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.

TEFL Blog Index

Share this post

Train to Teach

Trinity CertTESOL in Edinburgh, UK.

Extensive support throughout the 4-week course from our experienced and dynamic tutors with full access to our extensive resources. Guaranteed job interviews with possible employment.

Click to find out more.

Train to Teach by the Beach - Delta Module 2 & CELTA in Mexico!

Take The Anglo 8-week summer Delta M2 course in Cancun, Mondays – Thursdays. Or the 4-week summer CELTA course in Puerto Vallarta. EARLY BIRD PRICES available now!

Click to find out more.

International TEFL Institute

Give yourself the best possible chance of securing a well paid English teaching job aboard. Register for one of our accredited, all-inclusive online TEFL courses. Why pay more? Starting from US$149 with job assistance and much more!

Click to find out more.

Become TEFL qualified in relaxed, sunny Madrid. 120-hour, 4-week course. Observed teaching practice.

Observed teaching practice. With over 30 schools in Spain, guaranteed job-offer for top-graduates. Excellent value for money at only 990€. Change your life for the better!

Click to find out more.

Full-time, part-time and Online Blended Trinity CertTESOL Courses in Malaga and Rome.

Become TEFL qualified in sunny Malaga in southern Spain or wonderful Rome. Get your passport to live and work in Spain, Italy or anywhere around the globe. EARLY BIRD FEE!

Click to find out more.

TEFL Training College - Internationally Accredited Online TEFL & TESOL Courses

Certificate & Master Diploma Courses. Courses include: Teaching Young Learners, One-to-One, Business English, Grammar Awareness and Teaching English Online. Full Tutor Support and Employment Assistance.

Click to find out more.

TEFL Worldwide Prague: Awarded Top TEFL Certification Program of 2018 Worldwide out of 1,000+ courses!

Accredited 4-week TEFL course in Prague with job guidance worldwide. Graduates are teaching in 60+ countries! Plenty of observed teaching practice.

Click to find out more.

Invest in your teaching career with an accredited 120 hour TESOL certification for teaching English online.

Equip yourself with all the skills demanded by TESOL employers. Course includes TESOL, TEYL & Teaching Online. Work from anywhere!

Click to find out more.

Come join our January 2020 CELTA in Asturias (North of Spain).

EXPERT ENGLISH offers CELTA, the worldwide recognised 120-hour practical and flexible teacher training programme, with a bonus in teaching practice availability and additional teacher training module for Young Learners and CLIL.

Click to find out more.

Trinity College London CertTESOL- Residential course in Thailand. January 2020 - Early Bird discount.

The only Trinity CertTESOL in Thailand. Certified and recognised worldwide. Beautiful location. Small groups.Teaching practice in real schools. Meals and accommodation included. Job Placement available on course completion.

Click to find out more.

4-week accredited TEFL/CELTA Courses in The Czech Republic, Spain, China, Thailand, Peru, Costa Rica, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico and The USA.

Upon successful completion, ITTO guarantees job placement and job contacts worldwide. Find out how you can save up to US$200 Call Us Now!

Click to find out more.

Work and Travel with ITTO, get Certified to Teach English and obtain Guaranteed Paid Job Placement in Mexico / Job contacts Worldwide.

International and accredited 4-Week TEFL course in Mexico that will upgrade your resume. The most budget-friendly way to travel.

Click to find out more.

Online TEFL Courses & Job Offer Program included.

Choose from 3 different Online courses: 140/120 or 100 hours + Boost your CV by adding one or more of our Specialty Certificates on Teaching Business, Young Learners, Technology. Save up to 35%!

Click to find out more.

Your Gateway to a Wider World!

Earn an accredited TEFL Certificate and Masters Degree with Via Lingua.

Click to find out more.

TESOL @ BGU, Lincoln, UK.

Looking for an opportunity to expand your career choices at home or abroad, fund your travels or attain an internationally-recognised TESOL qualification? If yes, then one of our flagship TESOL courses could be for you! BA (Hons) TESOL & Linguistics MA Education with TESOL.

Click to find out more.

Want More Jobs Like This Direct to Your Inbox?

Subscribe To Our Free Daily Newsletter

Your privacy is important to us. Your subscription email address will never be shared with anyone. Each newsletter includes a simple one-click unsubscribe button.