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How Do I Choose the Best Online ESL Classes?

By Judith Smith Sullivan
Updated May 17, 2024
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The best online English as a Second Language (ESL) classes will fit your needs, your schedule, your budget, and help you reach your goals. There are several organizations which accredit ESL programs to ensure high standards of educational quality. Many programs also prepare students for a standardized exam, like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which is used in over 130 countries to assess English language skills. To find the online ESL classes which are right for you, you should first determine your needs.

Online classes offer great flexibility, but they still require a substantial amount of time. To find out what disposable time you have available, write down all the work, family, and extracurricular obligations you have during the week. Don't forget time for personal hygiene, exercise, and sleep. Deduct that from your total week and you have the amount of time which you can use for class work.

If you have regular intervals available during the week, you can take either asynchronous or synchronous classes. Asynchronous classes have no required meeting times, but synchronous classes have virtual class meetings once or twice a week, often in the evenings. If your free time is sporadic, you may need to find a class which is asynchronous because you will not be able to make the class meetings.

Next, consider your overall goals. If you simply want to learn English for personal enrichment, you have a wide variety of options. Alternatively, if you need to learn English to pass a proficiency exam for higher education, immigration, or business reasons, you need to choose an accredited program that also prepares you for the standardized ESL test in your region.

Finally, look at your budget. Decide how much money you can afford and stick to that number. If you have limited means, consider financial aid through scholarships, grants, or loans. In some cases, you can also have your tuition covered by your employer. If you are considering online ESL classes through a college, university, or continuing education facility, it may have a financial aid department that can assist you in finding funds. There are some free online ESL classes, but they are not always accredited or and may not prepare you for standardized tests.

After you have determined your scheduling needs, your goals, and your budget, it is time to look for classes. The delivery method of the class is extremely important. Many free online classes have only a written component, which can help you learn to read and write English and improve your grammar, but cannot help with pronunciation. The best online ESL classes will have written, audio, and visual aids to help you learn English. They should also have a computer program using a microphone which gives you feedback on your spoken English.

The teacher also makes a big difference in your education. In some cases, online ESL classes don't have a regular teacher giving lectures and providing feedback. Although there are high quality classes which are basically computer programs, there are definite advantages to having a teacher.

A live teacher will be able to provide feedback for your individual work and concerns. He or she will also be able to explain language difficulties, like idioms or verb tenses, and motivate you when you become discouraged. Look for a teacher who is fluent in your native language as well as English. It is also helpful if your teacher does not have an accent while speaking English as this well help you learn to pronounce English correctly.

When you find a class that seems promising, contact the instructor. He or she should be polite, helpful, and knowledgeable. Ask when he or she is available for outside help and what he or she expects from students. If you anticipate that you may miss class for business or a family event, ask if your schedule can be accommodated. Most instructors are happy to allow students to work ahead or to make alternative assignment arrangements if they are informed well in advance.

Request a syllabus for the class and read it thoroughly. It should include details on assignments and due dates, objectives for the class, and expectations for the students. If you have concerns about the work load of the class, simply ask the teacher how you might decide whether it is appropriate for you. If the teacher suggests that you may not have time to take the class, or that it may be too advanced for you, consider the recommendation carefully. Instructors typically have a wide range of experience with a variety of students and give good advice concerning their own classes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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