Within the American and Canadian context, an English as a Secondary Language program is an academic or non-academic program for nonnative English speakers looking to enhance English language skills. Many universities, colleges and public schools system offer ESL programs, each with varying terms, costs, lengths and objectives.

Taking an ESL program can help your language abilities to enhance your academic experience. A student weak in academic English may find it hard to cope with reading and writing intensive courses. A failed subject is almost as costly as a full 15 weeks ESL program, so identify your needs and choose your investment wisely!

If you are considering an ESL program, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. What do I need from the program?

Generally speaking, ESL programs provide a holistic English language training that include four main components of speaking, listening, writing and reading. However, this may be delivered from different perspectives, such as to increase performance in English Language Proficiency Tests e.g. IELTS and TOEFL, to enhance day-to-day English usage, orto prepare for academic studies in English.

You want to make sure that the program that you are taking fits your purpose. For example, if you are taking ESL in preparation for your diploma or undergraduate degree, do not choose a program that focuses on other english skills than academic English; and if you are fluent with the language but need help with academic writing, it may be worthwhile exploring writing workshops instead.

2. When do I want to do the program?

7-weeks Spring and Summer ESL programs are popular with incoming undergradaute students before they start university studies in the fall. Meanwhile, an international high school student might choose a 2-weeks ESL study trip that serves both as a summer study camp and academic tourism. These programs usually cost ~$4,500.00 CAD including accommodation, meals, and weekend trips.

Others might also consider 15-weeks fall/winter ESL programs for greater coverage and lower costs. ESL programs with 20 instruction hours per week usually cost ~$2,500.00 — $3,500.00 CAD over 15 weeks. Accommodation is not included unless you applied for and were granted a place in the campus residences, subject to respective rental rates.

Please note that international students may not seek employment on or off campus while on a study permit for an ESL program.

3. What is after my ESL program?

Plan your ESL enrollment period according to your planned academic schedule. If you are looking to continue studies in a diploma, undergraduate or postgrad degree program, always plan for your overall academic schedule first. ESL programs are designed to be flexible to complement university terms.

Also, contrary to a full-year or 8-months academic preparation program to build high school pre-requisite for university enrollment, a ESL program is not a pre-requisite for higher education. Unless specifically stated, your traction in an ESL program will not transfer as degree credit, nor satisfy any course prerequisite for higher level English courses. It is a supplemental course for language abilities. For example, a student, having completed an ESL program, will still have to take one or two junior English courses (depending on your faculty/school) to satisfy their degree requirement.

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