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Choosing an English as a Second Language (ESL) Program

October 9th, 2008

Learning English as a second language can be difficult, but it’s extremely important to do if you want to have access to the best job, educational and cultural opportunities.  For this reason, many new immigrants to the United States choose to take part in an ESL program, whether as part of a class or by studying with an individual teacher.  However, these programs can be expensive – consider the following tips on choosing an ESL program before spending your hard-earned money:

Check the teacher’s qualifications

If you see an ESL program being advertised, it’s important to find out more information about who’s teaching the program and what his or her qualifications are.  Is the program led by a volunteer, or by someone who’s received a certificate in teaching English as a second language?  ESL certificate holders have gone through specific training that ensures they’re familiar with all the challenges new English-speakers face.  Of course, there’s no reason that a volunteer couldn’t do a great job teaching the ESL program, but finding one taught by a certified ESL teacher increases your chances of having a good class experience.

Ask for referrals

Once you’ve identified a few potential ESL programs, ask the teacher or company to provide referrals to satisfied former customers.  Don’t be embarrassed to ask – if you’re paying for the program, you have a right to know whether or not it’s worth your money.  Most ESL centers or teachers will have a list of contact information for former students who have agreed to talk to potential customers about their experiences with the program.  Call them up and ask what they thought of the teacher and how they benefited from the training program.  Who knows?  The reference you contact may be able to provide you with a wealth of additional information on your new community and its culture.

Which setting is best for you?

You should also consider what type of educational setting is best for you.  Are you the type of person that works best on your own, outside of the traditional classroom setting?  In this case, you may want to work with a private ESL tutor, or take advantage of an online program to learn English.  Unfortunately, these options may be more expensive than traditional classes, so it’s important to consider your financial position as well.  If you aren’t able to find an individual tutor, or if it’s out of your budget to use their services, look for classroom-based ESL programs that meet in quiet spaces, like libraries or conference rooms.  Trying to learn English over the sounds of a restaurant, coffee shop or community center may only complicate the process.

Look for low-cost alternatives

Depending on where you live, you may have access to low-cost ESL alternatives provided by community service groups or government initiatives.  These programs may charge substantially less than individual tutors and private classes, although you may receive less individualized attention in these programs.  Contact members of your town or city government’s human services program or leaders of any community recreation programs in your area.  Even if they don’t offer programs themselves, they may be able to refer you to a low-cost program offered by another agency in your area.