Tips for Learning English in the U.S. | A Glimpse Through the Eyes of a Recent Immigrant


For immigrants new to the U.S., the challenge of learning a second language can be tough. With so many options available, what’s the best way to learn English? Read on as ESL tutor Gina C. shares her tips…

I recently interviewed Francy M., who arrived from Columbia seven months ago. Francy started studying English in her home country in high school, but only a little; now, she knows she needs to learn to speak and understand English if she hopes to work in the U.S., so she made that her primary goal when she arrived here.

When I asked Francy, a native Spanish speaker, what the main challenges are to learning English, she noted that the writing is very different.  “Words are not written as they are pronounced like in Spanish.” Also, she has to translate in her mind to be able to say what she wants to say and then many times she just does not have the English words to express what she is thinking.

These are just some of the challenges that students learning ESL face. So, how do you make learning easier? If you are new to the U.S. or have been here a while, but feel you need to improve your English, there are several different ways you can go about doing this.

  1. Community College ESL Classes: You can take ESL classes through a community college. Those don’t start at the beginner level, but may be appropriate for someone who knows some English and wants to start training for a career or getting college credits. If obtaining college credits is not part of your goal, but you have other aspirations such as improving your English to obtain a job or perform your current job better, you may want to consider a qualified coach, teacher, or small group option.

  2. Government-Subsidized ESL Classes: The government offers subsidized ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, usually available through the Adult Education Program at various high school districts. But due to budget slashing, those programs are often a challenge to get into. The other drawback is that there are usually 30+ students in a class and you are forced to go at the pace of other students who may be slower than you. Or, conversely, you may be confused and may not get all of your questions answered.

  3. Computer-Aided Instruction:

  • Rosetta Stone: Francy uses Rosetta Stone and says that it’s a good program, but not without having a class or tutor as a resource for consulting. “The program raises questions for me, like why does 3rd person singular have an s? And, what is the –ing ending? Since I am in a class, I can take my questions to the teacher.” Without a class to supplement your learning, I’d recommend working with a tutor or coach to walk you through the questions that come up when using Rosetta Stone or any other application or website for learning a language. The truth is, without a subject matter expert and the opportunity to practice, you may end up confused or may understand but not be able to actually produce as in conversing.
  • YouTube: Francy has found other tools to be helpful, as well. She searches for “How kids learn English” on YouTube and looks for children’s songs as well as popular songs that include lyrics, such as Fool’s Garden’s “Lemon Tree“.
  • ESL Websites: Another resource that Francy uses are ESL videos created by the Sacramento County Office of Education. They can be found at The California Distance Learning Project. If you click on “Other Learning Websites” at the top, you will be directed to many more free websites for learning English, including video, audio, and written scripts.

Of course, you’ll need to figure out what options works best for you. When Francy first got here, she enrolled in a private institute in the East San Jose area that was recommended by a friend. Perhaps if she knew more about American culture, she would have been suspect that the name of the school was in Spanish. If she had done her due diligence, she would have noticed that there were no reviews for it online nor much information. She enrolled and began taking classes and quickly realized it “was a waste of time” because the English class was conducted mainly in Spanish. Later, she sought out a community college. She is satisfied with her decision to use a community college, but it is good to keep in mind that the U.S. offers a variety of ways to learn English. If Francy had known about TakeLessons, she could have found a reputable tutor right away who could have gotten her on the right track to learning English.

Because Francy is so resourceful, I told her that she will be able to learn English with her dedication and ingenuity. She told me, “Thank you. Ojalá.” I fed her the English, “I hope so!” If you are looking to learn English and have found that the mainstream programs do not fit your schedule or needs, consider finding an ESL tutor or small group instructor who can get you speaking English quickly!

GinaCGina C. teaches languages, including English, ESL, and Spanish, in San Jose, CA. She received her MA in Hispanic Studies, her BA in English Literature, and has over 25 years’ experience teaching English, Spanish, and Business Communication. Learn more about Gina here!



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Photo by Southwest Key Programs

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1 reply
  1. Rosie Beckett
    Rosie Beckett says:

    I did not realize there are so many online options for learning English as a second language, so I am glad that I found this article. My co-worker recently moved to the U.S. and is trying to find ways to practice her English and I think that an online course would be great for her with her busy schedule. You make a great point that there are a lot of different websites and videos to pull from.


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