Learning English in the USA

Learning English in the USA

Find an English Language Program (ESL)

By Jennifer Privette

Each year, tens of thousands of students come to the USA to learn English to prepare themselves to enter colleges and universities in the United States. Others come to learn English while experiencing American life and still others come to improve their English to qualify for a better job at home.

Maybe you haven’t considered an English language program and you think your English skills are just fine. But, if English is not your first language you should seriously contemplate completing an English language program, especially an intensive program.

Improving your English language skills will give you a higher TOEFL or IELTS score, which means that you will have even more universities to choose from. (Remember, each institution has different English proficiency requirements.)

Mastering your English will give you a good foundation for your university education. In an U.S. university classroom, you will be expected to participate in class discussions, share your opinion, debate and explain your reasoning, give class presentations and work in groups with your classmates. Class participation will be one of the factors that determine your overall grade for the course. You will also have a much easier time in your classes and a more enriched education with strong English language skills.

Types of English Language Programs

College and University Programs

Many U.S. colleges and universities offer full-time intensive English programs. An intensive English program must meet a minimum of 18 hours per week for students to qualify for a student visa. Most intensive programs provide 20-25 hours per week of classroom instruction. Students usually enter these programs at the beginning of the academic semester (term or quarter).


  • You can usually live on campus
  • You can have full use of the college or university library, the recreation and sports areas, as well as other facilities
  • You can practice English with the university students they meet in their dorms and cafeterias
  • If you are in advanced levels of an English program may be permitted to take a few university courses
  • Students on F-1 visas may work on campus up to 20 hours per week

It is important to note that intensive English programs are usually not part of the college or university’s academic degree programs; therefore you may or may not receive academic credit. Students enrolled in ESL institutes are not necessarily admitted to that college or university. Find out if university or college offers conditional admission and the requirements.

Keep in mind that public colleges, universities and community colleges often cost less than private universities and colleges.

Proprietary English Language Programs

Some private English language schools also prepare students to enter U.S. colleges and universities, and many are actually located on or near a college or university campus. Others are located in a downtown office building or a mall. (Keep in mind that only some of private English schools provide housing or arrange homestays.)


  • At some private ESL institutes, advanced-level students may take one or two academic courses at nearby colleges or universities
  • Many ESL schools also offer vacation ESL programs in which you learn English while traveling to interesting places or participating in activities
  • More flexible compared to colleges and universities
  • New sessions may begin every few weeks. This can be an advantage to those interested in short-term study
  • Close-knit and familial environment

Finding the Right Program for You

It is important to do your research before choosing a school. Look at the schools listed in this copy of Study in the USA® and visit StudyUSA.com to read about individual schools; some of the descriptions are in several languages and you can contact the schools directly. Go to your local educational advising center for resources to help you identify schools that interest you.

You are embarking on an exciting and rewarding adventure. Choose carefully, and you will have a wonderful, rewarding experience.

Jennifer Privette is the editor and assistant publisher of Study in the USA.

How is Your English?
Simple Questions to Ask Yourself…

• Can you understand English when watching TV, movies or listening to songs but have problems trying to understand native speakers, even in basic interactions?

• Do you have trouble understanding and using phrasal verbs and idioms naturally?

• Does your pronunciation and accent make you feel nervous about speaking English in groups?

• Do you feel your vocabulary is too basic to allow you to express all the ideas you want to present or discuss?

• Have you prepared your TOEFL score but need experience expressing yourself in a U.S.-style classroom setting?

• Can you read sophisticated articles and texts but still write in a basic way?

Martha Hall Ed.M., Director of The New England School of English (NESE) located in Cambridge, Massachusetts

How Should I Choose a Program?

1. Think about what kind of program you want to attend. Do you want a serious academic program or a casual vacation program?

2. How much money can you spend on tuition, room, meals, activities, books, etc.?

3. Where do you want to go to school? Do you want to study in a large city, small town, in a suburb, or in a particular part of the country?

4. Find out if the teachers are professionally trained and experienced language instructors.

5. What is the average class size? Ideally, classes range between 10-15 students.

6. What living accommodations does the program provide? Does the program make all housing arrangements for you, or will they help you find housing?

7. What services will the school provide: international student advisors, assistance with university or college admissions, orientation, healthcare, counseling?

8. What extracurricular activities are there? Are there clubs or sports teams to join?

9. What is the school setting? Is it a large or small school?

10. Does the school permit advanced level students to take classes at the university or a nearby college?

11. Is the school accredited? Many college and university ESL programs are accredited through their university or college.

Student Tips

“I have handled the languages differences through five main steps: studying hard, communicating and asking questions, Googling, taking notes, and memorizing them.” Hoa Thuy Quynh Nhu Nguyen from Vietnam, Media Studies and Production Temple University in Philadelphia

“One simple thing to always remember – nobody really cares about your accent or how many mistakes you make. People are generally very understanding, especially in the academic setting.”

Anastasia Borovich from Russia, Mathematics and Economics at Foothill Community College and UCLA

“This experience pushes you to do what you have to do, and to overcome any situation.” Abraham Martinez Ornelas from Mexico, English at the University of Texas at Austin

“I think it is a great thing to study English in a country that speaks the language. I believe that immersion is one of the best ways to acquire any language.”

Anwer Al-kaimakchi from Iraq, English and Civil Engineering at Florida State University

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