Misuse of the term "ESL"

There are quite a few thread titles, posts, and job ads. on Forumosa which use the term “ESL”.

“ESL” is generally understood to mean “English as a Second Language”.

In the same way, learning English in Taiwan is generally Foreign Language learning; EFL, whereas learning it in the USA, UK etc. is Second Language learning; ESL.

The term “ESL” is sometimes used by schools in Taiwan to refer to subject teaching in English; for example teaching geography in English so that the students learn both English and geography. This usage is an understandable marketing strategy, but I still feel that “EFL” is the appropriate term. And for buxiban classes, etc, where all that is being taught is English then there is no excuse to use anything other than “EFL”.

I don’t like to play the part of the language police (which is why I have started a separate thread instead of sniping at posters in other threads). I feel that the term “ESL” is being misused in the majority of cases, however, and that as language teaching professionals we should pick our terms carefully.

I agree. We just don’t think about what the terms mean that much. It’s just too easy to rattle off the most commonly used terms without really thinking about it.

Then again, I don’t let it bother me. I do it too :frowning: I’ll stop today :slight_smile:

Guilty…It’s aleftover thing from grad school…I have a MS in TESOL…and saying and typing ESL is somehow simpler than EFL (and it sounds weird too: eh-ful)

How about I just say “immersion program”??



there are a surprising number of other terms that people use when speaking about second language acquisition, but ESL and EFL seems to be the most common.

they are quite different though, and it is worthwhile to remember the differences when teaching, and assigning homework which may not be strictly text-book based. it’s a lot easier to get some comprehensible input and use the language in a urban-based ESL situation than in a urban-based EFL situation (and even more challenging in a rural-based one).

so good on ya for pointing it out.

I think we are just getting caught up on terms. I view the term “EFL” as a more specific descriptor of teaching and learning of English in countries where English is a foreign language. ESL often refers to English learning in countries where the language is the native tongue. Students are usually immigrants. Still “ESL” stands for English as a second language. If someone is learning a second language, it remains correct to describe it as such whether it is learned in an English speaking nation or outside of one. In this sense “EFL” is more of a category of the broader term “ESL.” To me either will do, but EFL is just slightly more specific.

I agree. EFL is referring to learning the language in an environment where it is not necessary for day-to-day use, therefore learning it as a foreign language. I learned French as a foreign language for most of my years studying it because I did not need it to survive (well, at least not to survive outside of Mme Lide’s room) so not everything I learned had to be immediately practical. In ESL, however, you are essentially taking it so that you can survive in your English environment. Then there is English immersion which is using the target language (English) with non-native speakers to teach subjects not specifically related to language. What I do in my school, however, I consider to be ESL because I am supplementing English instruction to children whose English is not strong enough to fully grasp the English-immersion environment so technically, I am teaching them the English to be able to succeed in an English environment, which in this case happens to be school. Usually English-immersion is an EFL thing although in some cases it’s ESL (e.g. French-immersion schools in Quebec).

However… :wink:

In children’s schools, ESL might be the apt term, especially when you consider they are probably only speaking Mandarin at that age and not Hakka or Taiwanese or whatever other ancient island language that’s being spoken by the elders in the family.

By that I mean that young children probably only communicate in Mandarin and English (English being the classroom language).

Also, just to play devil’s advocate again ( :smiley: ) let’s not forget the importance that “as” has in the term English as a Second Language. It’s up to the student, not the teacher or institute, to determine how they use English.

So, in some situtions, the term ESL can be applied. The term EFL is redundunt because all languages are foreign with the exception of your native tongue.

ELT is commonly used in some aspects of the field to avoid the above-mentioned confusion.

Perhaps I am behind the times.

[quote=“http://bogglesworld.com/glossary/esl.htm”]ESL: English as a second language. Originally this term referred to non-native speakers who are learning English language in an English language environment, for example, immigrants to the U.K., Canada, or the U.S. This can be contrasted to EFL.

However, now it has become a standard term to mean learning English by a non-native speaker regardless of the environment.[/quote]
I felt that the terms “EFL” and “ESL” (with “ESOL” as the global term covering both) offered a useful distinction. The older definition was quite simple; that SL was in a country where the target language was the main one, and FL where it was not. There were no value judgements in that. Nothing to say that somebody learning English in Taiwan could not reach high levels of proficiency.

It seems that ESL is now used in a broader sense to refer to any kind of “immersion” English learning, and even some learning where there is not really any immersion going on. So perhaps I need to retract my statement in the light of current usage, although I still have some regret that the useful distinction between “SL” and “FL” has been eroded.