Why is it important to learn English as a second language and how to learn effectively

Chalkboard classroom with the english word "essential"

There are more than 7,100 languages worldwide. But only a handful of these languages are widely used in writing and speech. According to a survey on the most spoken languages in the world, French is in 5th place with about 280 million speakers.

Nevertheless, it pales in comparison to the language in 2nd place, which is Mandarin Chinese, with over 1.1 billion speakers. This population, however, is mostly contained in countries where Mandarin Chinese is an official language, e.g. China, Taiwan, and Singapore.

With 1.5 billion speakers, the 1st place still belongs to English, a record that includes non-native speakers and countries that have officially adopted English as a second language. Having a wider geographical coverage and a higher population of users, it’s no wonder that English remains the universal language.

English is the language of business

The role of English as a global language has made it the dominant vernacular in international business. And since using a common language is a necessity, more and more multinational companies are requiring English as the main mode of their corporate communications.

Its main benefit is having a seamless collaboration between cross-national teams. Furthermore, it creates a wider reach for commercial endeavors and business functions in different locations around the world.

This is an important reason for learning English as a second language (ESL). Any company with ambitions to go global understands its importance in the corporate landscape. Naturally, these companies would want to employ candidates who have a certain aptitude for English.

There are currently 55 countries that recognize English as a second official language. In these places, English fluency is a widely accepted gateway for citizens to gain better employment. If you’re an English language learner (ELL) with long-term goals to study and work abroad, or even just to work in a locally-based multinational company, this should reinforce your faith that you’re on the right path. You only need to improve your fluency in speaking and reading.

Developing these skills will rate higher desirability with employers and ensure professional and financial success.

Engage in a global community

Learning ESL is also important because almost all of the top global destinations for travel or work list English as a generally spoken and understood language. If you’re already studying English as a second language, you can be confident that wherever you may go, even if it’s a non-native country, someone living there will understand you. Information and help will be readily available, and maintaining relationships with neighbors and co-workers will be even more achievable.

If you’re a tourist and enjoy meeting fellow travelers, you might have a better experience as an ELL on your trips. Imagine the interactions you would have in places where tourists from different countries congregate and share their stories. Learning other cultures and sharing your own would be effortless and comfortable because the language barrier will be less intimidating.

On top of that, you don’t even have to go anywhere to foster an appreciation for being a global citizen. The internet is an endless resource for forums and groups of people who share mutual interests. Depending on your fluency, enthusiasm, and confidence, language limits won’t hold you back from achieving practically anything.

English Butterfly

Benefits of bilingualism

Being bilingual has 3 main benefits: cognitive, social, and professional.

  • Cognitive benefits

English as a second language training can increase the power of your brain. Studies have shown bilingual children to have better cognitive functions. They develop better attention control, problem-solving skills, literacy, and creativity. In addition, multi-tasking becomes second nature. A bilingual child often has better concentration and pays more attention to detail. Because of their extensive vocabulary, they can be quite articulate for their age. These advantages can enhance a child’s educational growth and pave the way to great academic achievement.

  • Social benefits

A bilingual education opens up an entire range of opportunities to learn different customs. Being exposed to this environment can nurture a person’s confidence in social settings and enrich communication skills. Positively, this can cultivate sensitivity, flexibility, and openness to people from different countries and cultures.

  • Professional benefits

Bilingual job candidates are more appealing to potential employers. A person who speaks two languages has an innate understanding and awareness of cultural and social nuances. These skills are suitable for jobs that require business communications with foreign clients and traveling. In these industries, bilingual people are more likely to go up the corporate ladder faster.

Learning English for School

English language ability has turned into a skill that decides if a person is viable for work. For this reason, many adult non-native speakers want to attend college or university internationally. This undertaking entails a long process and a lot of effort. Some of the top academic institutions in the world are located in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada. The main requirement for non-native English speakers in most of these schools is to reach a requisite level in standardized tests. The most commonly accepted exams are TOEFL and IELTS. To give you further context, most US universities require 550 on the TOEFL, or 6.5 on the IELTS academic exam with no sub-score lower than 6.0.

The promise of a lifelong benefit has contributed to the popularity of English language centers and English language programs in regular schools. They provide all sorts of training, including classes to prepare you for the TOEFL or IELTS with an offer of a job placement once you pass.

Unfortunately, a world-class education is rarely cheap. In reality, studying abroad is too expensive for most international students. Besides spending money on courses and exam fees before leaving their countries, the cost of living in a first-world country can be unimaginable in comparison to their homeland.

Since most student visas grant only part-time work, they can’t earn sufficient wages. Many students have to endure substandard living conditions during a lengthy stay to fulfill their dreams of getting a certificate or a diploma. Of course, the rewards could be manifold when they return to their respective countries. In addition, if they’re economical, they could accumulate a substantial amount of savings from their jobs during their stay abroad.

They’ll return home and find themselves with a lucrative degree and money for a fresh and comfortable start. Some see this as a rite of passage. Some, a necessary period of adversity. Before the sweet comes the sour, after all. Despite the downsides, the sheer number of international students each year proves that the majority believes or agrees that the payoff is worth the sacrifice.

Learning English for Work/Business

Most people have studied the basics of English at one point in their scholastic lives, but some probably never found much use for it in their careers. However, in many countries where English is an official secondary language, it’s rare to find companies that accept resumes and cover letters in their native language. Moreover, it’s quite rare to find contracts that aren’t written in English.

Even so, courses teaching English as a second language for beginners won’t cut it. Writing a resume in English needs a superior set of skills. It’s a good thing that English classes dedicated to creating well-written resumes are accessible to many language learners.

In any case, English classes in specific competencies are a great way to build a CV that’s extremely desirable to employers. For workers looking to build up their commercial eligibility, enhancing their English skills is an excellent step toward success. A high English proficiency will open a new set of doors that lead to promotions and other career opportunities.

For business owners or employees of companies who plan to break through the international scene, English is a vital element for advancement. Several companies hire foreign teachers to train their staff by teaching short, industry-specific courses. In this setup, language learning is designed to focus on the semantics that employees use in typical interactions with customers. This is a specialized instruction that mixes repetition and improvisation.

Learning English for Remote Job Opportunities

A rising industry trend in the past couple of years is remote jobs – an unprecedented demand for virtual assistants, content creators, teachers, specialists, and so on. Although perfect fluency isn’t essential to find success as a remote worker, most of these jobs need at least an intermediate level of English language ability.

Thanks to the trend, the number of people preferring to work at home has skyrocketed in the last two years. But finding employment isn’t exactly a walk in the park. The market has become congested and competitive. There’s a tendency for a big number of people to apply for the same positions. So the ability to write a great cover letter or proposal that will stand out is more important than ever.

As previously stated, language centers offer courses that teach how to write an impressive resume. Not only that but effective business communication as well. Free lessons are even available online. Acquiring additional language skills should be a goal for any worker who is serious about establishing a career as an online specialist.

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How to Learn English as a Second Language

English is a complicated language. It’s also constantly evolving, which makes it difficult to learn. Even native English speakers aren’t spared from making errors. One reason for this is that English isn’t exclusively British or American. It’s spoken in many different countries, each with its own evolution. Learning English also depends on your primary language and if it belongs to the same family of languages. A very distant connection will make English that much harder to learn. A Vietnamese English student learner, for example, will have a harder time learning English than an English student from Russia. Nevertheless, several strategies can help you study English as a second language.

Set your goals

English for general communication is quite different from business English. Similarly, language center programs that focus on achieving high TOEIC scores will have a different instructional design than a program that focuses on fluency.

It’s always imperative to set your goals. More importantly, the goals you set for yourself should be realistic. You won’t be able to get a 2-point increase in the IELTS writing test after only 2 weeks. There are different proficiency levels to aspire to and benchmarks that work well at your own pace.

Certain jobs also don’t require very high levels of fluency. Some don’t even need you to speak. In most cases, you’d be recycling the same phrases or emails. Setting goals will aid you in keeping track of your progress. However, English language ability shouldn’t remain at the same degree. There’s always a higher level to aim for and a proper length of time to reach it.

Find ESL classes

An important question in language learning is figuring out where to learn English as a second language. ESL classes are offered everywhere, but there are students who prefer self-studying. Being a self-taught English speaker is of course praiseworthy, but it’s ultimately counter-productive. Speaking needs practice and partners. Learning it by yourself will do very little in developing your fluency. Additionally, qualified English teachers can train you directly in a classroom setting. You can listen to accurate pronunciation and intonation and get immediate feedback or correction.

Speaking classes need role-play and discussion activities in their instructional design, and this can’t be done alone. Reading and grammar are the only aspects of English that benefit from self-studying. So find ESL classes that are right for you. One-on-one classes offer the most in-depth training, but if you don’t have the budget for it, a group class will do. It can even be more fun. Just make sure there aren’t too many students. A dynamic English class in speaking shouldn’t have more than 10 students.

Online ESL Classes and ESL Programs

Schools that offer foreign language testing services and bilingual programs usually have online courses as well. You don’t have to be a student in the university to avail of these classes. Some online programs give general instruction, while some focus on particular skills. There’s a class for everyone’s needs, even English for practical or social situations, and English skills designed for employment purposes. A great thing about these programs is that after completing them, the university can give students official certificates.

English language centers or academies offer ESL online classes as well. A lot of these classes are one-on-one and can serve any purpose desired by the student. Adult non-native speakers often enroll for daily practice, professional support like writing job documents or business emails, and academic support like assistance in making presentations or writing essays.

Study vocabulary

Not everyone has the means to study in a private language school. The good news is that resources to improve English skills are available everywhere. One thing a student can do on their own is study vocabulary. But instead of simply memorizing words, English student learners should keep a notebook exclusively for learning vocabulary.

You can try it out yourself. Make a habit of writing new words that interest you on a piece of paper. Then spend some time at the end of the day transferring these words to a notebook where you can write their definitions, short translations in your native language, and sample sentences. Doing this allows you to spend time with the new words and actively learn them.

It will make you remember the words more easily. Some English students even divide their notebooks into different categories and fill in the pages accordingly. They can be as creative with their labels as they want, too. If they remember a word but can’t remember its meaning, they’ll have an easier time finding it in their notebooks.

Another way is to write individual words on index cards or cardboard and collect them in a box after learning what they mean. After a while, you’ll have a sizable collection of words. You can then pick a card anytime to review them. Better yet, pick two cards and use both words in one sentence. Three if you’re confident. You’ll eventually learn to be creative about how you use your vocabulary box.

Practice conversations

English student learners should make conversation practice a daily habit. Being in an English class is an advantage because it’s easy to find a conversation partner. But if you’re not in one, a friend will do just fine as long as they can speak English. Daily practice will make you more confident in speaking and expressing yourself in English. If a partner isn’t at hand, you can listen to conversations instead. A lot of resources are available online. You can take note of pronunciation and vocabulary and apply these the next time you get to practice with someone.

Listen to English

Having daily conversation practice can improve English skills in listening, too. But in terms of a regimen focused solely on listening, repetition is the way to go. Watch movies or videos without subtitles, listen to your favorite podcasts and write down what you hear, and watch sitcoms for their “real-life” sound. When you feel confident enough, try to listen to different accents and familiarize yourself with the new sounds. However, it’s important not to overwhelm yourself, so work at your own speed and practice in parts.

Read in English

Dedicate 15 minutes of your day to reading something. Make sure you use a variety of mediums as well: news articles, brochures, blogs, product descriptions, etc. You can incorporate reading practice with other skills, like vocabulary. You can read the definitions, synonyms, and sample sentences. You can read a transcript while watching a video. If your goal is to improve your English skills in reading comprehension, you can write notes and summarize what you’ve read. You can use the reading section of standardized tests. It’s a great way to hone your reading fluency.

Write in English

First, you need to figure out what you need writing skills for. Every English language learner knows that writing is the most complex skill to master. So if you just want to write a coherent diary entry, you don’t need very thorough training. Continue your writing practice routine and change it up by using different sentence structures and lengths.

On the other hand, developing your essay writing skills requires a lot of time and dedication. It also needs assistance. It’s possible to study essay formats and model your own essay after them, but writing is more effectively learned with a teacher. Most English student learners enroll in writing classes to get proper instruction.

Track Your Progress Over Time

Use the unit tests in your books. Plot your scores in a spreadsheet to get an overview of your English language ability. Doing this will help you become more aware of the language aspects you need to pay more attention to. Language learning doesn’t end in the classroom, so even if you attend an English class, it’s important to create an English environment to enhance fluency.

Practice and Study English Everyday

Even though many consider English a complicated language, learning it with the right attitude can be fun. Several English skills can be integrated as well. Learning vocabulary can enhance reading skills, and speaking words aloud develops pronunciation. Crafting language learning strategies that work for you can make the process less painful and more entertaining.

Many English student learners don’t have the luxury to access an “English environment”. For example, when A Vietnamese English student steps out of their home, everything is in their native language: menus, road signs, street conversations, daily interactions, etc. Unless they create an environment where they can speak English, their language learning is limited. So if you’re in a similar situation, it’s crucial to establish such an environment for yourself.

You can do this by forming language learning habits. The vocabulary notebook and vocabulary box are two examples. You can also try spending at least 30 minutes each day reading an article or watching a short video. You can formulate other language learning activities around what you’ve read or watched. Alternatively, listening to music while going over lyrics takes care of two skills. Try collecting cutouts from magazines or brochures that you can review every now and then. 

It could be difficult in the beginning, but habits form routines over time. English will become more than just an additional language. It will naturally grow to become part of your life.

Use English Learning Software and Apps

Luckily, non-native English speakers have access to a plethora of English learning software and apps. Many of them are affordable and useful. The best way to choose is to study what these computer programs have to offer before using them. It can’t hurt to check the reviews and feedback from other users so you can have a feel if the learning software matches your own learning habits and language level. Go over the software’s features and see if they work to your benefit.

Look into the developer’s objectives and vision. Although there are hundreds of apps out there, only a handful are committed to giving their users quality content. Fewer still are those vigilant about the value that they provide. Find a developer whose bottom line isn’t all about money, but rather about creating a learning software that promotes achievement in students or their users.

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Common Challenges Faced Learning English as a Second Language

English language learners encounter the following difficulties the most:

  • Interpreting spoken English

There aren’t many ways to overcome this difficulty except to find an immersive setting with English speakers as often as you can. This is why attending ESL classes, traveling, and studying abroad are the most beneficial. Certainly, you can’t achieve fluency overnight. But surrounding yourself with an environment where English is a necessity will make you improve naturally over time. You might also diminish difficulty by watching films and TV shows. You can learn cultural references and see them applied in context.

  • Pronunciation

Having an accent is one thing. This happens when you learn an additional language by using the rhythm of your native language. Although immersing yourself in an environment of English speakers will eliminate this, having an accent is natural. The challenge is pronunciation. Even with an accent, as long as you speak the words properly, you’ll be understood. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to mimic sounds that are normal in English but entirely alien in your native language. The best way to work around this is to listen carefully and imitate to the best of your ability. Daily pronunciation drills and exercises will help greatly but you must be patient with yourself. It will take a lot of time and effort.

  • Remembering and Applying Vocabulary

Many English students fall into the habit of passive learning. They prepare daily lists of vocabulary words to memorize, test themselves, and then forget about the words. Memorizing 100 words a week is neither efficient nor reasonable. But taking 5 words from your new vocabulary lists, writing them in your vocabulary notebook, and using them in sentences is more effective. You can also use your vocabulary box to practice with a partner by taking turns picking a word and making a sentence with it.

  • Writing essays

English learners who are preparing to take standardized tests experience the full force of this difficulty. There are formats and structures to follow. More than that, you need to form coherent arguments and expand on them. You would need a teacher or coach to develop this skill, so the best way forward is to enroll in ESL Writing classes to take full advantage of a dedicated course.

Limitations of Traditional ESL Classes and Training

The main limitation of traditional ESL classes and training is the instructional design’s emphasis on English grammar. While this is applicable to the more technical foreign language testing systems like TOEIC, it’s largely unusable in speaking. For example, the English language has 12 tenses and traditional ESL classes cover these subjects at length. But in speaking, only 3 or 4 tenses are typically used. Also, some aspects of the English language are better acquired intuitively, like the usage of prepositions and idioms. But some traditional ESL classes study each definition in detail. Contemporary ESL classes encourage intuitive language learning, but traditional classes fail to incorporate this.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to learn English as a second language?

There’s no solid way to gauge this. Language learning is different for each person, and English is a complex language to learn. Progress is largely dependent on one or more of the following factors: 1) native language; 2) academic prowess; 3) exposure; 4) motivation; 5) language learning aptitude; 6) language learning goals; 7) time.

What is the most difficult thing about learning English?

Not having a clear goal is the most difficult thing. English learners often make the mistake of cramming too much in a short period. This is due to the lack of strong objectives. Remember that fluency and accuracy are two different goals. The former adheres to becoming an effective communicator. The latter leans towards the technical side of grammar and structure. If you’re studying both and have no clue what to aim for, you’re not optimizing your time and effort.

How can I learn English as a second language?

The first step is to set goals. Next is to determine how to achieve those goals. Finally, create a plan with a timeframe and benchmarks to encourage yourself and plot your progress until your meet your objectives. Enrolling in English classes will give you access to valuable class material and give you the requisite educational experiences to succeed.

What are the problems faced by students learning English as a second language?

Academic courses and mainstream classrooms can be rigid and adjacent to the technical aspect of English language learning. Oftentimes, Adult non-native speakers find themselves in classes that aren’t right for them. It’s important for English language learners to find English classes that suit their goals. Another thing is the size of the English classes. A classroom setting with too many students can hamper productivity and growth. Self-study is also insufficient. It’s ultimately better to find a balance between formal training and self-instruction. Lastly, cultural differences can become a factor in comprehension and practical learning. It’s best to keep a flexible and open-minded attitude while studying ESL.

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Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald has contributed articles LillyPad.ai since 2020. As their Blog Lead, she specialises in informative pieces on culture, education, and language learning

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