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Common Acronyms in the English Language Teaching Profession

This guide defines common acronyms used in English language teaching and in TESOL association publications and newsletters. Please note that the difference between acronyms is often subtle and depends on context. To ensure that you are using an acronym properly, please consider local customs and cultures. Also note that language is fluid and changes, as does the use of acronyms.

This list strives to be asset-based and inclusive, but it is nonexhaustive. (Please see TESOL International Association’s Position Statement on Terminology: An Asset-Based Approach.) Additionally, this list does not include the acronyms for specific programs, tests, or organizations.

Acronym Definition Usage Notes
EAL English as an additional language  
EIL English as an international language  
ELD

English language development

 

ELF

English as a lingua franca

Refers to the teaching, learning, and use of English as a common means of communication (or contact language) for speakers of different native languages.

ELT

English language teaching

 

ESL 

English as a second language

Referring to contexts in which learning occurs where English is the primary language spoken.

ESOL

English to speakers of other languages

 

TEFL / TESL Teaching English as a foreign/second language

 

TESOL

Teachers of English to speakers of other languages 

A professional activity that requires specialized training. It is also used to refer to TESOL International Association, as well as its signature event, the annual TESOL convention.

 

Acronym Definition Usage Notes
EL / ELL English learner / English language learner The prevalent term(s) for learners for some time. Many organizations and institutions have shifted to more asset-based terminology, such as multilingual learner of English, to focus on the assets these learners bring to their education rather than what they lack.
ITA International teaching assistant  
LEP Limited English proficient Use with caution. Although this term is still used in some U.S. legislation, this terms is deficit based (i.e., pointing out what is lacking instead of celebrating what is known) and should be avoided with talking about multilingual learners of English.
LTEL Long-term English learner Use with caution. This is an antiquated term classifying multilingual learners of English who have not tested out of an English language program after being enrolled for more than 6 years.
MLE / MLL / ML Multilingual learner of English / multilingual language learner / multilingual learner The asset-based term(s) many organizations and institutions have begun using to refer to learners, in order to focus on the assets these learners bring to their education rather than what they lack.
NEST / NNEST Native-English-speaking teacher / nonnative-English-speaking teacher Use with caution and only when its use provides an essential distinction to the discussion at hand, and when the groups being recognized are in favor of this identifier.
SIFE / SLIFE Students with interrupted formal education / students with limited or interrupted formal education SLIFE is the most comprehensive acronym for students who fall under this category. Internationally used to describe learners, educators, and instructional approaches.

 

Acronym Definition Usage Notes
EAP English for academic purposes  
EFL English as a foreign language Referring to contexts in which learning occurs where English is not the primary language spoken.
EMI English-medium instruction  
ENL English as a new language  
EOP English for occupational purposes  
ESP English for specific purposes  
IEP Intensive English program This is a common program for international students seeking entry into North American or British universities. In general education contexts, often "individualized education plan."
L2 / L3 / ... Second language / third language / etc.  
SLA Second language acquisition  

 

Acronym Definition Usage Notes
BICS Basic interpersonal communication skills This is a widely recognized principle in the field of English language teaching, used internationally in professional development and in practice.
CALL Computer-assisted language learning  
CALP Cognitive/academic language proficiency This is a widely recognized principle in the field of English language teaching, used internationally in professional development and in practice.
CBI Content-based instruction  
CLIL Content and language integrated learning  
TBLT Task-based language teaching  

 

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