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Thermal energy is q while the heat required to raise a substance to a certain temperature is the specific heat capacity. Based off of this, the first is asking for q in q=mCdeltaT and the second is asking for the C.
We usually use these terms interchangeably. However, the subtle difference has to do with heat being a transfer property. It has to be exchanged to be measured. Thermal energy is the energy available to a material as a function of its temperature. Heat can be exchanged without removing the total thermal energy of the system. Yes, "amount of heat required to raise a substance to a certain temperature" is the definition of heat capacity.
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