Learning English as a Second or Foreign Language

English as a second or foreign language is the use of English by speakers with different native languages. Language education for people learning English may be known as English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL). The aspect in which ESL is taught is called teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL).

English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) require two different strategies for teaching for a number of reasons. Most people don’t know the difference between the two and don’t consider the difference when they set out to teach English. It’s important to know what each one is so that the different needs of the students can be met.

English as Foreign Language (EFL)

English as a Foreign Language is learning English in a non-English-speaking country. For example, students in Nepal who are learning English are considered EFL students because English is not the official language of the country.

But if those same students were in the U.S. learning English, they would be considered ESL students. To be specific, students of EFL tend to learn with the purpose of communicating with the people who also speak English and/or exchanging information when travelling to whichever country they go.

English as Secondary Language (ESL) 

English as a Second Language is learning English in a country where English is dominantly spoken or where English is the official language.

For example, students from non-native English-speaking countries who come to the U.S. and Canada for an extended period of time learn English as a Second Language.

They acquire English as a means to communicate in the dominant language spoken in the community where they reside.

English as Foreign Language (EFL) is where the teacher teaches English to students in a country where English isn’t the native language. For example, a Korean student learning English in Korean would fall under this category.

On the other hand, English as Secondary Language (ESL) is where English is taught to students in a country where English is the primary language. An example of this is where a Chinese student is learning English in Australia.

Difference between English as Secondary Language (ESL) and English as Foreign Language (EFL)

The difference between ESL and EFL might seem little at first, but they do require very different teaching strategies to meet the aims and objectives of the students.

An ESL classroom is in a country where English is the dominant language. The students are immigrants or visitors. The class is usually of mixed nationalities, so students don’t share a native language or a common culture.

Outside the classroom, students have a specific, practical need for English, and ample opportunity to use it. Students have extensive daily exposure to English speaking culture, although their understanding may be limited by their language skills.

An EFL classroom is in a country where English is not the dominant language. Students share the same language and culture. The teacher may be the only native English speaker they have exposure to.

Outside of the classroom students have very few opportunities to use English. For some, learning English may not have any obvious practical benefit. Students have limited exposure to English-speaking culture, most often through a distorted lens like TV or music.

Based on these definitions, we can see that there are important differences in the student population. Effective lesson planning must take them into account.

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