APEC Checklist for English Language Programs

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In order to assist those trying to choose an effective language learning program, the Strategic Plan for English and Other Languages seeks to provide consumers with checklists to guide their decision.  The following checklist developed by Kirsten Schaetzel of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) contains the main pieces of information needed to consider when looking at an English language program.  Available from CAL are this Short Checklist, as well as a record of the Process of Development for this checklist and a more detailed Consumer Checklist with background information on English language programs for wise consumer choices.

Type of program

There are many different programs for studying English. The type of program should match the learner’s purpose for studying English. Some of the most common types of English language programs are listed below.

_____ English for academic study
_____ English for general conversation
_____ English for special purposes
         _____ Medical English
         _____ Workplace English
         _____ Business English
         _____ English for government
         _____ English for travel and tourism
         _____ Other

It is also important to note the number of hours in the program. Intensive language programs usually meet for 4-8 hours a day, five days a week and continue for 4 to 12 weeks. Less intensive programs generally meet for 2 hours, 2-3 times a week.

Adult English language acquisition and number of hours required for proficiency

It is very difficult to give an estimate of hours of study required for a certain level of proficiency in English.  Learner’s purpose and motivation for English language study greatly affect how quickly the language will be learned. Another section of this wiki explores the factors affecting the time required to learn a language.

_____ Note any claims about the number of hours needed to achieve a certain level of proficiency that the program makes and consider this claim with reference to the following information.

A)   The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has developed proficiency guidelines. They have levels from superior to novice in each of the four language skills, reading, writing, listening and speaking. (The ACTFL Guidelines)
B)   The Foreign Service Institute estimates that it takes a native English speaker 44 weeks or 1100 class hours to reach professional working proficiency in Hindi, Thai, and Vietnamese, and it takes a native speaker of English 88 weeks of 2200 class hours to reach professional working proficiency in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
C)   In a study of adult lawful permanent residents in the United States, the researcher found that an estimated 103 hours of study per person per year for 6 years would result in a level of language proficiency necessary for civic integration or to begin post-secondary education. (McHugh, M., Gelatt, J., & Fix, M. (2007). Adult English language instruction in the United States: Determining need and investing wisely. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute)
D)   In research done with children, it can take 3 to 5 years to develop oral English proficiency and 4 to 7 years to develop academic English proficiency. (How Long Does it Take for English Learners to Attain Proficiency?)

Teacher qualifications and training

There are many different types of English language teaching credentials. Some of the most common teaching credentials are

A)   Master’s degree: MA (Applied Linguistics), MATESOL (Master’s in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language). Fields of study usually covered in these degrees include second language acquisition (SLA), development of the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), assessment, and materials and methods for teaching English as a second or additional language.
B)   BA, BS, or BEd in Applied Linguistics, Linguistics, or Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). These bachelor’s degrees give teachers knowledge and skills in linguistics and language learning.
C)   TESL certificate. This is a short course (4-6 weeks, full time) which gives teachers basic knowledge. Common certificates include the Cambridge University’s Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), the TEFL certificate, granted by universities in the United States, and the School of International Training TESOL Certificate.

For an overview of teacher qualifications, consult Common Qualifications for English Language Teachers

Class composition

The make-up of the class is important and several factors contribute to the class composition. Some programs have sufficient students and resources to have one class at each proficiency level while others have more than one proficiency level in a class. Skilled teachers can work with both of these situations.

_____ Number of proficiency levels in a class (e.g., one proficiency level, multilevel class). (The ACTFL proficiency levels are helpful when determining how many proficiency levels are in one class (The ACTFL Guidelines)
_____ Students’ language background (e.g. all students are from the same language background, students come from various language backgrounds)
_____ Ages of students in a class
_____ Number of students in a class (Smaller is not necessarily better, but students need the opportunity to get frequent feedback from teachers and peers.)

Use of English outside of class hours

It is helpful when learning a language if students have opportunities to practice the language outside of class hours. For this, it is important to consider the following

_____ Location of school: use of English in city or town
_____ School sponsored opportunities for language practice (e.g., clubs, conversation pairs, films and discussions)
_____ Home stays: living with a local family
_____ Class assignments: assignments that ask students to use the language outside of class
_____ Other

Cost of the program

Different features of the program of language study may enter into the cost of the program. These features include

_____ Tuition (for a course, term, or year of study)
_____ Course texts and materials
_____ Technology use
_____ Accommodations
_____ Meals
_____ Field trips/activities
_____ Visa
_____ Other

The following chart may help to compare program costs


Program 1

Program 2

Program 3

Tuition (time unit)


Texts and materials


Technology use






Field trips / activities