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TEFL vs TESL vs TESOL - The pros and cons

TEFL vs TESL vs TESOL - The pros and cons

28th October 2019

By Lara Treasy


If you are a qualified English teacher looking to start a career you might be facing a dilemma: whether to look for work abroad and kill two birds with one stone (see the world and make some money on the way) or to stay in your English-speaking country and teach foreigners coming to study, work or live there.

Let’s have a look at your options in detail and by the end of this article you will have a fair idea of which one is for you. 

First of all, what is the difference between TEFL and TESL?

TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language and it refers to teaching English in countries where English is not a native/official language.

TESL stands for teaching English as a second language and it refers to teaching English to speakers of other languages in English-speaking countries.

You can also give both options a try and see what suits you best - TESOL is  teaching English to speakers of other languages either in English-speaking or non-English speaking countries.

To help you make an informed decision I have listed some advantages and disadvantages of working in English-speaking and non-English speaking countries.



Job opportunities. There are always plenty of job opportunities in non-English speaking countries: you can teach private students, work in language schools and/or give in-company classes to business people who need English for their jobs. Everybody wants to learn English either for work, travel, study, emigration or other purposes. 

Popularity. Native speakers of English are revered and respected. Everybody wants to meet them, talk to them, ask them questions about life in their country, hang out with them. So be prepared to do a lot of socializing both with the local teachers and the students outside the classroom. If you want to feel like a film star, this option is definitely for you. 

Perks. Despite salaries being generally lower than in English-speaking countries, working conditions are usually above average for the country in which you are teaching. A lot of schools will provide accommodation, so that teachers will only have to pay utility bills which saves you quite a bit of money. Flights to and from your country of origin are often reimbursed. Some schools provide medical insurance and others offer free classes in the local language. These are just some of the common perks that you would not get in your own country as a teacher of English. 

Cultural experience. Working in a foreign country gives you opportunities to explore the country and its culture, to go on adventures and make the most of your stay. You will always have plenty of things to do, see and try in your free time. 

Students’ motivation. Students may be more motivated to learn English from native speakers than from local teachers, they will often ask questions about your country, its culture, traditions, language and generally show a lot of interest.



Salaries are often lower than in English-speaking countries and there can be large differences in the standard of living and the tax system, but your local salary should be more than enough to provide you with a comfortable lifestyle (especially in the case where your accommodation is provided by the school). You might not be able to save much, but you should definitely have enough money to experience what the country has to offer in terms of food, entertainment, adventure, cultural experience which more than compensates for the lower salary. 

Students do not have much opportunity to practise their English outside the classroom other than socialising with their teachers. A few of them might have English-speaking friends and some of them will use English at work, so you will need to come up with lots of authentic materials to use in the classroom and for homework (films, YouTube videos, books, music).

Also, since you have students speaking the same language in your classroom, you will have to constantly discourage them from using L1 to communicate with each other during a class and encourage them to use English not only to communicate with you as a teacher but also with each other. 

Culture. Depending on the country (how different it is from your home country) and your personality, you might experience homesickness and culture shock. These are very common and most teachers learn to adapt and overcome the negative effects of the culture shock, but some might find it very difficult to cope and have to leave the country before their contract is up. To avoid a situation like that, research the country and its culture before signing the contract, make friends with your colleagues and local teachers upon arrival, do not stay home alone after work, but go out and socialise - it will help you to adapt and integrate.



Job opportunities. A lot of foreign students travel to English-speaking countries to study. People from other countries move to English-speaking countries for work, creating a lot of job opportunities for teachers of English in colleges, language schools, summer schools, and on government-funded programmes for immigrants. 

Home comforts. If you stay in your own country you will be living in comfortable and familiar surroundings, you will be able to spend time with your friends and family and will never experience homesickness or culture shock. 

Pay. Often you will be getting a better salary than you would working abroad and will be able to enjoy the comforts of a good standard of living in your country. 

Students. Students can practise English outside the classroom all the time and that gives them extra motivation and makes classes more interesting. They can share their experiences and ask questions about the language they encounter in real life situations. Studying functional language (in a cafe, in a shop, at a doctor’s) becomes a real practical necessity - so the students will practice English, whether they want it or not, outside the classroom.

You can give them real-life oriented homework, e.g., find out how much something costs, try Irish coffee in a pub and find out how to make it from a local.

Another important point is that the interference of students’ L1 is minimised by the fact that you have students from different countries in your classroom and they have to use English to communicate with each other.

Culture. It is quite satisfying to teach others about your own culture and you will have opportunities to explore your own country going on trips with students (summer schools always organise day trips to various tourist attractions). Also you will meet students from different countries and will learn a lot about their culture from them.



Perks. Even though your salary will be high enough, there will be no extra perks like accommodation, flight reimbursement, or free language classes. 

Job opportunities. Since the job opportunities depend on the numbers of foreign students coming to an English-speaking country to work or study, work may be sporadic or seasonal. You might have to work part-time or freelance - getting a few hours here and there, working for different schools, subbing. But you can always rely on plenty of work opportunities in summer schools. It can even be a good way to get some experience as a Director of Studies. 

Non-native teachers. If you are a non-native teacher living in an English-speaking country, your job opportunities might be seriously limited. Not because you are not good enough, but since students are paying high fees for learning the language in an English-speaking country they might expect to be taught by native speakers. Schools may give preference to local teachers though should not discriminate. You might be able to get some part-time positions and subbing jobs and you can always rely on having work during the summer. Summer schools pop up like mushrooms and there is often a shortage of teachers between the start of June and the end of August. 


A lot of newly qualified teachers choose to start their teaching career abroad and move from country to country every year or two until they have satisfied their thirst for travelling and feel a little homesick or decide to settle down and return to their home country, either English-speaking or non-English speaking. There they can choose to continue working in language schools, pursue an academic career, become a freelancer and provide private tuition or make a career move into teaching English online.

Online teaching is gaining popularity very quickly and it does not have such clear-cut distinctions between TEFL and TESL. You can live in an English-speaking country or in a non-English speaking country and teach students from all over the world!

One of the major advantages of teaching English as a career is that it offers a variety of options, so my advice is try everything and see where it takes you.

Lara Treacy

Lara has over 18 years’ teaching experience and has lived and worked in Russia, Hungary, China, Oman, Ukraine, Ireland, Portugal teaching English in colleges, universities, language schools, in-company and online.

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