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Common Acronyms in the TESOL 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.

CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. A comprehensive framework of language proficiency.
CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Administered by ​Cambridge English based in England. This acronym refers to a specific, branded TEFL certificate course. Practitioners with a CELTA can continue their studies by completing ​the DELTA program. 

Content and Language Integrated Learning  


English as an ​additional ​language. Used to account for learners who are multilingual. It recognizes that English might be the learner's third, fourth, etc. language.  


English for academic purposes.  


English as an international auxiliary language.


English as an international language.


English as a foreign language. English language programs in non-English-speaking countries where English is not used as the lingua franca. It is also used in some U.S. university programs where international students study English and are likely to return to their home countries after graduation or finishing course work. 


English learner. This acronym is being used more often to refer to a student in an ESL or EFL program. Compare to ELL.


English language acquisition. Occasionally confused with English Language Arts, this acronym recognizes that for some people, English is not a second language. It could be a third, fourth. etc.  


English language development. 


English as a lingua franca. 


English language learner. ​Often used to refer to a student in an ESL or EFL program. 


English language proficiency.


English language teaching.


English as a ​new ​language. This acronym recognizes that some learners know more than two or three languages. It is the U.S.-based National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification acronym of choice.


English as a second language. English language programs in English-speaking countries where students learn English as a second language.


English to speakers of other languages. Used to describe elementary and secondary English language programs. It is also used to designate classes within adult basic education programs. Similar to EAL, it recognizes that many students know multiple languages.


International English Language Testing System. An international standardized test of English language proficiency for non-native English language speakers. The test is jointly developed and administered by the British Council, Cambridge English Language Assessment, and IDP Education, and is used by most Australian, Canadian, British, and New Zealand institutions of higher education.


Intensive English program. Usually refers to a university program designed to help students improve their English before matriculating.


Second language.


Limited English proficient. Often used to describe the language skills of students in ESL or EFL programs. This term was more widely used in the past and is sometimes still used in policy and legislation. However, this acronym has fallen out of favor because it is based on a deficit model of language learning. 


Multilingual Learner. This term is sometimes used for language learners in recognition of the student’s other rich language skills. 


Multilingual Learner of English. This term is sometimes used for learners of English, specifically, also in recognition of the student’s other rich language skills. 


Royal Society of Arts. Partner in the Oxford Cambridge RSA group, which administers a variety of exams for lifelong learning. 


Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. A research-based model of instruction that help teachers plan and deliver lessons.


Second language acquisition.


Teaching English as a foreign language. Often used to refer to teacher education programs in EFL.


Teaching English as a second language. Often used to refer to teacher education programs in ESL.


Teaching 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 international convention.


Test of English as a ​foreign ​language. A standardized test developed by ETS (formerly Educational Testing Service) used to measure the English language ability of nonnative-English-speaking students applying to U.S. institutions of higher education. 


Test of English for International Communication. A language test designed ETS (formerly Educational Testing Service) to measure the everyday English skills of people working in an international environment.


No longer an acronym, but still an important part of second language development and standards.  


The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. (UCELS), now Cambridge Assessment and includes Cambridge English Language Assessment, Cambridge International Examinations, and Oxford Cambridge RSA. All are based in the United Kingdom.


If you have questions about a particular acronym or would like to suggest an acronym to add to the list, please contact TESOL Education

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