Online Help for ESL College Students

According to the United States Census Bureau’s 2000 report, approximately 47 million people living in the United States speak a foreign language at home, though 55% of those same people also reported that they speak English “very well.” These numbers have risen since the 2000 census, and this has contributed to a growing need for schools across the country, including colleges and universities, to provide instruction in English as a Second Language (ESL). This includes both foreign students who have enrolled in American colleges as well as immigrants, refugees, and those born in the United States to families that speak a non-English language at home. At community colleges, for example, “open access” admissions policies mean that the population of ESL students at any given school can constitute upwards of 30% of the total population of students there. And this means that upwards of 30% of the population struggle with English language skills.

This is particularly true when it comes to written English, which is the primary form of student-teacher communication and learning assessment activities in college courses, especially online courses. Higher education offers many opportunities for students, and ESL students in particular can benefit from ESL courses offered at colleges, even if they are not enrolled in a degree program. Colleges offer courses, language clinics and other resources to help ESL students improve their skills.

The demand for ESL information has led to the creation of many useful online ESL courses, offered by colleges and universities to students who are enrolled in their programs, but for those who are not ready to take the plunge and enroll in a college degree program, or who already have a degree and need to brush up on their skills, there are many websites, such as, that offer free online ESL courses. In addition, many sites provide resources for anyone in need of ESL assistance, whether they are a student or not.

These websites offer many different activities, tests, and methods of improving English skills:

    is a very comprehensive site that covers topics for both ESL students and teachers. For students, the site includes 477 quizzes on such tricky language problems as the difference between adverbs and adjectives; reading comprehension tests so that you can test your understanding of English material; sample essays; and software downloads. One of the most useful resources on the site is a section on idioms, to help ESL students untangle such difficult non-literal phrases as “Thousand pound gorilla in the room.” ESL teachers will benefit from the handouts, grammar worksheets, and other printable materials. While offers free membership that allows you to access the “Ask a Teacher” forum, it also offers a subscription service that gives users access to articles on different topics, for further study.

    offers ESL students access to audio recordings, writing and reading lessons, pronunciation lessons, and games such as Hangman, crossword puzzles, matching games, which will help students learn vocabulary. Of great interest to ESL students majoring in Business, also provides a unique section of resources for Business English, including how to write business letters, the vocabulary you need to conduct meetings and negotiations, and tips on how to understand the key terms in advertising, company structure, contracts, meetings, and sales language.

    is a website created by experienced ESL professors who have created free podcasts of English dialogues and conversations employing common language and everyday phrases. Students can subscribe to the podcast, so that it is delivered to your email daily. The podcasts include explanations of word and phrase meaning, and those who enroll in the basic membership, which costs $10 a month, can have access to complete written transcripts so that students can follow along with them, sample written English material, questions, and other tips to help you improve your English skills.

    offers ESL help at different levels, so that students can easily bypass the basics if they have more experience with English. This is a very comprehensive site with hundreds of pages of grammar, vocabulary, writing and pronunciation, as well as business English and guides to understanding idioms. Each of these topics is offered at beginner through advanced levels; all a student needs to do is click on the level on which they are most comfortable.

All of these sites offer the extra assistance that many ESL student need when taking college courses, but their usefulness certainly isn’t limited to ESL students. In many of my courses, student work clearly indicates a general need for refreshers in common grammar usage, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Any student, ESL or not, can benefit from these websites as they strive to improve the quality of their academic work!