English as a second language

If you look at its origins, the English language borrows heavily from a variety of other languages, including French, Greek and Latin, to name just a few. Today however, English stands on its own as the international language of business and commerce, and the frontrunner in film, television and music genres worldwide.

Unfortunately, despite its dominance, English isn't particularly easy to learn - for every rule in the English language, there seem to be 10 cases where you'll have to break it.

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There are still many individuals in English-speaking countries who can't speak the language fluently. The 2000 US census found that nearly one out of every five United States citizens spoke a language other than English in their home. While it's important to note that many in the aforementioned group have no problem speaking English in public, the census also found that around 10 percent of Americans can't speak English fluently.

What is ESL?

ESL stands for English as a Second Language. The term can refer to teaching English to someone whose primary or native language isn't English (as in an ESL program), to the act of learning English as a second language (an ESL student) and also to a class or group of people whose native language is something other than English (ESL community).

ESL and Online Learning

ESL is important to online learning because the vast majority of college and university programs in North America are taught in English. In order to succeed in an online learning environment, understanding written and spoken English and having the ability to write the language are vital. In fact, many universities require students whose primary language is not English to pass a test called the TOEFL, which evaluates the ability of an individual to use and understand English at a postsecondary level.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language is an internationally recognized test of English language proficiency for academic purposes. The test is administered in countries around the world, and is used in the US and several other countries as a qualification standard for formal university or college training. College and university applicants whose native language isn't English may be required to submit a TOEFL test score along with the rest of their application package.

Finding the Right ESL School

The number of individuals wanting to learn English is on the rise, and subsequently, the number of schools offering ESL programs is increasing to meet the demand. If you or someone you know is ready to begin learning English in an ESL program, it's a good idea to research several ESL schools before you make a final decision. Not every school is equal, and some offer much better value than others.

Take your personal learning style into consideration. You'll want to ask yourself:

  • How much experience do I have with the language?
  • How much individual attention do I need / expect? Am I able to pick up the language independently or would I benefit from regular interaction with an instructor?
  • Why do I want to learn English? Conversational English classes are quite different from academic or formal English classes. You'll need to choose a class based on your intentions for the language (i.e. for speaking, reading, writing).
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