Most of the year I teach adults in a college and what I teach is called ESOL. For four or five weeks every summer, when sensible, sane teachers are having their break from the rat race, I shift down to a summer school where I teach the teenage offspring of wealthy foreigners. At least I assume they are wealthy, these courses aren't cheap. And of course they aren't called ESOL, they are called EFL.
That's what I'd like to consider. Some teachers make a big issue about the differences between ESOL and EFL but splitting my time between them I'm not sure that there is actually much of a difference. The differences that I see are mostly, I think, down to the fact that teaching kids is different from teaching adults. The main difference in what I actually do is in selection of topics and themes. My adult ESOL learners aren't very interested in the latest music, cinematic blockbusters, JK Rowling and Philp Pullman, anime and manga or any of a dozen other topics that the kids like. On the other hand the kids wouldn't be enthralled by a lesson on how to deal with British Social Services, help in studying for the citizenship exam, the National Health Service, phoning the school to say your children or sick and so on.
Appropriate choice of topics is the key there.
What about the teaching techniques? Well I confess that I cheat a bit in the summer school. I have a set of lessons that are adaptable to different levels and I pretty much teach the same lessons every year. (I did once have a student come back for a second year in my class and she remembered some of the lessons. She didn't seem very worried about it though.) My lessons for teenagers are rather more active than the ones for adults with plenty of getting up and moving about. I tend to use shorter activities too but that's a matter of practicality forced on me by the way that the lessons are organised. (two or three hours with two breaks for the summer school, three and a quarter hours with one optional break for the term time job).
So there are differences. But are any of these differences anything to do with how the course is labelled? The lack of good ESOL resources (apart from the Government's Skills For Life) means that a lot of the things I use with my ESOL classes are actually taken from EFL text books or web sites anyway, so clearly there is at least a substantial overlap. The truth is that once I'm in front of the class with my selected topic and prepared resources, what I do is pretty much the same in either case. My teaching style doesn't change very much at all.
Maybe this means that I am doing it wrong but I have good enough success rate (not to mention consistently good reports from observered classes) that if I am doing it wrong I am managing to muddle through well enough. Maybe it's because I don't have a "classroom persona" as such. The me in the class is the same me that turns up in the staffroom or at home or in the pub. And that's true whoever the students are. I speak to my teenage students exactly the same way that I speak to my adult students. Maybe there really is no difference.
Now, while I've never taught EFL to adults I have taught ESOL to teenagers. My college runs a "young learners" course for students between 14 and 18 who don't have enough English for regular school. That's classified as ESOL rather than EFL. I taught that for three years, though this year I asked for a break from it. The main problem was that class was that the level was undifferentiated - everybody from E1 (complete beginner) to L2 (pre-University) in one class, but with that taken into account the lessons that I did with them could have been lifted complete and dropped into the summer school unchanged. So once again I'm forced to the conclusion that topic selection aside, ESOL and EFL are not very different.
I do have a related query and a request, but I'll separate that into another post.