English as a Second Language/English as a Foreign Language

English is the language of international communication. From business to the arts and sciences, from education to technology, you need to be competent in English to successfully work and live in a global community.

Because it is necessary to be proficient in English, more and more people are seeking English courses to improve their language skills. One of the most popular courses is the English as a Second Language (ESL) course, also called the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) course. These courses teach English to people who did not grow up speaking English as their primary language. They also can prepare you to teach English to non-native speakers in the United States or abroad, or prepare you to pass English language proficiency tests.

There are many different types of ESL/EFL courses. For example, ESL/EFL courses may teach you basic reading, writing, and speaking skills if you know very little English. Other courses may help you hone your existing language skills with a specific goal of applying for a job, college, or U.S. citizenship. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced ESL/EFL courses; some teach conversational English, some focus on writing, and still others may cover the rules of grammar. Because there is such wide variety of ESL/EFL courses, it is always best to review the syllabus before signing up for a class, to ensure that the instructor targets the skills you need.

Fortunately, ESL/EFL courses are available at many places, including community colleges, through community adult education programs, and on the Internet. You also can take a course at home through the mail or using a study guide. Another option is to take a course through an English language center, which are schools dedicated to teaching all kinds of English learners. You also can hire a private tutor.

The least expensive route is to take one of the many free ESL/EFL courses available online. With Internet-based courses, you have the advantage of studying between work and family obligations. Sometimes the quality of these courses is questionable, however, and you may have difficulty finding one that meets your specific needs.

English as a Second Language/English as a Foreign Language

A slightly more expensive option is to take an ESL/EFL course through a community college or adult education program (usually offered through a city’s parks and recreation department). The disadvantage to these courses is that you may find that they offer some of the skills you need, but not all of them.

English language centers and private tutors tend to offer the most specialized language instruction, but they are by far the most expensive ways to learn English. You can find competent tutors in most areas of the country, but English course schools are mostly located in major metropolitan areas and are not always accessible to everyone.

In addition to courses that teach you to speak, read, and write English, you may see ESL/EFL courses offered for people who want to teach English, either in the United States or in another country. These courses can have one of three foci. They can:

  • Prepare you to teach English in the classroom;
  • Provide you with a competency certificate to present to an employer; or
  • Prepare you for English language proficiency tests.

Many international employers, as well as graduate schools in English-speaking countries, will require you to pass an English proficiency test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language. You will find these ESL/EFL courses to be somewhat expensive, since they are designed to help you get a job or get into graduate school.

Being able to speak, read, and write well in English is a critical skill for people who want to live or work in English-speaking countries. Whether you want to go to graduate school in Australia, teach English to immigrants in the United States, or just meet a private goal of improving your language skills, there is almost certainly an ESL/EFL course for you.


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