English as a Second Language Information

Classes offer practice in the four main language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The classes are divided into levels for beginners, low intermediate, high intermediate, and advanced levels. Durham Tech also provides specialized classes in the afternoons in the following skill areas: conversation, reading and writing, and pronunciation. Our classes focus on teaching basic English for practical matters such as finding work and visiting the doctor.

Anyone who is a non-native speaker of English can enroll in ESL classes as long as that person is 18 years of age or older. We do have limited space in classes; and if someone is only planning to be in the United States for a very short period of time (such as two months), we will need to give priority for classroom space to someone who can attend for the entire semester. Sometimes students with very good English skills want to enroll in these classes in order to polish their English. If you are at a level of proficiency where you only have minor errors in speaking or writing, you may not find these classes challenging enough.

How to Enroll

The first step is to attend one of the placement testing sessions. Testing for Durham classes usually happens two months before the semester begins. In other words, Durham Tech offers testing in November for classes starting in March; in April or May for classes starting in June; and in July for classes starting in September. Testing for Chapel Hill classes is one or two weeks before the semester starts.

Registration information for each location is listed below the placement testing schedule.

It’s perfectly fine if you can’t answer any of the questions — we have a class for students who are total beginners. Please realize, too, that an important part of learning a language is trying new things. The test is just one of many new things that a student will try in this program.

There are many students who want to enroll in these classes, and it’s good to plan ahead if you want to take classes with us. Occasionally, we can add students after the testing dates have occurred, but this is not common.

Only registered students are allowed in the ESL classrooms. No visitors are permitted. This includes friends and family members. It is especially important not to bring children to classes! There are a few sites (including elementary schools) that offer childcare for the children of ESL students; but in these cases, the children are in a separate room from the ESL classes.

Languages Spoken

Over 60 percent of our students speak Spanish as a first language, but there are students from over 60 countries each semester. Instructors teach English in English. We actually encourage students from different countries and different language backgrounds to work together when doing partner or group activities.


The classes are free. In some cases, students may need to buy books for class. These usually cost less than $30.

Student Visas

Students are not able to get a student visa to study ESL at Durham Tech. Student visas because ESL classes are noncredit.

Keep in Mind

Learning a language can take a long time. Students who practice English a lot outside of class tend to learn faster than those who only speak English when they’re in class. It’s important to practice all of the different aspects of English: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Some days, learning a language will seem very difficult and you may feel discouraged. It is important to keep trying. Things really will start to seem easier if you keep making a consistent effort to learn.