Moving to a country where you don’t speak the main language can be challenging and scary. Both children and adults want to feel comfortable communicating with the people around them as they go about their lives. In the United States, where there is no official language, the majority of people speak English, and many employers require English language proficiency in new hires. So where do people turn when they’ve just moved to the United States or were raised in an immigrant family that speaks little-to-no English? That’s where ESL comes in.
What Is ESL?
English as a Second Language programs — sometimes called English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL — are courses that teach English reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to students who are not native English speakers but would like to (or need to) learn it. The idea is simple. The language: not so much.
The courses can come in a number of forms. In the United States, they’re generally offered in K-12 public schools that have significant immigrant populations as either supplemental courses or the place where students spend most of their time, depending on their skill level. But ESL can also take the form of private tutoring or classes for adults outside of school.
Where Can You Find ESL Programs?
If you live in a major city, ESL programs are pretty easy to find. If not, you might have to search a little harder, but there are options out there. Here are some of the places that tend to offer English as a Second Language classes. You can also check out this ESL directory for a list of programs in your area.
- K-12 public schools
- Community colleges
- Public and private colleges and universities
- Public libraries (i.e. New York Public Library)
- Community/cultural centers (i.e. Chinese Community Center of Houston)
- Private education companies (i.e. Kaplan)
- Online resources (i.e. Dave’s ESL Cafe)
Is ESL Right For You?
If you’ve read up to this point in English, probably not. But all joking aside, it can be challenging for people whose native language isn’t English to determine whether they really need to take ESL classes.
The most clear-cut way to answer this question is by taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), an exam that is often required from non-native English speakers for certain jobs and educational programs. Learn more about how to determine your language proficiency here.
Alternatively, you can try a course (preferably a free one) and see if it feels too easy, too hard or at the perfect level for you.