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Learning English As A Second Language

Are you interested in learning English as a second language? Chances are, you have been studying English for quite some time already. Don’t give up! Learning English as a second language is not easy and takes determination and hard work. In this article you will learn about the different types of ESL program available as well as some of the common challenges and difficulties you will face on your way to speaking English as a second language. Finally, you will learn some tips for learning and reaching fluency as well as the programs available for learning English as a second language in the USA.

What Is An ESL Program?

English as a Second Language (also known as ESL) Programs are programs that international students enroll into to improve their English language proficiency. An English as a Second Language Program may also be referred to as an Intensive English Program (IEP). An intensive English program is a full-time program which may or may not be accredited. When choosing an ESL program, make sure to check whether it is accredited or not.


ESL stands for English as a Second Language and is used to describe programs which are held in an English-speaking country or environment. EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language and is used to describe programs held in a non-English speaking country or environment.

Best Books For Learning English As A Second Language

World Link and World Class

Published by National Geographic Learning, a part of Cengage Learning
Comprehensive set of textbooks and multimedia for English language learning with material available from beginner to advanced. Great for the classroom. Materials are modern, interesting and updated frequently.

English Grammar In Use

Published by Cambridge, authored by Raymond Murphy
The world’s top-selling grammar instruction series. Great for self-study and instructor-led courses. Beginner to advanced levels are available. Editions with or without answers available. Grammar, grammar and more grammar!

Mastering the American Accent

Authored by Lisa Mojsin
Thorough and comprehensive accent reduction textbook with online audio. Includes specific advice for speakers of various languages. Great for classwork or self study. Let your voice be heard, speak with confidence!

Practice Makes Perfect: English Conversation

Authored by Jean Yates
Improve your speaking and fluency. Instruction on syntax, word usage and more. Great for group setting, pair work, or self study. Become more comfortable conversing in English.

Process Of Learning English As A Second Language

Learning English as a second language takes determination and perseverance. Some start learning English when they are young and some only start later in life, but it’s never too late. There are five stages that learners go through on their journey to learning English as a second language. The stages are pre-production, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency and advanced fluency.

During the pre-production stage the learner cannot produce language. The learner may be able to understand key words only and respond with yes/no answers or by other means such as nodding or shaking of the head and pointing.

In the early production stage the learner is starting to produce language, even if only in one or two word phrases or very short sentences. The learner may be able to enter into and understand a basic conversation as their vocabulary grows.

Speech emergence is an exciting stage as learners feel more comfortable producing language, albeit with frequent mistakes in vocabulary and grammar. Learners can enter into, hold and understand short conversations as their vocabulary and confidence grows. During this stage it is important for learners to immerse themselves in the language as much as possible.

The next stage, intermediate fluency, is a stage where learners show less frequent mistakes and can enter into more in depth conversations, give their opinions and compare and contrast. As a learner’s vocabulary expands they can produce more accurate and descriptive speech.

When a learner reaches advanced fluency they are able to use more complex grammatical structures, have a high level of understanding and can maintain in-depth conversations. The advanced fluency stage is when learners can perform at an academic level and communicate at the same level as their peers in grade or age.

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The Role Of Motivation In Learning English As A Second Language

Learning English as a second language is not easy but it is very rewarding as new doors can open up, socially, academically, and career wise. Motivation is important when learning English as a second language as it pushes the learner to succeed and not give up. Learners need to enjoy the process of learning and enthusiastically engage with the language and their lessons.

See some of the common motivators below. What’s your motivation to learn English as a second language?

  1. Professional: English has become the international language and is very important in many global industries and many jobs require proficiency in English.
  2. Academic: English is not only important for those who want to study in an English country but is also used by scholars around the world for research documents and publications.
  3. Travel: English is very important for international travel and tourism. Many learners simply wish to learn English for travel purposes.
  4. Social: As more and more people around the world learn English, it has become the go-to language for many people looking to make friends around the world.
  5. Love: Last but certainly not least, many need to learn English in order to communicate better with their partners.

Challenges In Learning English As A Second Language

Learning English as a second language comes with many challenges. Below you can see only a few challenges that learners face. Just remember, showing up for your English classes or keeping on target with your self-study schedule is only half the battle.

Challenge 1: English grammar and it’s many exceptions.

Learning English grammar is difficult and is made more difficult due to the many exceptions that students need to learn. These grammar rule exceptions are just as frustrating to students as to teachers, that’s why you might hear your teacher say “it’s just said that way” so often.

Challenge 2: English spelling, it doesn’t make sense!

Yes, you are correct. English spelling is difficult and poses a major challenge to students learning English as a second language. In fact, it is also difficult for native speakers and elementary and middle school students in the USA have dedicated spelling classes. Why are sew, so, sow all pronounced as SO, except when you are using sow to mean a female pig? Well, that’s just how we spell them! There are often historical reasons for the spelling of a word but those won’t help you memorize the spelling. However, as technology seeps into every part of our life and we use paper and pen less and less, spell check functions make spelling easier and easier.

Challenge 3: Pronunciation, nobody understands me!

Just like spelling, learning the pronunciation of so many words with irregular spelling patterns is very challenging. In addition to the irregular spelling patterns, English has 15 vowel sounds but only five vowels. This makes it very difficult for all learners, but especially for learners who speak a language with much fewer vowel sounds. On top of that, many consonant sounds such as S and TH have both voiced and voiceless sounds in different circumstances. Pronunciation all around is difficult, but very important and an area which is often overlooked, which is why I have recommended Mastering the American Accent as one of the must have books.

Challenge 4: Phrasal verbs and learning how to use them

Phrasal verbs (verb + preposition) are often (always) very confusing to learners. Lower level students begin by learning the most common phrasal verbs, such as wake up, turn on etc. At the lower levels phrasal verbs seem easy to learn and use but as learners progress they often become more abstract and can take on many different meanings depending on the context.

(Pro Tip: Going back to pronunciation and accent, did you know that when phrasal verbs are used as a verb the preposition is stressed and when used as a noun the verb is stressed? Example: I checked out at 9:00. VS. What time is check out?)

Challenge 5: Slang and idiomatic language

As English language learners start to progress and have more interaction they find that native speakers use a great deal of slang and idiomatic language that is difficult to understand. The best advice for overcoming this challenge is just practice, practice and practice. (A funny story. A few years ago a student arrived in class that I was teaching and was obviously furious. I asked him what was going on and he explained that a man on the elevator had recognized the ice cream store that he owned on the uniformed shirt he was wearing and had told him “Your ice cream is the sh#t”, of course he knew sh#t (another way to say poop) to be a bad word and was rightly offended. As a teacher my job was to explain to him that when we use the in front of that word, it means great/fantastic/awesome. While a vulgar word, it may be used to mean the exact opposite.

The most important thing is to never give up, you can overcome these challenges on your journey to speaking English as a second language.

Learning To Read & Write English As A Second Language

Learning to read and write English as a second language can be a fun journey but sometimes students get frustrated and get discouraged. Read on for three important tips to help you keep on track with your studies.

  1. Don’t give up! This is obvious advice but is perhaps the most important piece of advice you will read. You are not alone, many other learners are going or have gone through the same process.
  2. Read, read, and read! The more you read the more vocabulary you will start to learn and this will enable you to advance your reading to ever higher levels. When reading for pleasure, you will need to start off by reading at a lower level than you do in your own language but with practice you will advance quickly. In addition to reading for pleasure, practice academic reading strategies such as skimming and scanning which will enable you to read certain materials faster to get the main points quicker.
  3. Write. Write with a purpose and keep it simple. Throughout your lessons you are going to be asked to write, first sentences then paragraphs and then essays. Remember to order your writing, keep in mind the purpose of the writing and keep it clear and concise. As your sentences become more complex and you start adding conjunctions, you will make mistakes. Always remember, it’s okay to make mistakes. You cannot progress without mistakes.

Learning English as a Second Language in the USA

Learning English as a second language in the USA can be a wonderful and life changing experience. Read on to choose the best English course for your needs.

  • Intensive English Course (IEP):
    There are many intensive English courses in the USA. As the courses are held in a predominantly English speaking country these programs are English as a second language courses. Intensive courses are at least 18 hours per week and for international students traveling with an F-1 Student Visa. When selecting the course, check to make sure it is accredited and has excellent student reviews.
  • Recreational, Part-time, Semi-intensive English Course
    These courses are all part-time and perfect for those traveling for short trips as visitors. In addition to improving your English, you will meet students from around the world and enjoy your trip or vacation. Ask the school you choose if they offer activities so you can practice your English while enjoying fun activities.
  • Private English Classes
    Private English classes are for students with a special focus or for students who enjoy studying one one one. For low beginner and high advanced students private classes are often ideal as they can be adapted to suit a student’s specific needs. In general private English classes are more expensive but the benefits can certainly justify the costs

Which one will you choose?

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