Students are like snowflakes – each one is unique. English language students are no different and, in fact, have special considerations all their own. Thus, when you are evaluating the types of ESL schools in the US, it is important consider a few of the following factors:
Period, pullout, or immersion classes?
English as a second language programs typically take one of these two forms and, of these, class period programs are the form most students are familiar with. In such situations, ESL classes are treated much like any other language or elective course taken in a middle or high school environment. This means that students receive ESL instruction in their native language during a regular class period in their home country and, as part of a standard curriculum, they receive academic credit for their work.
Pullout programs, by contrast, are typically designed as extracurricular programs. While they, too, take place in the country of origin, they are intended to supplement traditional ESL instruction by allowing students at the same level of proficiency to work together in small groups to develop their English language skills. Classes may be taught in the student’s native language or, less frequently, in English only.
Immersion classes, on the other hand, are designed to be taught entirely in English regardless of location. Indeed, immersion classes, which can take place in a student’s home country or (more typically) in an English-speaking country, do not focus on grammar instruction in the native language but rather its use in a realistic classroom situation. Given the extensive use of English, immersion classes are simultaneously the fastest but most rigorous classes available.
What kind of immersion classes?
If you’ve decided to dedicate yourself to learning English, immersion in the US is they way to go. When discussing immersion, however, it is important to recognize that there are two types of ESL schools in the US and that each focuses on a different strategy. The first strategy, commonly referred to as either structured or sheltered English instruction, is useful for beginning and intermediate level students. In these classes, basic ESL instruction (either formally or informally) makes up a key part the class’s curriculum and is supported by the extensive use of vocabulary building exercises.
The other approach, commonly known as the full immersion or sink-or-swim approach, is what most students think of as true immersion. Best for intermediate- and advanced-level student who have already developed some mastery in English (and may be required to prove it through proficiency assessments), these classes provides English-language instruction with no special help or audio-visual support. Some full immersion programs do not concentrate on general vocabulary or basic grammar, but instead focus on special topics such as idiomatic expressions or industry-specific terminology.
Where should I take my classes?
Students can find both types of ESL schools in the US throughout the country and a program’s location is less important than its provider. Colleges and universities, for example, often offer Intensive English programs of both types that are primarily targeted students who are developing their English skills for academic purposes (such as English-language coursework or degree programs). Oriented toward higher education, these classes are typically more rigorous and lengthier that the programs offered by private language schools. These school, on the other hand, are a better choice for students who are interested in shorter courses of study that focus on specialized need (such as proficiency exam preparation or vocational instruction).
When it comes to studying English in the US the options are limitless. College-oriented classes and stand-alone programs can vary in terms of size, location, student-teacher ratio, and instruction hours so make sure the program you are interested in is a good match for your needs. After all, ESL programs are every bit as unique as their students!