If you are interested in learning English in the United States (USA), we have put together a country summary of what you can expect when you study at an English language school:
Many people consider the United States a “melting pot” since the country is home to groups of people with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Due to immigration patterns over the centuries, the majority of the population today has ancestral heritage that can be traced to countries all around the world. In fact, about 15% of Americans have German heritage, 10% are originally from Ireland, and 9% are from the United Kingdom, just to name a few. This diversity has created the strength of the United States – an American identity with the strength of diverse viewpoints.
While the United States is considered a “melting pot” where cultures verge into one, it is also referred to as a “salad bowl”. No, they are not talking about food! Instead, they are talking about how each individual brings their own culture and traditions to create a diverse group of people. This metaphor, in many cases, is true since individuals celebrate not only the United States traditions, but also their native customs and culture. You will see this while you learn English in the USA – especially in cities where ethnic communities take pride in celebrating cultural events throughout the year.
In terms of the age structure, the American population is relatively older at an average of 36 years of age. The majority of the population, almost at 80%, is white, followed by 15% Hispanic, 13% Black, and 4% Asian. While there is a blend of cultures prevalent throughout the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and speech. Officially, the United States is a secular nation; however a large portion of the population is religious. In fact, 51% of the population is Protestant, 24% is Roman Catholic, 4% is none, 1.7% is Mormon, and 1.7% is Jewish.
The culture of the United States population is regionalized and your experience will depend on where you decide to study English in the US. The Northeast is densely populated and urbanized. For many years, this region was the leader in technology and industry; however there has been a recent shift in this sector where many companies have moved to the West Coast, primarily to California. This region consists of 9 states and is the wealthiest region accounting for 25% of the GDP.
The Midwest is referred to as the “corn belt” and “breadbasket” which is home to the rural, industrial, and agricultural area of the United States. In contrast, the upper Midwest area near the Great Lakes is where the automobile and steel industries are located, which in recent years have declined and led to the area now referred to as the “rust belt”. The South is associated with the sunshine states, retirement centers, and civil rights from the abolition of slavery during the Civil War. This is the fastest growing area with more conservative values and a growing Hispanic population. The Western region, however, makes up half of the US land area and is considered the last frontier associated with open landscapes, cowboys, and farmland.
The United States has no official language but English in the US is the most widely spoken language throughout the nation. In fact, 82% of the population speaks English as their native tongue and has over 215 million speakers. About 96% of US residents speak English “well” or “very well”. You will notice that while the English language in the United States is more homogeneous than in other countries, the pronunciation and vocabulary will differ regionally. The Eastern Seaboard speaks differently than in the Great Lakes area, as compared to the Midwestern English. While you are enrolled in an ESL program in the United States, you will notice these differences if you travel to various regions.
After English, Spanish is the next most commonly spoken language and is also the most commonly taught second language. Nearly half of all US Spanish speakers speak English according to the 2000 Census. While Spanish influence has been seen due to its geographical position bordering Mexico, the recent influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America has increased the number of Spanish speakers particularly in certain cities.
The Landscape –
Capital City: Washington D.C.
The climate in the United States varies depending on where you are located. Due to the size and terrain, you will notice that in one part of the US it may be sunny and dry whereas in another part it may be overcast and snowing. The climate ranges from humid continental in the north and humid subtropical in the south. During the winter months, most snow is concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic and New England area. The Southwest area is arid and desert climate with peak high temperatures in the summer. Rainfall is typically varied throughout the US, however late summer and fall tends to bring the most rainfall throughout the western and southern parts of the United States. So you may ask yourself, when is the best time to come study English in the US? This will depend mainly on where you plan to learn English in the USA geographically. Generally, spring or fall may be a good time however the arrival of seasons varies year to year. Spring tends to be around March to May and fall is around September to November.
The United States is located in the Western Hemisphere between Mexico and Canada. Made up of 48 contiguous states plus Alaska in the Northwestern section off of Canada and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, the United States has varied terrain. The Eastern and Western shores are made up of coastal plains that become hills and forests further inland. The Appalachian Mountains separate the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes in the north central area. The southeast has subtropical forests, wetlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The West is made up of rolling hills, farmland, and the Great Plains. The Rocky Mountains are in the West marking dry, arid dessert which marks the Great Basin. As you can see, English language in the United States has much to offer outside the classroom that will make your trip a unique experience!
Things to do:
The United States has something for everyone depending on where you are located. You can wander the streets of New York City famous for its 24-hour festivities that can bring you to Broadway for a show, try any ethnic cuisine of your choice, relax in Central Park, enjoy the busy streets in Times Square, visit the national symbol the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or go to Ellis Island. You can also check out Atlantic City if you are looking to gamble or Niagara Falls up in the Northern area of New England. If you are interested in history, you will not want to miss Washington D.C. which hosts the White House (home of the US President!), the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, World War II Museum, or spend your days meandering the Smithsonian Museums. If you plan on traveling the Western, you can see the Grand Canyon on a mule, check out the bison and wolves basking in the sun at Yellowstone National Park, or try to see the top of a Redwood tree at the Redwood National Park. You can also soak up the sun, see a magician, or meander through the decadence of Las Vegas. Or, if you prefer, you can check out San Francisco’s zoo, enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf, take a ferry to Alcatraz, or eat Chinese food in Chinatown. You can see the Everglades in Florida or go to the many amusement parks scattered throughout the country. One thing is certain, there is no short list of things to do.
Currency: US Dollar
Loaf of Bread € 1.65
Eggs (12) € 1.51
Coffee € 2.19
Water 1.5 Litre € 0.61 – € 1.44
Fresh Milk 1Litre € 0.93
Bottle of Wine € 8.89
Laundry Detergent 1Kilo € 6.00
Bus Fare € 1.45
Taxi one way € 9.97 (5km within city center)
Main course, dessert and drink € 8.27
Fast Food € 4.40
Beer € 2.00- € 4.00
Soft Drink € 1.08
Gym Membership one month € 28.97
Cinema Ticket € 6.90
Tipping in the US is expected and typically is about 15%. In less formal dinners it is okay to tip less, while high end restaurants will expect 20%. At bars, it is customary to tip $1 per drink and porters $1 per bag. It is customary to offer 10% to taxi drivers and hairdressers.
Getting Around –
Once you arrive to study the English language in the United States, you will want to look into the transportation available. In larger cities there may be a reliable public transportation system like trains or buses where as more rural areas may have limited access and infrequent time schedule. Many people in the United States have cars as the primary mode of transportation as public transportation may be sparse and distances may be long. If you plan to travel city-to-city, you can fly, take a train or bus, or even rent a car. In many cities, bike lanes are being installed and more people are starting to ride their bikes to work or school. You will want to do your research before arriving to see how you plan on getting around. If you plan on renting a car, you will most likely be required to use a credit card, have a valid driver’s license, and be at least 25 years old. There are, however, some companies that will rent to younger individuals however those under 21 are usually not permitted to rent at all. In large cities, you may find taxi cabs a good alternative to navigate longer distances. You can usually track one down if you are in a large city or call a local company to schedule a pick-up.
Much of the crime for travelers is petty theft as violent crime is minimal. When traveling, make sure that your valuables are out of public sight and if possible, withdraw cash from an ATM during the day. There are some scams you should be aware of, like street sold “authentic” watches or other brand name items may seem to be cheap (and so may the item, which may not be authentic at all!). As a tourist, be cautious when traveling and keep an eye on your valuables.
- 3rd Monday in January – Martin Luther King Day – This day commemorates the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the main advocate for the civil rights movement and was assassinated in 1968.
- 3rd Monday in February – Washington’s Birthday or President’s Day– This day honors the first President of the United States, George Washington, and his contributions to the country. Later, in the 1980’s, this day was changed to commemorate all of the presidents and was renamed President’s Day.
- Last Monday in May – Memorial Day – This day observes the efforts of US soldiers that fought and died in military service.
- July 4th – Independence Day of Fourth of July – This day marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1976, where the United States declared independence from Great Britain.
- 1st Monday in September – Labor Day – This day celebrates the efforts of workers and the labor movement.
- 2nd Monday in October – Columbus Day – Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas back in October 12th. Hawaii and South Dakota do not commemorate this day, however they instead celebrate Discoverer’s Day and Native American Day respectively.
- 4th Thursday in November – Thanksgiving – Celebrated since 1863, this day celebrates the Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together for a much appreciated feast during a brutal winter.
Most international visitors arrive in the United States by plane. This is no wonder since the airline industry is well developed and has regular flights coming to and from international destinations around the world. If you are planning to come learn English in the USA and take courses at an ESL school, be prepared to read the airline requirements and travel restrictions. The United States has made airline security stricter over the last few years, so you’ll want to be sure that you have all your documents in order and ready before your arrival.
If you plan to come to the United States to study full-time (more than 18 hours per week), then you will need to come on a F-1 student visa. If you are going to be studying at a course less than 18 hours a week, the US State Department has said that you can do so by coming on a visitor’s visa. You can get this visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country.
If you will need a student F-1 visa, you will need to get a Certificate of Eligibility, or I-20. Many schools help students with this process once you have completed the application and paid the deposit. You will also need to submit evidence of financial means to pay your tuition and living expenses, a letter of financial responsibility from your parent/legal guardian of their financial means, or a letter of sponsorship from your company/organization.
As of September 1, 2004, students coming to the U.S. on a student visa must pay a $200 to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in advance of their visa interview. This fee is called the SEVIS fee and is separate from the visa application fee that you will pay to the U.S. consulate or embassy.
Once this has been taken care of, you will want to contact your local embassy or consulate to schedule an appointment to come in for an interview. We have a put together a step by step process of the student visa application process in the United States to explain how to do this.
Start your adventure by finding ESL Programs in the United States!