ESL Guide for International Students

The U.S. is home to some of the world’s most prestigious universities, making it a destination for many international students. If you have your sights set on studying in the U.S., you are setting yourself up for a bright future. That being said, as an international student, you have more steps than domestic students to get accepted and attend university in the U.S. This is especially true if English is not your first language and you need English as a second language (ESL) instruction. If this applies to you, then read on for everything you need to know about English as a second language.

What Is English as a second language? 

English as a second language is used for programs and courses that teach English to people whose first language is not English. Anyone who has moved or is planning to move to an English-speaking country and wants to work or go to school there can take ESL. In many cases, proving you can communicate fluently in English is required for work or school.

How does an English as a second language program work?

You’ll learn more than basic grammar and spelling when enrolling in an ESL program. You’ll also learn the basic concepts and rules of the English language and how they’re used in an academic setting. 

Why English as a second language?

As an international student hoping to study at a university in the U.S., you’ll have to prove you are proficient in English to be accepted at the school of your choice. The content of your program will be challenging enough, and the school wants to be sure that language is not a barrier. This means you need to know English well enough to communicate at an academic level.

To prove that you can read, write, listen to, and speak English at this level, you’ll be required to take a standardized test that assesses your proficiency in these areas. You must achieve a minimum score in each area of English communication and a minimum overall score to be able to attend university. Each university has its own requirements for this, so you will need to check with your school for their specific requirements.

Taking an ESL program is a way to help prepare for this type of test before you even go to the U.S. to study. However, even when you pass an English language standardized test, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be 100 percent ready to communicate in English in every situation once you move to the U.S. Not only will you have to communicate in your classes at school, but you’ll also need to communicate with your peers and out in the real world when you shop, socialize and go for a night out. For this reason, you may also want to consider taking ESL once you get to the U.S.

Is It difficult to learn English as a second language?

English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. It’s full of complex grammar rules with many exceptions.  Add to this the fact that there are many different dialects of English within the U.S. alone,  a non-English speaker can be left feeling confused during a conversation.

Fortunately, learning English as a second language is possible despite the challenges. People do it every day. The key is to study English, use it in every form as much as you can and do the following:

Many people begin learning English as a second language in their home country. This is a great way to start preparing to take a test of your English proficiency. 

ESL standards and levels

There are a few different national and international ESL standards. The primary one in the U.S. is World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA). On an international level, the top standards are TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).

People who take ESL are starting at different levels of English proficiency. Some people have already been speaking English at some level. Others may not know much English, but already know one or two other languages, which means they understand how to learn a new language. For this reason, there are different levels of ESL to be aware of. These levels vary depending on the standard used. WIDA and TESOL have the following levels:

  1. Starting (TEDOL)/Entering (WIDA).
  2. Emerging.
  3. Developing.
  4. Expanding.
  5. Bridging.
  6. Reaching (WIDA only).

The CEFR levels are:

ESL Programs and Courses

When choosing an English as a second language program, enroll in an accredited program that is of the highest quality. Every country has its national accreditation bodies for assessing potential programs. If you are enrolling in an ESL program in your home country, look for accredited programs in your home country. In the U.S., the top accreditation bodies are:

In addition, there are two primary associations in the U.S. for intensive English programs (IEPs). These are:

There are also many online resources for ESL students, including:

General ESL Resources

College Writing for ESL Students

Once accepted into and attending university in the U.S., it can still be common for international students to need help when doing written assignments. If you find yourself in this position, the following resources can help:

Keep in mind that before you ever go to school in the U.S. and even if you have gone through an English as a second language program, you will still need to prove you can communicate effectively in English. This means you’ll need to take a test to verify your proficiency in the English language. There are several test options available, including:

Of these, the TOEFL and the IELTS are the most widely recognized throughout the U.S. and the world. The TOEFL is offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS, and is recognized by more than 11,500 institutions around the world. The IELTS is an exam jointly owned and offered by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English.  More than 11,000 organizations around the world recognize the IELTS.

Preparing for Your TOEFL or IELTS

Now that you have a solid understanding of both the TOEFL and the IELTS, here are some final preparation and test-taking tips you might find useful:

Take English as a second language seriously

Being able to communicate in English in any setting or situation is the key to having a great experience studying and living in the U.S. It’s not only required at a certain level to be accepted into your program of study, but also necessary for communicating with the people you meet and making lasting personal and professional connections. So, study hard, practice, and get the most out of your ESL program so you can get the most out of your time in the U.S.

For more information on ESL programs and exams or how we can help you, visit eduPASS today.