An introduction to ESL and EFL abbreviations – and what they mean


ESL and EFL, and TESL and TEFL, became widespread in the 60s and 70s. Abbreviations immediately started sprouting like mushrooms: ESOL, EAL, ELL, TESOL, ELF, NCELA, EAP, CALL, GESE, YLE… (I could go on…!).

Acronyms in language teaching and learning cover linguistics/language, language skills, teaching-learning methodology, assessment and the education business. Many come from linguistics, translating, education, psychology, business and government.

Abbreviations are time-savers. They allow us to refer to those things that crop up often in any field of discussion. They also make handling jargon easier. Here’s our guide to ESL and EFL abbreviations – and what they mean…


  • Abbreviations can cover two or more references. E.g. IEP: Immigrant Education Programme (also known as ESL] or Intensive Education Programme (also known as EAP).
  • Abbreviations can cover somewhat different references. E.g. YLE: Young Learners English coursework or Young Learners English test.
  • Different abbreviations can refer to the same thing. E.g. L2 and TL: the language being learnt.
  • Abbreviations are often made up on the spot to fill an immediate need.
  • Most of the few hundred abbreviations are only found in local jurisdictions. E.g. TPI (Illinois) for ESL, AMTESOL (Alabama-Mississippi), JALT (Japanese Association of Language Teachers).
  • Make sure that you and your audience know what abbreviations.

Global abbreviations

Many acronyms deal with management, education quality, accommodation, accreditation and so on. Education departments, language organisations, use them and, as there is money to be made, so do private organisations:

ABLS: Association of British Language Schools (accreditation)

ACELS: Accreditation & Co-ordination of English Language Schools in Ireland

ACTFL: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

BALEAP: British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes

BC: British Council, the British equivalent of the Alliance Française

CEA: Commission on English Language Accreditation (USA)

EALTA: European Association for Language Testing and Assessment

EAQUALS: Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality Language Services (UK/Europe)

IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

NEAS: National ELT Accreditation Scheme (Australia)

WTEFLAC: World TEFL Accrediting Commission (USA)

In schools

In many schools the DOS/DoS is the director of studies and an ADOS is an assistant DOS (business is handled by the director/principal/manager). In the classroom, there might be an OHP (overhead projector), which uses OHTs (overhead transparencies). Or there may be a SB (smart board). Most abbreviations, however, deal with courses:

BE: Business English

BL: Blended Learning (computer-based and face-to-face learning)

EAP: English for Academic Purposes

EGP: English for General Purposes

EIP: English as an International Language Programme

ESLP: English as a Second Language Programme

ESP: English for Special/Specific Purposes

EST: English for Science and Technology

GE/Gen Eng: General English

IEP: Intensive English Programme (usually university programmes)

(T)YLE: (Teaching) Young Learners English


There are many language-focused abbreviations. Here are the common ones:

AE/AmE: American (generally US) English

AE/AusE: Australian English

BBC English: More or less equals RP (Received Pronunciation – see below)

BE/BrE: British English

CA: Cultivated (“posh”) Australian

CanE: Canadian English

EI(A)L: English as an International (Auxiliary) Language

ELF: English as a Lingua Franca (also known as EIAL)

GAE: General American English (also known as AE/AmE)

IE/IrE: Irish English

NZ(E): New Zealand English

SA(E): South African English

RP: Received Pronunciation (“posh” British English)

In theory and practice

In the world of theory and methodology, understanding abbreviations is important:

AL/AppL/AppLing: Applied Linguistics (applying research to practical purposes)


BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

CALL/CALI/CALT: Computer-Assisted Language Learning/Instruction/Teaching

CALLA: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (teachers’ model speaking strategies, student practice, teachers’ guide to proficiency)

CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (formal content material, academic learning)

CBI: Content Based Instruction

CBT: Computer Based Teaching

CC: Communicative Competence

CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning

CLL: Community Language Learning (classes conducted in English, or the teacher speaks students’ language, if necessary)

CLT: Communicative Language Teaching

CUP: Common Underlying Proficiency (languages compared to make learning more effective)

EL: English Learner(s)

ELA/ELD: English Language Acquisition/Development

ELL: English Language Learner/Learning (also known as ESL in the US)

EMI: English as the Medium of Instruction (subjects taught through English)

ICT: Information and Communications Technology

IPA: International Phonetic Alphabet (/ɪntənæʃənəl fə’netɪk ælfəbet/ – represents language sounds with non-language-specific symbols) The American adaptation is often called the APA

L1: Someone’s first language

L2: The language learnt by someone

LEA: Language Experience Approach (learning by experiencing language)

MT: Mother Tongue

NNL: Non-Native Language (any language that someone speaks, but not as their first language)

PPP: Presentation, Practice, Production/Performance/Publishing (a means of managing a lesson: present the material, practise it, then students perform)

SDAIE: Specially Designed/Designated Academic Instruction in English (similar to EMI)

SLA: Second Language Acquisition (the theory and practice that underpins language teaching/learning)

ST: Student-to-Teacher interaction/ Student Talk (student-led interaction)

STS: Student-to-Teacher-to-Student interaction (student-led interaction)

STT: Student Talking Time

SUP: Separate Underlying Proficiency (being good in the L2 is different from being good in the L1, therefore we can’t use the L1 to help people learn the L2)

TB(L)L: Task Based (Language) Learning (an approach to teaching that has been around for many years: learners learn by doing while the teacher guides)

TEL: Threshold Level English (the level where people start to communicate independently)

TL: Target Language (the language being learnt)

TPR: Total Physical Response (language is learnt by doing – the oldest natural means of learning language, based on how we learn our first language)

TS: Teacher-to-student interaction (teacher-led interaction)

TST: Teacher-to-student-to-teacher interaction (teacher-led interaction)

TT: Teacher Talk

TTT: Teacher Talking Time

WTC: Willingness To Communicate

Testing abbreviations

All learners want to know how well we are doing – for institutional reasons, to get the right college score, to obtain the right level of language for a job, or to be able to get a residency visa. Tests provide feedback, and those who get good scores get a buzz of success! If learners don’t feel successful, they are more likely to give up.

ALTE: Association of Language Testers in Europe

BEC: general Business English Certificate (Cambridge – three exams)

BULATS: Business Language Test (Cambridge, Salamanca, Goethe Institute, Alliance Française, ALTE), for English, French, German and Spanish

CAE: Certificate in Advanced English (Cambridge – level C1-CEFR/S-ACTFL)

CaMLA: Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment (Michigan and Cambridge universities – a set of American English tests)

CAT: Computer Adaptive Testing; (the student starts the test, the program selects harder or easier sequential questions according to answers)

CCLB: Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (English/French)

CEELT: Cambridge Examination in English for Language Teachers (tests non-native English teachers)

CEF/CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference for language levels, language performance levels now widely used around the world

CEIBT: Certificate in English for International Business and Trade for advanced levels (Cambridge)

CELA: Cambridge English Language Assessment (Cambridge)

CELB: Canadian English Language Benchmarks

CELPIP: Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Programme

CELS: Certificates in English Language Skills (Cambridge)


EPT: English PT (See PT)

EALTA: European Association for Language Testing and Assessment

PT: Placement Test (used to assign students to appropriate classes)

ECCE: Exam for the Certificate of Competency in English (CaMLA lower level)

ECPE: Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CaMLA higher level)

ETS: Educational Testing Service, US assessment organisation (also known as TOEFL or TOEIC)

FCE: First Certificate in English (Cambridge – level B2-CEFR/IH-ACTFL)

GESE: Graded Examinations in Spoken English (Trinity College – 12 exams)

IELTS: International English Language Testing System (IDP:IELTS, Australia, CELA, BC; IELTS Academic, IELTS General and IELTS Life Skills Speaking and Listening test)

ISE: Integrated Skills in English (Trinity College – 5 exams)

iTEP: International Test of English Proficiency (Boston Educational Services; iTEP SLATE, Secondary Level Assessment Test of English)

KET: Key English Test (Cambridge – level A1/A2-CEFR/N-ACTFL)

LTE: London Tests of English (Pearson Language Tests)

MELAB: Cambridge Michigan English Language Assessment Battery

MET: Cambridge Michigan English Test

MTELP: Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency (mainly academic, advanced business)

OCR: Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (one of the UK’s biggest exam boards, academic and vocational qualifications)

PET: Preliminary English Test (Cambridge – level B1-CEFR/IL-IM-ACTFL)

PTE: Pearson Test of English (PTE Academic: English proficiency for academic admission)

RSA: Royal Society of Arts (See OCR)

SEW: Spoken English for Work (Trinity College)

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language (also known as ETS in US academic institutions, though widely accepted elsewhere). TOEFL iBT (internet-Based Test) is most common; TOEFL CBT (computer-based); and TOEFL PBT (paper-based) formats also available)

TOEIC: Test of English for International Communication for Business English (also known as ETS; listening and reading; a speaking and writing test also available in some countries)

UBELT: University of Bath English Language Testing

UCLES: University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (now Cambridge Assessment)

YLE: Cambridge Young Learners English Tests (starters/movers/flyers)

YLTE: CaMLA Young Learners Test of English

Teacher training

Training programmes are based on decades of experience of teachers and learners, while the qualification tells the employer/student that you have completed the training. It can be more difficult to find work as an English teacher without training and qualifications, while pay rates also depend on the qualification.


CELT-P: Certificate in English Language Teaching – Primary (Cambridge)

CELT-S: Certificate in English Language Teaching – Secondary (Cambridge)

CELTYL: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Young Learners (Cambridge)

CertTESOL: Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Trinity College)

CLAD: Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development certificate (US equivalent to ICELT)

CPD: Continual Professional Development



DipTESOL: Licentiate Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Trinity College)


ELT: English Language Teaching and/or Training

ICELT: In-service Certificate in English Language Teaching (primary or secondary teachers)

NEST: Native English-Speaking Teacher

NNEST: Non-Native English-Speaking Teacher

OLTE: Online Language Teacher Education

RSA/C-TEFLA/CELTA: Certificate of Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults

RSA/D-TEFLA/DELTA: Diploma of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (a next-step qualification for teaching English)

TEFL(A): Teaching English as a Foreign Language (to Adults)

TEIL: Teaching English as an International Language

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

TKT: Teaching Knowledge Test (Cambridge English)

Have you heard any other abbreviations in your institution? Tell us about them in the comments section below…

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