Abbreviations and acronyms in English Language Teaching

A short guide to abbreviations and acronyms in ELT

A short guide to abbreviations and acronyms in ELT


10  minutes
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  • Vocabulary
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Some people would say abbreviations and acronyms make life easier. Well, if you google these insidious capital letters for ELT, you might be surprised. There are tons of them! And yeah, they unify teaching standards and sometimes save us time, but to remember all of them could be a pretty tricky task.


So, let’s start small. The first abbreviation you see in this text is ELT. ELT stands for English Language Teaching. It is used especially in Britain to refer to the teaching of English as a second language or English as a foreign language. In North American usage this is often referred to as TESOL.

It is most often used by educators, publishers, and training programs, whilst professionals usually use ESL or EFL. 

Talking about these, EFL is defined as “English as a Foreign Language” and ESL — “English as a Second Language”.

ESL is a basic term with several somewhat different definitions. In a loose sense, English is the second language of anyone who learns it after learning their first language in infancy in the home. Using the term this way, no distinction is made between second language, third language, etc. 

However, English as a second language is often contrasted with English as a foreign language. Someone who learns English in a formal classroom setting, with limited or no opportunities for use outside the classroom, in a country in which English does not play an important role in internal communication (China, Japan, and Korea, for example), is said to be learning English as a foreign language. 

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Someone who learns English in a setting in which the language is necessary for everyday life (for example, an immigrant learning English in the US) or in a country in which English plays an important role in education, business, and government (for example in Singapore, the Philippines, India, and Nigeria) is learning English as a second language. 

Still, there is no agreed term for the field of English teaching. The acronyms ESL and EFL, TESL became widespread in the 60s and 70s. Obviously, because of their convenience, the new ones appeared and started circulating all over the world.

TESL is an acronym for Teaching English as a Second Language, used either to describe the teaching of English in situations where it is a second language or to refer to any situation where English is taught to speakers of other languages.

TESOL means Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

The acronym can be used to refer both to the US-based organization of that name and to describe the teaching of English in situations where it is either a second language or a foreign language. 

In British usage this is more commonly referred to as ELT, i.e. English Language Teaching, and TEFL is an acronym for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, used to describe the teaching of English in situations where it is a foreign language. This term is becoming less frequently used than TESL, or TESOL. 

In this short guide, we collected a full list of the most common abbreviations and acronyms regarding Language, Teaching at schools, Methodology, Testing, and International Teaching Qualifications. Of course, it may be hard to memorize everything, but you can always keep this blog close at hand to check any abbreviation you come across.


In language teaching and learning, abbreviations cover linguistics/language, language skills, teaching-learning methodology, assessment, and the education business. Many come from: 

  • linguistics, 
  • translating, 
  • education, 
  • psychology, 
  • business 
  • and government.

So, first and foremost, we shall start with the language. For sure, it’s the main material we are working with. The common abbreviations defining English are:

  • 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/the standard form of British English pronunciation, based on educated speech in southern England)

The types of ELT

We already mentioned ELT, ESL, and EFL. Here are some additional abbreviations:

EAP: English for Academic Purposes

English language courses designed to help learners study, conduct research, or teach in English, usually in universities or other post-secondary settings. Such courses may prepare students to take tests such as TOEFL or IELTS, they may prepare students to be able to deal with listening, speaking, reading and writing demands in academic courses, and may also address study skills. 

EAP is a branch of English for special or specific purposes and based on the study of how language is used for academic purposes.

ESP: English for Specific Purposes

The role of English in a language course or programme of instruction in which the content and aims of the course are fixed by the specific needs of a particular group of learners. For example courses in English for academic purposes, English for science and technology, and English for Nursing. These courses may be compared with those which aim to teach general language proficiency, English for general purposes.

EYL: English for Young Learners

Elementary school children's learning of English in the context where English is a second language or a foreign language.

At schools

In many schools, we address the director of studies as the DOS/DoS. (S)he has a DOS assistant — an ADOS. 

In the classroom, there might be a SB (smart board) and an OHP (overhead projector), which uses OHTs (overhead transparencies). Most acronyms at school, 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

In theory and practice

The proficiency of a teacher is distinguished by his/her knowledge, experience, talent, and methodological skills. Here we’ll start with some basic ELT terms. These abbreviations are often used in teacher training courses like CELTA:

  • T: Teacher
  • Ss: Students
  • EL: English Learner(s)
  • ICQ: Instruction Checking Question
  • CCQ: Concept Checking Question
  • GD: Guided Discovery
  • WC: Whole Class
  • PW: Pair-work
  • GW: Group-work
  • LP: Lesson Plan
  • HO: Handout
  • FB: Feedback

  • WCFB: Whole Class Feedback
  • ELL: English Language Learner/Learning (also known as ESL in the US)
  • L1: Someone’s first language
  • L2: The language learnt by someone
  • MT: Mother Tongue
  • TL: Target Language (the language being learnt)
  • SLA: Second Language Acquisition (the theory and practice that underpins language teaching/learning)
  • NNL: Non-Native Language (any language that someone speaks, but not as their first language)
  • NEST: Native English-Speaking Teacher
  • NNEST: Non-Native English-Speaking Teacher

Let’s take a look now at abbreviations and their meanings for teaching approaches, interactions, skills, instructions, etc.

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  • CALLA: Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (teachers’ model speaking strategies, student practice, teachers’ guide to proficiency)
  • CBT: Computer Based Teaching
  • 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)
  • LEA: Language Experience Approach (learning by experiencing language)
  • PPP: Presentation, Practice, Production/Performance/Publishing (a means of managing a lesson: present the material, practise it, then students perform)
  • 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)
  • TTT: Test-Teach-Test
  • TPR: Total Physical Response (language is learnt by doing – the oldest natural means of learning language, based on how we learn our first language)

Interaction patterns

  • ST: Student-to-Teacher interaction/ Student Talk (student-led interaction)
  • STS: Student-to-Teacher-to-Student interaction (student-led interaction)
  • STT: Student Talking Time
  • 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


BICSBasic Interpersonal Communication Skills
CALPCognitive Academic Language Proficiency (formal content material, academic learning)
CCCommunicative Competence
ELA/ELDEnglish Language Acquisition/Development
SUPSeparate 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)
TELThreshold Level English (the level where people start to communicate independently)


  • CALL/CALI/CALT: Computer-Assisted Language Learning/Instruction/Teaching
  • CBI: Content Based Instruction
  • EMI: English as the Medium of Instruction (subjects taught through English)
  • SDAIE: Specially Designed/Designated Academic Instruction in English (similar to EMI)

Some others

  • AL/AppL/AppLing: Applied Linguistics (applying research to practical purposes)
  • APA: The American adaptation of The International Phonetic Alphabet (See IPA)
  • IPA: International Phonetic Alphabet (/ɪntənæʃənəl fə’netɪk ælfəbet/ – represents language sounds with non-language-specific symbols) The American adaptation is often called the APA
  • ICT: Information and Communications Technology

Testing abbreviations

At some point in language learning, students need to check their knowledge. Depending on the purpose, they may want to take a test to obtain the right level of language for a job or university admission, or to get a residency visa, or whatever. 

Anyway, tests are the best way to provide feedback, and good results give the best contentment and motivation. In this section you will find abbreviations for types of exams and organizations. 

Firstly, the level of English is assessed by

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

  • 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 C1 Advanced)
  • 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)
  • CEELT: Cambridge Examination in English for Language Teachers (tests non-native English teachers)
  • CEIBT: Certificate in English for International Business and Trade for advanced levels (Cambridge)
  • CELA: Cambridge English Language Assessment (Cambridge)
  • CELS: Certificates in English Language Skills (Cambridge)
  • CPE: Cambridge C2 Proficiency

Types of exams

  • EPT: English PT (See PT)
  • 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)
  • FCE: First Certificate in English (Cambridge B2 First)
  • 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)

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  • 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 A2 Key)
  • LTE: London Tests of English (Pearson Language Tests)
  • 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 B1 Preliminary)
  • PTE: Pearson Test of English (PTE Academic: English proficiency for academic admission)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • YLE: Cambridge Young Learners English Tests (starters/movers/flyers)
  • YLTE: CaMLA Young Learners Test of English


  • IDP: International Development Program
  • OFQUAL: The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation
  • iTDI: International Teacher Development Institute
  • IHWO: International House World Organization 
  • IATEFL: International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language

International Teaching Qualifications

The best way to declare your professionalism as a teacher is to get qualified. Besides, finding work as an English teacher without training and qualifications can be more difficult. Very often, pay rates also depend on the qualification. 

Choosing a modern training program could be confusing. So, here are some well-known courses and certificates that are based on years of experience and provide trainees with qualitative knowledge and skills in the teaching and learning area:

  • Cambridge Train the Trainer: A face–to–face course for experienced teachers. Qualification to train teachers on the CELT-P and CELT-S courses.

  • CELTA: Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • 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)

Currently, Cambridge does not offer CELT-P, CELT-S, CELTYL preparation courses. However, if you have already received one of them, it is valid. 

  • 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
  • DELTA: Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • 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)
  • IHCAM: International House Certificate in Advanced Methodology
  • IHCYLT: International House Certificate Teaching Young Learners and Teenagers
  • OLTE: Online Language Teacher Education
  • 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)

Additionally, you should be careful in such cases:

  1. Abbreviations can cover two or more references. E.g. IEP: Immigrant Education Programme or Intensive Education Programme.
  2. Abbreviations can cover somewhat different references. E.g. YLE: Young Learners English coursework or Young Learners English test.
  3. Different abbreviations can refer to the same thing. E.g. L2 and TL: the language being learnt.
  4. Sometimes abbreviations are made up on the spot to fill an immediate need.
  5. 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).

We hope you found this guide useful and that it will help you enrich your teaching routine and vocabulary, as well as feel free to use any ELT abbreviation you come across. Remember also to always make sure that you and your audience know the exact meaning of the abbreviation or acronym in context and to not overuse them to avoid confusion.

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Article authors & editors
  • Veronika Syrotkina

    Veronika Syrotkina


    CELTA certified teacher of General English



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