Learning English in the USA

Learning English in the USA

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What better place to come than the USA, the “Land of Opportunity,” to learn English?

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

Maybe an English language program is not at the forefront of your mind and you think your English skills are just fine. But, you should carefully consider completing an English language program, especially an intensive English language program. Improving your English language skills will give you a higher TOEFL or IELTS score, which means that you will have even more universities and colleges to choose from. (Remember, each institution has different English proficiency requirements.) You will also have a much easier time in your classes and a more enriched education with strong English language skills.

The classroom environment and higher educational system in the United States is very unique. 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, along with tests, quizzes and projects will be one of the factors that determine your overall grade for the course.

Learning and improving your English will give you a good foundation for your university education.

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?

Types of English Language Programs

College and University Programs

The United States is a large and diverse place with urban and rural, large and small, public and private colleges and universities, as well as private English language schools.

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).

An advantage of these programs is that students can usually live on campus and have full use of the college or university library, the recreation and sports areas, as well as other facilities. They can practice English with the university students they meet in their dorms and cafeterias.

At some schools, students in advanced levels of an English program may be permitted to take a few university courses while they are completing their language study. Another benefit of taking university-based ESL classes is that 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 a university or college offers conditional admission and what are 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 students learn English while traveling to interesting places or participating in activities.

At private schools, schedules may be more flexible compared to colleges and universities. New sessions may begin every few weeks. This can be an advantage to those students who are interested in short-term study.

Finding the Right Program for You

It is important to do your “homework” before choosing a school. Consider the questions on this page. 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.

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 you can spend on tuition, room, meals, activities, books, etc.?
  3. Where do you want to go to school? 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, health care, counseling?
  8. What extra-curricular activities are there? Are there clubs or sport 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.

Peter McCagg, Ph.D. is Director of the American Language Institute at New York University.