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A Guide to Studying English as a Second Language Abroad

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, now all you need is to sharpen up your English skills. The global lingua franca, English is your passport to anywhere, a crucial skill for traveling, studying, and working almost anywhere in the world. To steer yourself in the direction you choose, English is key. Studying English as a second language abroad is the best way to fast track your language learning and develop cultural awareness and understanding, all while having a study abroad experience you won’t be able to stop raving about for, well, ever.

Why Study ESL Abroad

Studying ESL abroad might be the scariest thing you ever do. Leaping headfirst into a foreign country, trying to wrap your tongue around an unfamiliar language and your head around an unfamiliar culture, can be trying to say the least. The good news, though, is that choosing to study ESL abroad might also be the best thing you ever do. 

When studying ESL abroad, you get to learn the culture that goes along with the language, putting everything into a global context. Studying textbook photos of English people sipping their tea and catching big red buses is all very well, but actually experiencing these things is invaluable. Learning a language is about so much more than just being able to order a meal. It is about being able to communicate with locals, putting yourself in the shoes of others, and experiencing a totally different perspective on life. It is about breaking down barriers of communication and culture and really connecting with others. It is about embracing cultural differences and celebrating diversity; all of these things are best explored when ESL learners and English speakers are properly introduced.


When it comes to picking a location to study ESL abroad, you have your pick of English speaking crops; the location options for ESL study abroad programs are practically endless. Northern or Southern hemisphere? Hot or cold climate? City or small town? To narrow it down, start by checking out some of the most popular spots for studying English abroad outlined below:

England. If you want your English vocabulary to include things like cream tea, bangers, mash, and black pudding, then England might be the right spot for your ESL studies abroad. With a history and culture older than the stones of Stonehenge, and better cuisine than the French ever give them credit for, the original English speakers will make sure you have a rollicking good time during your ESL study abroad program.

New Zealand. If you want a few helpings of adventure with your ESL classes, head down under. New Zealand’s natural beauty is legendary and the friendly vibe infectious. You will have plenty of opportunities to practice your newfound English (and rugby) skills with curious Kiwis, although you might have a little trouble deciphering the accent at times. Note: Be sure to clarify the difference between “eating Kiwis” and “eating kiwifruit” in your ESL classes.

Ireland. If your preferred way to practice English is by singing along to your favorite tunes, you will be right at home on the Emerald Isle. With every pub (and these are many pubs) alive with the sound of music, you will perfect your pronunciation in no time by joining in with the locals and lending your vocals to live Irish bands. Just make sure to pack an umbrella, some sturdy rain boots, and a love for potatoes if you choose an ESL program in Ireland.

United States. From the east coast to the west, the United States is bursting with opportunities to study ESL. Now is your chance to live in one of the cities you have seen on screen (hello, Hollywood!), or get off the map and discover a completely different side to this diverse country. If deciding where to study ESL in the U.S. is too tough, just remember; whichever state you choose, all of the others are just an epic road trip away.

ESL Study Abroad Programs

English as a second language is one of the most versatile study abroad options you can possibly choose. You can study ESL abroad in almost any setting you desire, with any course structure you prefer, in whatever living arrangement suits you best.

Depending on your priorities, you can find ESL courses offered by universities, specified language schools, or private tutors. If gaining proficiency in English as quickly and efficiently as possible is your main focus, individual tuition is the most intensive way of going about it. If you prefer to take a more collaborative approach to language learning, small groups are great for sharing and discussing ideas. Larger classes are a surefire way to develop your social network and find peers in a similar learning journey. If you want to reap the benefits of more than one of these program types, just hunt around. Some ESL courses abroad combine group classes with one-on-one tuition, so that you can get sufficient individual feedback while still learning in a group environment. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you!

In terms of accommodation, homestays are a great way to jump right into the culture of the country where you have chosen to study ESL abroad. Living with a local family means you will have more concentrated English exposure and learning opportunities, but if you want your course to include extra-curricular activities, such as exploring the local nightlife, you may want to be in a more social setting. Student housing will definitely facilitate your social life and help you get acquainted with other students from around the globe. If sleep is important to you, however, you may want to consider an independent apartment.

Benefits & Challenges

Aside from the obvious benefit of shaping up your English language skills, meeting a bunch of like-minded individuals and shortening your bucket list, you stand to gain a bucket load of benefits from studying ESL abroad.

If you are in a country that speaks English, you will have the benefit of being completely immersed in the language. If may not feel like a benefit at first, but being up to your ears in English will put you on the fast track and accelerate your speaking, listening, and comprehension skills. Studying English in a classroom is necessary, but putting it to use is the best way to improve and build your confidence. Going to a supermarket, catching a bus, asking for directions, even the tiniest of interactions in your day to day life will boost your ESL skills and help you get the most out of your ESL courses abroad.

On the flip side of language immersion, it will be sink or swim in terms of language practice. A lot of English speaking countries won’t speak any language BUT English, so you will be lost for words if you can’t find any English ones. You will perfect your “deer-in-headlights stare” when you don’t understand the words being spoken to you, and there will almost certainly be moments when you feel as if you aren’t making any progress at all. The first few days can be mentally exhausting, but with a little perseverance, frantic hand gestures, and deep breathing, you will be speaking English in no time.

With all of the exciting possibilities out there for studying ESL abroad, the hardest part will be picking your program. Once you have struggled through that difficult, decision-making time, you will already be well on your way to international, English-based adventures. Oh, the places you’ll go!

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A Guide To
Studying English as a Second Language Abroad


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