the slower and more quieter ones are listening, but they are active!
  3. Use lots of structured pair and group work to support a teaching point.

Teaching successfully these learners involves much more than just a knowledge of how to teach English; you need to be also culturally sensitive to the challenges these learners face and plan activities that cater to these cultural differences.

Dorit Sasson is a thought leader to teachers who want to empower their students – one step at a time! She helps teachers uplevel their teaching and their success. Her speciality is presenting workshops for teachers of English Language Learners and issues of new teacher support. If you are ready to take your teaching to the next level, you can sign up for a F.R.E.E. ezine and ebook subscription at

This monthly series is designed for ESL educators in countries all over the globe. As part of a new Blog Carnival called ESL Educators, I will be posting an informative article on English as a Second Language on the 20th of every month. This month, Jenna Makowski is hosting the ESL Educators’ Blog Carnival. This month’s education carnival is on ESL as a Career.

Check back for more articles, and if you’d that would like to contribute to our ESL Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me through the CONTACT page. Flickr photo by Tristam Sparks.


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5 thoughts on “The ESL Educators’ Guide: The Difference Between ESL/EFL Teaching Methodologies


    (May 21, 2011 - 6:21 am)

    Nice article! I’ve always wondered what the difference between ESL and EFL.. Interesting!


    wandering educators

    (May 21, 2011 - 6:50 pm)

    another great article in this series. and i had NOT thought of this distinction before, yet it clearly is very important. thank you!

    Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_

    (May 27, 2011 - 9:06 pm)

    Wow. That was really informative. I’ve always debated teaching english in another country. Alas, I still don’t think I have the patience for it. Kudos to those who do and can, it sounds like an amazing experience.


      (June 4, 2011 - 3:39 am)

      Hi Lindsay,

      Thanks for your comment, and thanks for stopping by.


    (June 7, 2011 - 7:46 pm)

    I really liked the article. I am an ESL teacher and I found it interesting.

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