English Learning Programs for Adults: How to Find the Best One

You may have studied English in college or taken classes years ago. Now that you’re no longer in a formal English learning program, you’re probably looking for cost-effective ways to improve your English and ultimately achieve fluency. If this describes you, keep reading! 

In today’s guide, we are going to give you actionable steps to find the best English learning programs for adults. Additionally, we will provide you with some parameters to consider and pitfalls to avoid in your search. Finally, we will focus on programs catered to English learners who don’t just want to see minor improvements, but those who want to achieve full English fluency. So, let’s get started:

 

Parameters to consider when choosing English learning programs for adults

We always advise our English students to do ample research before signing up for an English language learning program. If you just enroll in the first course or program you find, you could be greatly disappointed. For this reason, it’s best to compare and contrast your options using the following parameters:

Cost

Before you even start searching for an English learning program, you should set a budget. In our experience, you should be prepared to spend at least $200 per year on English studies (for at least 2.5 years) if you want to achieve fluency. This is not a precise figure, but it should give you a general idea of what to expect. 

If you don’t have enough funds in your budget, there are various free learning resources online. However, it may take you far longer to improve your English this way. So, paying for a structured English learning program will fast-track your progress. 

Staff

Ideally, the best English learning programs for adults should include staff in multiple positions. In other words, you should have a teacher to guide your studies and help you practice English speaking, as well as secondary staff to address technical issues, billing, or questions about the program.

That said, the most important staff member will be your teacher (tutor, instructor, etc). The best English programs link one trained English teacher with one or more students for an extended period of time. If you choose a program that keeps teachers on a constant rotation, you will not get consistent or reliable feedback. These types of programs are often designed for general speaking practice, with no guarantee of fluency. 

Lesson materials

In most cases, when you sign up for an adult English learning program, the materials come with the cost of your subscription or purchase. However, many programs provide no classroom materials. So, you will need to determine if a program without any formal teaching materials is the right fit for you. We believe that any quality English course or program for adults should provide some lesson materials to supplement English conversation. 

Curriculum design

Free-form English programs may be fine to help maintain your current English level, but they will make it very difficult for you to gauge your progress. Therefore, the best English learning programs for adults feature curriculums designed for long-term learning (1+ years). If a program doesn’t have a set curriculum for learners at different levels, it probably won’t meet your needs. For example, if you’re a C1 learner who joins an English program that caters to intermediate learners (B1 and B2), you may feel like you’ve wasted your time and money.

Amount of speaking practice

An English program without speaking practice won’t help you become a fluent English speaker. Therefore, if you want to become fluent in English, you should look for English learning programs that put emphasis on speaking practice. For example, if the curriculum is divided into different skill sets, you should look for one that is at least 50% speaking practice. Reading, writing, and listening practice are all helpful as well, but they do not provide the same level of fast-paced learning as speaking with a native English speaker.

Amount of feedback

Without feedback, you have no objective way to measure your progress. Naturally, you can gauge your own progress to one degree or another, but you may not be able to accurately recognize your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, the best English learning programs provide regular feedback to their students. 

Ideally, you should get some feedback in every class you attend. Usually, this kind of feedback will be informal, but it will still help you understand your English level better. Additionally, quality English learning programs should provide more formal, structured feedback on a regular basis.

Fluency guarantee

Since English fluency requires a great deal of effort on the part of the student, many English learning programs are afraid to offer guarantees like “achieve English fluency or get your money back!” That said, you should be wary of companies or programs that don’t offer any kind of guarantee. When teachers and staff have to help you reach English fluency to fulfill the program’s intent, they are much more likely to provide the kind of learning experience you need to improve at a steady pace. 

Why do these parameters matter?

We encounter a lot of new learners who express their discontent with other English learning programs. Despite their best efforts, many adult ESL students end up enrolling in programs that really don’t meet their needs. For example, if your end goal is to speak English with little or no accent, a program that does not focus on speaking practice simply won’t help you. Alternatively, if you just want to grow your English vocabulary, an English learning program with a lot of reading materials and vocabulary exercises might better suit your needs.

How to figure out the best course for you

Now that you know which parameters to consider, it’s time to compare and contrast a few of the most popular English learning programs for adults. Fortunately, we’ve done most of the hard work and number-crunching for you! Here are a few of the best programs currently on the market:

iTalki

  • Pros
    • Freedom to choose your tutor
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Lots of speaking practice
  • Cons
    • No set curriculum
    • Fluency is not guaranteed
    • User experience can vary greatly

Cambly

  • Pros
    • Learn English at any time of day or night
    • Different pricing structures to meet your needs and goals
    • Lots of speaking practice
  • Cons
    • Tutors may not be experienced English teachers
    • Fluency not guaranteed
    • Learners may not get a set curriculum

Lingoda

  • Pros
    • Certified, experienced English tutors
    • Plenty of learning materials and resources
    • Private or group lessons
  • Cons
    • More expensive than similar platforms
    • No firm fluency guarantee 
    • Limited schedule flexibility

SpeakUp

  • Pros
    • The most cost-effective platform on the market
    • Money-back fluency guarantee
    • Certified, experienced English tutors
  • Cons
    • No private lessons (although you can get private feedback through our interactive video exercises)
    • Limited schedule flexibility (although we are expanding availabilities and accept student requests)

Now that you have an overview of the top four English learning programs on the market, let’s take a closer look at how each of them performs:

iTalki Cambly Lingoda SpeakUp
Cost 5/10 6/10 6/10 10/10
Staff 7/10 5/10 10/10 10/10
Lesson materials 3/10 5/10 8/10 9/10
Curriculum design 3/10 5/10 9/10 10/10
Speaking practice 9/10 8/10 10/10 10/10
Feedback 5/10 5/10 10/10 9/10
Fluency guarantee 3/10 3/10 5/10 10/10
*Free trial 5/5 4/5 5/5 5/5
*Private and group lessons 3/5 1/5 5/5 1/5
*Scheduling flexibility 4/5 5/5 3/5 3/5
*Customer reviews 4/5 3/5 5/5 5/5
*Extra learning resources 4/10 4/10 7/10 10/10
Final Scores (out of 100) 55 54 83 92

*Additional perks, features, and parameters to consider

Cost Winner: SpeakUp

All four English learning programs outlined above have vastly different pricing structures. For example, iTalki has thousands of English tutors to choose from. Each tutor sets their hourly price, anywhere from $4 to $80 per hour, with an average hourly price of $15 per hour. You only pay for the number of hours you want and you can choose to study through more than one tutor, which could also affect the final amount you pay per lesson. 

Alternatively, Cambly gives you the option to pay for set packages in advance. You can sign up for classes that are 15, 30, or 60 minutes in duration. Additionally, you choose if you’d like to have 2, 3, or 5 classes per week. You can save more by enrolling in up to a year of classes in advance, but the average cost comes out to about $14.60 per hour no matter which combination you choose.

Lingoda is similar to Cambly insofar as you have multiple package options to choose from. First, you pick whether you want private or group lessons (the latter are significantly cheaper). Then, you pick how many classes you want to pay for in advance: 4, 12, 20, or 80. For group classes, the average cost is $11.50 per hour, while the average cost of private lessons is $26 per hour.

Finally, SpeakUp offers the best value for your money at just $4 per hour. With SpeakUp, you pay for the monthly package, which includes 8 live group sessions (plus private feedback), as well as on-demand video lessons and language exercises. Even if you don’t catch SpeakUp while it’s on sale, you can still expect to pay no more than $7.40 per hour for your subscription.

Staff Winners: Lingoda & SpeakUp

It’s difficult to gauge the quality of staff, particularly teachers, on platforms like iTalki and Cambly. With iTalki, you can choose between Community Tutors and Professional Teachers. The former can be anyone who is 18 years or older and is a C2 or Native English speaker, while the latter must meet the same qualifications, plus they must have some form of teaching credentials or verifiable teaching experience. 

Similarly, Cambly does not require its tutors to have any formal education or experience as an English tutor. As a result, both platforms are primarily designed for informal English conversations. Cambly even markets to potential tutors that they can “get paid to chat with people from around the world.”

Alternatively, Lingoda and SpeakUp both require all their teachers to be native English speakers with teaching credentials and/or experience. Additionally, all Lindoga and SpeakUp tutors go through an in-house process to improve their teaching strategies.

Lesson Materials Winner: SpeakUp

Since iTalki relies on its tutors to come up with lessons on their own, curriculums can vary widely from one tutor to the next. Cambly offers a little more structure with lesson plans based on each student’s current level. However, Cambly tutors still have control over how or if they use these materials. Therefore, you may not get much use out of lesson materials through iTalki or Cambly.

Lingoda steps things up by giving learners access to thousands of learning materials, in addition to the materials assigned in class. SpeakUp also offers a large database of learning materials, as well as dozens of video lessons and speaking exercises for intermediate and advanced students.

Curriculum Design Winners: Lingoda & SpeakUp

Like lesson materials, structured curriculums are not guaranteed with either iTalki or Cambly. It all depends on the tutor you choose (or get matched with). This is where English learning programs like Lingoda and SpeakUp really shine. Rather than just throwing you into a private or group class with no direction, both Lingoda and SpeakUp offer structured, long-term curriculums to track your progress and move you toward English fluency as quickly as possible.

Speaking Practice Winners: Lingoda & SpeakUp

It’s true that all four platforms offer a lot of opportunities to practice speaking English. However, they go about it in different ways. Therefore, your experience will vary significantly from one platform to the next. Fortunately, Lingoda and SpeakUp both offer structured lesson plans and curriculums to ensure that you don’t just chat — you actively learn.

Feedback Winner: Lingoda

Both iTalki and Cambly do not have strict requirements when it comes to feedback. Individual tutors can provide feedback as frequently as they like. This means that you could get regular, structured feedback, or no feedback at all.

When it comes to feedback, it’s a close competition between Lingoda and SpeakUp. However, Lingoda ultimately comes out on top because it offers you the opportunity to have more classes per month (up to 30 classes) than SpeakUp (up to 8 classes). Therefore, Lingoda gives its tutors more opportunities to provide in-class feedback than SpeakUp.

Fluency Guarantee Winner: SpeakUp

SpeakUp is the only English learning platform to offer a money-back guarantee for English fluency. More specifically, SpeakUp promises that if you don’t improve by at least 1 CEFR level every 6 months, you can ask for your money back. No other platform offers a similar guarantee. Neither iTalki nor Cambly guarantees English fluency of any kind, while Lingoda “guarantees” that you can become fluent in as little as 3 months, but provides no kind of insurance to keep this promise.

Why it’s a bad idea to go for the cheapest tutor

English learning platforms have to make a profit to stay in business. Unfortunately, many do so at the expense of their teachers. For example, iTalki tutors can charge up to $80 per hour, but few students are willing to pay those prices when there are so many less expensive options on the market. To make matters worse, iTalki takes 15% of whatever their tutors make. So, even though you may be paying your tutor $15 per hour, they’re only making $12.75 per hour. This means that many quality tutors struggle to acquire students at their standard prices, while others have to significantly drop their prices to compete. 

Though the price does not always reflect the quality or experience of the teacher, it often can. When platforms don’t pay their teachers well, they don’t attract experienced teachers. Moreover, underpayment often causes teachers to feel unmotivated. This results in a worse experience for English learners. 

Why it’s a bad idea to go for the fastest solution

English fluency doesn’t happen overnight. English learning programs that guarantee fluency in three months (like Lingoda) are really promising much more than they can deliver. For example, if you’re a B1 student, you cannot reach complete, effortless English fluency in 3 months. It’s impossible.

Naturally, if you choose a platform expecting to become fluent in just a few months, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Failing to hit your goal may cause you to abandon your English studies altogether. Instead, you should choose an English learning platform that sets a reasonable and realistic timeline for your progress. 

In our experience, it’s common for students to improve by about 2 CEFR levels per year with the help of a quality English learning program. So, assuming you’re willing to dedicate your time and effort to improve, you could feasibly go from a B1-level speaker to complete fluency in about 2.5 to 3 years. 

Why it’s a bad idea to only use software and not talk to a human

There are plenty of automated language learning apps (like Duolingo) that give you the freedom to practice English without any human interaction. While these may be much cheaper and more convenient, they simply do not offer the same kind of learning experience as human-to-human classes. Software can only correct major pronunciation errors, teach new vocabulary, and explain basic grammar rules. 

However, software cannot help with accent reduction, complex conversation topics, or even basic speaking practice. As a result, English learning software and applications should only be used to supplement formal English learning programs. You cannot reach English fluency with software alone; you actually need to talk to people!

Why it is a bad idea to rely on speaking partners you find randomly

Random speaking partners are great for occasional practice, but it’s impossible to get well-rounded English training from casual chats alone. You will likely cover similar topics over and over again, with no way to measure your progress. It’s good to practice speaking English as often as possible, but random speaking partners may not offer the kind of experience you need to improve at a steady pace.

Moreover, some speaking partners could end up doing more harm than good. For example, if you find another non-native speaker to chat with, you may not be able to correct each other’s mistakes. This could cause both of you to learn and develop bad English speaking habits.

Why SpeakUp

If you speak English at an intermediate or advanced level (B1-C2) and you want to achieve fluency, SpeakUp is the way to go. Here are just a few reasons why SpeakUp is a step above the competition:

Interactive virtual classrooms

Some language learners don’t like the idea of group lessons. However, SpeakUp’s curriculum is specifically designed to help small groups of learners at once. We only match you with learners at the same CEFR level as you. If you’re worried that this will take away from your speaking time, worry no more! Sessions are organized so that every student gets a chance to speak and interact with others while also receiving individual feedback from the instructor.

Personalized English learning programs

With SpeakUp, you can pick from multiple sessions available every week. Live sessions cover one of five different learning elements: pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, discussion, and social skills. We recommend that a student tries out at least one of each session type in their first month. However, once you’ve experienced all of them, you’re free to focus on the types of classes that could help you the most. If you’re not sure what kind of classes you need, simply ask your instructor! Once every three months, you can also join a live “assessment” session to get more in-depth feedback about your progress and guidance on how to improve.

Low cost, high-quality experience

By sorting English learners into small groups, we can ensure that we offer the lowest hourly rate of any English learning program on the market. However, we don’t sacrifice quality to make this happen. In fact, all of our instructors are trained English teachers with years of experience in the field. 

Additionally, we make sure that our teachers never feel underappreciated. We pay our teachers based on their experience and credentials, with plenty of room for advancement and growth. As a result, our staff members are always motivated to provide a great learning experience for every student. Additionally, our high salaries and benefits attract some of the top teaching talent, with many of our teachers charging $50 per hour for private tutoring!

So, are you tired of wading through all of the English learning programs for adults that don’t deliver results? Are you a dedicated student who is ready to take the next step in your English-learning journey? Finally, do you want to learn with certified, experienced English instructors? If so, sign up for a 7-day free trial with SpeakUp today!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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