Students of all skill levels and ages may elect to study English as a second language (ESL) to improve their English proficiency. Professional ESL instructors, English teachers and ESL tutors can help students gain basic English reading and writing skills, improve conversational proficiency, obtain full literacy and fluency, and achieve professional or academic-level comprehension. School-age English language learners (ELLs) and ESL students tend to get daily ESL instruction at their schools, but may benefit from additional, outside instruction from a native speaker, such as from a tutor. Adult education options include private instruction, classes at local colleges or online courses; students may take daily or weekly classes, depending on their needs and schedules. Several factors affect the cost of ESL instruction including the choice of private or classroom lessons, the choice of basic or business English, the teaching experience of the instructor and the location of the ESL classes.
Individual ESL lessons and private lessons
Most private instructors offer one-on-one ESL lessons, either at the student's location or at their own location. Individual lessons typically cost the most because students receive the teacher's undivided attention.
Lesson pricing varies depending on the length of each class, the teacher's experience and reputation, and the geographic location. Here are some examples of lesson rates:
Maura's ESL Lessons in New York, New York
- One-hour individual lesson: $35
Three Hats English in San Francisco, California
- Introductory lesson: free
- One-hour individual lesson: $45
- 90-minute individual lesson: $65
- Two-hour individual lesson: $80
FISV LLC in Los Angeles, California
- Two-hour individual lesson: $70
- This teacher charges $35 for each hour but encourages two-hour lessons for adult students because she finds them more effective.
Couples' ESL lessons
Some ESL teachers offer group or partner lessons. Typically these lessons cost more overall than one-on-one lessons, but less per student. For group instruction, some teachers charge one flat rate for the class, while others charge a reduced rate from their price per student. For example, FISV LLC charges $100 per two-hour couples' lesson or $50 per hour per couple. The teacher only offers this lesson to couples who live together because they can practice together more easily.
Most English language students benefit from ongoing instruction rather than a one-time class. Many teachers offer package deals for lessons, which provide students with per-class savings and secure ongoing business for themselves. In general, students must pre-pay to receive the discount. Here are some examples of package pricing:
- Three or more hours per week: $30 per hour
- Four one-on-one classes in one month: $250 per month, which is a $30 savings (or almost one free hour) over purchasing lessons one at a time
- Four couples' classes: $370 per month, which is a $30 savings over purchasing lessons one at a time
College ESL classes
Many community colleges as well as state colleges and universities offer intensive ESL programs, which ELLs can enroll in as either full-time or part-time students. Generally, there are two types of college-level ESL programs: an intensive bridge-to-university program designed to develop language fluency and skills to successfully navigate an American university classroom, or a community program designed to help immigrants enhance their English skills. The intensive programs tend to be more rigorous, while community programs allow students more flexibility.
Intensive college ESL programs
In an intensive bridge-to-university programs, ELLs study English from two to four hours per week for the entire term, depending on their skill levels, to quickly improve fluency and competency. Classes tend to be small and include students from many countries. Such programs are often divided into several skill levels to best target ELLs' needs; students take placement tests to determine the appropriate levels of coursework. Most programs offer starting terms in the fall, spring and summer, and can accommodate the requirements of F-1 student visas.
Many programs offer classes that target specific English language skills, including reading and writing, listening and speaking, and grammar. They also teach Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam prep classes to give ELLs testing strategies. Courses are generally designed to help students reach college-level proficiency, including giving speeches and oral presentations, taking notes, and writing academic papers.
The costs of an intensive program generally include an application fee and a testing fee, a tuition deposit, tuition, and books. Application and placement testing fees tend to range from $50 to $100, on average, and tuition deposits are usually $100 on average. Tuition for a full-time program ranges from $2,500 to $3,500 per 10- to 14-week term. Part-time students can often pay by the class, which often cost from $650 to $1,500. On average, textbooks cost between $200 and $300 each term.
Because some colleges require their students to carry medical insurance, full-time enrollees may need to factor in the cost of using the school's health services, too.
Community ESL courses
Community ESL courses are college programs designed for immigrants to learn or improve English listening, speaking, reading and writing skills for general employment or to better communicate with the people around them. These types of programs often have classes that meet for just four to five hours each week and are taught in the evening. Placement tests determine the right class level, so lower-level ELLs can take classes that integrate reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar skills, while higher-level ELLs can focus on speciality classes that target specific learning needs, such as conversation and pronunciation skills or English for business skills. Each class ranges from $300 to $500, on average, and textbooks usually cost about $60-$100 each.
Online ESL classes
Some educational institutions offer online-only ESL courses, which include placement testing. Like any online course, online ESL classes offer ELLs more flexibility, allowing them to work on their classes from any internet-enabled location at any time of day. Some programs also admit teenagers as young as 16 years old who have completed at least their freshman year of high school. Costs of an online program include an application fee and testing fee, generally around $100-$150 total, and tuition, which costs about $2,000-$3,000, on average. Not all online courses meet F-1 student visa requirements, however, even from accredited universities.
If students have a tight deadline, such as last-minute preparation for taking the TOEFL or the GMAT, teachers may need to work at a more vigorous pace with students. Some instructors charge more when the intensity of the lessons is increased or if they need to shift scheduling to accommodate deadlines. FISV LLC sometimes charges up to $45 per hour if there is a deadline of six months or less for students to meet a certain proficiency level.
Remote private ESL courses
Some private instructors offer online classes at their standard rates, and others offer a discounted rate. Maura's ESL Lessons charges $25 per hour for an individual Skype session and $20 per hour when purchased as a package of three or more hours in one week.
Some private ESL instructors charge travel fees in addition to their lesson cost in high-traffic areas such as Los Angeles or for locations outside of their standard service regions. This fee covers the teacher's extra time and transportation expenses. FISV LLC charges a $35 travel fee for the rare occasions that lessons don't take place at its headquarters.
- Make sure you find the right fit for your learning style and read up on the teacher's experience.
- According to the founders of FISV LLC, group instruction is too challenging. FISV LLC educators work with couples because they can practice and study together at home. The company does not provide group lessons unless everyone has the same native language and are all learning British English or U.S. English — the differences between the two variants of English are too great.