Our guide to ESOL
Jade O'Donoghue

Our guide to ESOL

First published date September 06 2013 Amended date April 20 2015

ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages and courses are aimed at non-native English speakers. Often confused with EFL (English as a Foreign Language), the only real difference between the two is that EFL courses are usually taught in countries where English is not the native language, whereas ESOL courses are taught in English speaking territories.

The main aim of ESOL courses is to help people settle into the English-speaking country and be able to get by in everyday life. Teaching therefore will cover everything from how to use the bus to what different ingredients are called in English supermarkets.


What to expect

Generally, ESOL teachers will be native English speakers themselves and will only speak to the class in their own language. After all, you might find yourself sat in a classroom with a load of students from all over the world.

You’ll learn how to read and write English and how to speak it to others. Therefore your lessons will be varied – one day you might be giving a presentation to the class, the next you might be penning a story and the one after that might involve taking it in turns to read excerpts of an English book.


Do I have to pay for my ESOL classes?

Usually, yes. How much will depend on where you live and your personal circumstances – for example if you are claiming benefits or unemployed you might not have to foot the entire bill. There are various options for government help with financing any type of study though. For example, you may be able to get a 24+ loan for your course.


ESOL for British citizenship

Many people will have heard ESOL courses mentioned in relation to becoming a British citizen. The path to British citizenship can seem like a long one and includes both an English test and a ‘Life in the UK’ test about the country and its culture and customs. In order to get Britain citizenship, if your English speaking is lower than ESOL Entry 3, you will need to gain an ESOL qualification at Entry 1, 2 or 3 in speaking and listening.

If you’re not sure what level of English you are currently at, it is worth visiting your local college where you should be able to take an initial test to get an idea of where you should start.


Getting into uni or finding a job

Many jobs and university places require applicants who are not fluent in English to have taken and passed an ESOL course before joining. In some cases this may be paid for by the institution requesting it, but in many it will be up to the student to foot the bill.

It’s certainly a good investment though, as having completed an ESOL course, you will feel more confident reading and writing English whether in a lecture theatre or in the workplace.


How hard can it be?

That really depends on your mother tongue and its similarities to English. Languages like Dutch or German are quite similar so speakers of these might find it easier than, say, someone whose first language is Japanese.

Pronouncing certain sounds can be difficult too, especially if your first language has a particular accent. Though many people mock the ‘posh’ intonation of some English speakers, listening to the language spoken this way can be helpful when mastering your own accent. It doesn’t help that lots of English words that are spelt in a similar way are actually pronounced quite differently.

There are a lot of tenses in English. And we mean a lot. Many people who are new to the language struggle to remember which one to use in which situation. Prepositions such as ‘at, of, on’ can be hard to grasp as well because there are so many different situations in which to use them.


 Get your tongue around this

Pronunciation in English can be completely baffling, and one spelling that seems to get a lot of ESOL students in a tongue twist is ‘ough’. Can you work out how to pronounce each of these ‘ough’ words? Note – not one of them is pronounced the same way!

-          Plough

-          Though

-          Rough

-          Through

-          Borough


Get help while you learn

There are a number of online resources that will back up what you’re learning in your lessons and it’s likely that your teacher will encourage you to use these in order to supplement your education.

British Council

Using English

BBC Learning

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