Living in the United States with the express purpose of studying English is on the minds of many ESL (English as a Second Language) students around the world. English continues to blossom as the global language of business, academia, and communication, drawing more and more learners to language schools in the United States. Opting to explore the full immersion experience of learning English, ESL students have diverse options in the language schools they can attend here in the US.

So what do the majority of these ESL students want out of their language school while studying in the United States? How do students even learn about language schools before they get here? Surveying a wide range of students from different countries, I attempted to explore some of these questions. Interestingly, a lot of the responses were similar, even amongst different national groups.

As it’s quite difficult to shop around for a language school while still in their home country, most students seem to have relied on word-of-mouth to direct them to a language school. The advice and experience of friends or peers plays a big role in the choice of many students. Many students, especially from Asia, also employ the services of an independent agency or organization to help them find a language school. If neither of these sources is good enough (or not pursued), students universally turn to the answerer of all questions: the Internet. Nearly all students asked mentioned the usage of the Internet somewhere in their search for a language school.

In talking to their friends, seeking the advice of an agency, or plumbing the depths of the Internet, students predominantly want to know one thing about a language school: Does it have good teachers? It turns out that ESL students want a lot in a teacher, and will attend language schools that can meet their expectations in teaching staff. Based on the responses, it seems like ESL students want an American friend in their ESL teacher – someone who is funny, personable, and can engage them in communication in English without making them uncomfortable. This person should also be patient and creative, with a passion and motivation to teach. Oh, and they need to be a clear-speaking, error-correcting, grammarian genius who can teach authentic expressions and other cool stuff. No short order it seems!

ESL students also pack high expectations for a language school’s curriculum on top of their needs from an ESL teacher. They seek specialization in areas where they are weak, especially in speaking. Over and over, students mentioned their desire to practice their oral communication skills without being made to feel embarrassed or without losing confidence. In a more general sense, ESL students look for a language school that has a strong, diverse curriculum, which provides an array of classes and learning materials so the learning experience stays fresh and interesting.

Good teachers and a strong curriculum may not come as a huge surprise. Would there be any doubt that students also want all of the above for a relatively low price? Students also consider their budget when making a decision on a language school, as living in the United States can be expensive. Students are highly concerned with getting a quality education while studying in America, at a good value.

The last major expectation of a language school is perhaps not surprising, but important. Living in another country, far from friends and family, can be quite lonely. Students seek a language school where they can meet students from around the world, and build relationships with a diverse body of fellow students. Humorously, the flip side of this is that many students do not want to attend a language school where a lot of their fellow nationals are already enrolled. They want to be forced to speak English in some cases. To help facilitate the building of these relationships with fellow students, a lot of language school shoppers look at the social activities the school organizes. They are interested in sightseeing tours, social events like parties or movie screenings, or cultural events in the larger community.

The results of my survey point out some pretty universal desires on the part of ESL students from many different countries. They want smart, effective teachers who can guide them through their English language education with a strong academic curriculum to back them up. Of course, they want to get the most value for their money out of the experience. But most importantly, they want to have a good time and make friends. They want to connect with other ESL students from countries they may never otherwise travel to. They want some support from their language school via social events and activities facilitated through the school. If a language school can provide these aspects, then they should be inundated with foreign students wanting to study there.