Sure, most foreigners can learn English in their own countries, but simply hitting the books is far different from speaking, understanding and doing business with fast-talking natives. Learning the language in an English-speaking country takes top priority with many foreign business executives and students. And thanks to the near-worldwide appeal of the American culture, American English edges out the snootier British English and all other variations.
"American English is definitely the most popular among people who want to learn English. Most people who want to study English want to come to the States," says Ellyn Levine, owner of the English Language Center in Boston. Levine has been in the ESL business since 1978 when she opened her first school in Los Angeles after being laid off from teaching English at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
"I really liked teaching, and I didn't want to ever get laid off again. And the only way to avoid that was to be my own boss," says Levine, echoing the sentiments of thousands of other business owners. The teacher's former colleagues at UCLA began referring their international students to Levine's center, and her business was underway.
Seeing an increasing demand for ESL, Levine began adding more schools in 1990 and today has four locations, two of them in the Boston area, the others in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California. Levine's business, which brings in more than $5 million annually, isn't the only ESL school on a growth track. "Back in 1990, there were only a few ESL schools in Boston," says Levine. "Now there are about 15."