Common challenges when learning ESL

By Brittany Stuckless

Posted on January 17, 2022

Learning English as a Second Language (ESL) is a long process that involves commitment and time. There are also some challenges that, as a newcomer, you might face. It’s important to understand some of these challenges and learn ways you can overcome them.

Finding the right tutor/teacher

Many newcomers need a teacher or a tutor to help them learn the English language. Generally speaking, this will cost more based on experience. A private English tutor can charge between $25 to $75 per hour. If cost is an issue, you can find someone with a qualified educational background and a handful of past students. They will likely not charge the highest amount, but will still have some experience.
student and tutor
You should also find a teacher or a tutor with TESOL or TESL certification and a Bachelor of Arts with English as their major. On the other hand, if you are a student planning on pursuing a specific career, you can find a tutor with a similar educational background. For instance, if you’re interested in engineering, a native English speaker with an engineering background may be the most helpful tutor.

The easiest way to find a qualified teacher may be to take an ESL class with other students. You can take a course online or in person. Here is a valuable ESL program directory that you can use to find the right program, depending on where you live in Canada. Young newcomers can also learn ESL in public schools. For example, the Toronto District School Board offers ESL classes to students.

Poor learning environment

While a lot of ESL learning occurs with your tutor or in a classroom, you will need to do your homework. Homework can be frustrating if you don’t have a safe, quiet learning environment. Sadly, this is common.

You may be in a small, cramped household. You may also have loud neighbours or family members. These are tough challenges to overcome, but you can do it. You can get a pair of reasonably priced headphones that should help tune out the noise or study at a friend’s house.

man on a laptop with headphones

If studying at home is too challenging, and you can’t find another place to learn, there should be a local library in your area. Libraries value the importance of being respectful to learners and offer a quiet space. is a free online resource you can use to find a library near you.

Culture shock

Simon Fraser University notes several symptoms of culture shock. These include homesickness, boredom, isolation, and withdrawal. Experiencing culture shock can also have an impact on your ability to learn ESL. Many students already have their own ideas of what student-teacher relationships should be. Also, ESL students may struggle to learn if they feel the negative emotions associated with culture shock.

Over time, you will get used to your new teacher or tutor, as they treat you with respect and show patience. You will also adjust to being in an unfamiliar environment. Adjusting takes time, so don’t rush yourself. Soon, the culture shock will become less prevalent in your life.

Understanding slang

We haven’t forgotten to discuss the difficulty of actually learning English. Most languages are tough to learn, and you’re already doing a fantastic job by taking on the challenge of a new language. That said, one of the trickiest parts of learning English is understanding slang terms and colloquialisms (non-formal language).
scrabble tiles - keep trying

Keep in mind, British, American, and Canadian English all have different slang terms. It’s helpful to understand all of these, but you should first focus on Canadian English slang while living in Canada. However, it’s important to remember that you can still notice a lot of British and American slang in Canada.

You should ask your tutor or teacher to focus on slang and colloquialisms if you’re having trouble. Most people you’ll interact with will use slang or colloquialisms, so another great way to learn is to observe as much as possible.

Relying on native language

Naturally, you might slip back into speaking your native language from time to time. It is okay to do this sometimes, such as when you’re talking to older family members. However, it would help if you tried to speak English as much as possible while learning ESL. Practicing English whenever possible will improve your dialect and your casual conversation skills.

You may also worry about forgetting your native language. The goal is to become fluent in English while still maintaining your native language. Frequently switching back and forth between languages can make it more difficult to master English. The key is to adapt to English while preserving your native language, which takes time and practice.

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