The Crazy Alphabet Game of Teaching English Here, There, and Elsewhere

Confused by the long litany of acronyms in our fast-growing field? You’re not alone. English teachers, linguists, and school administrators must navigate an Amazon River of changing acronyms and cold, clinical terms to describe common classroom situations.

Our field is called ESL, EFL, ELL, ELD, ESOL, and VESL. We are often known as ELT, TESOL, TEFL, and TESL, and our students prepare for standardized exams known as TOEFL, TOEIC, GRE, and SAT. This alphabet soup sometimes seems a tad absurd and more than a bit annoying. Partly inspired by the need to quickly summarize information, partly used to define insiders from outsiders, and partly mandated by government bureaucracies, education seems more prone than many other fields to creating overlapping, often puzzling acronyms. I prefer to consider myself an English teacher who helps fellow humans express their ideas and perceptions in English.

Yet despite this sentiment, I also know that acronyms provide efficiency and often make clear important distinctions. The World Language Assessment website, a group of Wisconsin educational agencies devoted to effective language instruction, has created this useful glossary of emerging terms and even more acronyms. Do you know the Five Cs of World Language Education? Or what FLES stands for? What about the difference between a “portfolio” and “LinguaFolio”? As a longtime English teacher and ESL instructor, I found the list a useful glimpse into evolving goals, assessment language, and educational jargon.


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  1. Too true about the crazy alphabet game–once I had no hits searching for something on a particular site which I *knew* had information about the field of English teaching, only to eventually find out that it was a British site and used ELT exclusively, never TESOL, ESL, or EFL.

    I owe you a book review still; I’m so sorry! I just want to devote more lines to it than I did to the books I mentioned briefly in the gift roundup I just did, so I’ve been putting it off. I really hope to get to it soon. I did put you in my blogroll, though!

    By the way, if you want a post to always be at the top of your blog, there is an option for that:
    Forward-dating your post isn’t always a good idea since at first I thought you hadn’t updated your blog in nearly a year! 🙂

  2. Clarissa – Thank you for those tips! I’m so far behind in learning the blogging technology – and have spent most of the break just catching up. There is so much wonderful information out there, and I often need to actually learn by doing.

    Your site, continues to inform – and inspire!

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