Why learn English?
Learning English is a good way to improve your professional future and expand your horizons. More and more people around the world use English as a way to connect with people from different cultural backgrounds. The English language has become the lingua franca of international trade, business, diplomacy, and many other areas. Mastering the language will open doors for you, both expected and unexpected.
According to the EF English Proficiency Index (EPI), the world's largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills, more than 1 billion people speak English as a first or second language, and hundreds of millions as a third or fourth. English proficiency helps scientists, researchers, tourists, and business professionals exchange information. On an individual level, people who speak English get better jobs, earn more, and have access to more of the information available online. If you're still not convinced of the benefits of learning English, here are a few:
- Learning English will build up your confidence. Mastering something you've struggled with for years is extremely satisfying
- Learning English boosts your career by allowing you to follow the latest trends in your field, attend conferences, and evolve into positions with an international remit.
- Learning a new language keeps your mind healthy, stimulating your memory and increasing mental flexibility.
- Learning English gives you access to more of the world's knowledge, and from a wider variety of perspectives. Over half of the material online is in English, and all of the world's top scientific journals are published in that language.
- Learning English makes international travel easier and more fulfilling. You'll be less dependent on guides and translators, able to explore the world on your own.
- Learning English allows you to meet people from other places and expand your cultural understanding. The world is more interconnected than ever before.
How to learn English
The secret to learning English quickly isn’t much of a secret: increase your exposure to the language. Ideally, you should be surrounded by English 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s why going abroad is such an effective way to learn a language. But if travel isn’t an option, you can still create an English immersion environment at home. Do it by reading in English, listening to English podcasts, watching TV in English, speaking to people in English at work, making English-speaking friends online, etc. At first, this sounds daunting. But you can do it if you take it one step at a time.
- First, think of something you’re already doing every day. Let’s pretend you like to jog while listening to a sports podcast.
- Now look for a sports podcast in English. Google is your friend.
- When you jog tomorrow, listen to it. Congratulations, you’ve just converted 30 minutes of your day into English!
Repeat this procedure to convert chunks of your day bit by bit. If you read the newspaper, switch to an English-language paper. If you watch football, watch the match on a British TV station. If you cook, use recipes from American websites. If you make pottery, find an English-language pottery forum where you discuss your craft. Everything you’re already doing can be done in English, guaranteed.
You can also start to do new things in English too, of course. Do you have English-speaking colleagues? Send them friendly e-mails. Chat with them in the empty minutes before a meeting begins. Are there foreign tourists in your city? Find out if you can volunteer at one of the sights they visit: a museum, a park, a monument. Or maybe your airport or train station needs volunteers. You can also go hang out at one of those places informally and help people who look lost. Just be careful not to be creepy about it. Is there an expat community in your city? Look on Facebook for American, British, or Canadian cultural associations. They may have monthly or bi-monthly meetups you can attend. These tend to be informal events in a bar or restaurant and are open to everyone.
A word on motivation
One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to learn English is underestimating how long it will take. Everyone says children are natural language learners, but they’re two years old before they even start to form sentences. Learning English is a long-term goal. Be patient with yourself. Staying motivated over months or years is a major challenge, but it’s essential if you want to master English. A huge body of research proves it.
Here are a few tips to keep your motivation high:
- Do things in English that you already like doing. If you’re having fun while speaking English, you’ll be less inclined to quit. Follow your passions.
- Make English a habit. Build it in to your everyday life. The less you have to think about it, the more likely you are to use English every day. Automatically.
- Keep a learning journal. Write down what you're doing to improve your English, and keep track of milestones like your first movie in English without subtitles, your first meeting in English, or your first date with an English speaker.
- Award yourself prizes for accomplishing specific goals. The prizes can be big or small. A new shirt. A candy bar. A trip to London. Your brain is wired to detect which types of activities deliver rewards. If you make English one of those activities, it will automatically motivate you to learn English.
- Keep track of the numbers. Our free standardized English test will help you. Take it every 6 months.
First things first: measure your English level
It is important to measure your English level before you start studying and then regularly throughout the learning process. Otherwise, you can't tell how much progress you're making. There are many different ways of measuring progress. The best way of establishing a benchmark is to test yourself against the goal you are trying to reach. For example, if your goal is to be able to make presentations at work in English, then you need to try and make a presentation at work in English and see how it goes. Take some notes afterwards about how you felt and what you need to work on. This will be your benchmark. After 6 months of learning English and working towards this goal, make another presentation and see how much you've improved.
If you've got a more generic goal, taking a standardized English test is a good way to get a benchmark of your current level and keep track of your progress moving forward. The EF SET tests reading and listening comprehension skills and is built to the same standards as the TOEFL or IELTS. But it's free. The test takes 50 minutes. Take it now and then again after several months see how much progress you've made. It includes a free English certificate that you can add to LinkedIn or share with your school or employer.
How to pick a good English course
An English course is a good idea for beginners and can be a great investment if you know what you’re looking for. Before researching English course options, sit down and make a list of your goals as you learn English. If you’re looking for a broad introduction to the language, that’s a very different course than one that prepares you for negotiating contracts in English or one that gets you ready to take the TOEFL. It’s worth spending 15 minutes putting your goals down on paper.
Once you know what you’re looking for, research which English courses most closely match your learning goals. Here are the main options:
- Online English courses – unlimited access to the platform + live teacher lessons on demand, or a private teacher to study what you want to study
- English language schools –once or twice a week in a location near you (just like regular school)
- English courses abroad – 3-4 hours of lessons a day + a host family (full immersion experience)
- Self-study – the most common way to learn English. There are extensive English reference materials online
- Private lessons – work on exactly what you want (more expensive)
- Group lessons – follow a set curriculum and meet at set times (less expensive)
- Long-term English courses – meet once or twice a week all year (usually 2-4 hours/week)
- Intensive English courses – meet every day for 2-6 weeks (usually 15-30 hours/week)
- General English courses – a broad spectrum course covering all aspects of the English language
- Specific English courses – IELTS preparation, TOEFL preparation, medical English, aviation English, English for Academic purposes (EAP), etc.
The more specific your goals, the more likely you are to find an English course that can meet them. And remember, as you learn English, your goals may change, so revisit them regularly and adjust your learning strategy accordingly.
Which English learning methodology to choose
Every English course uses a different set of course materials, whether it's a textbook from Oxford University Press or printouts the school has made up on their own. In addition, different teachers have different teaching methods. Some involve lots of memorization and grammar instruction. Others jump straight into speaking English with games and role playing. There is no one methodology that will work for every student. In thinking about your own English learning goals and learning style, look back at how you've learned English in the past. What works well for you? What have you found pointless or boring? What do you enjoy doing in English, and what are you afraid of? By giving your prior experience with English a careful review, you can probably figure out what type of learning environment will be right for you.
At EF we have more than 50 years of experience teaching English to students from all over the world. We have developed our own English curriculum available exclusively at EF schools worldwide and in our online school at EF English Live.
If you're considering signing up for an English course, we'd more more than happy to advise you in selecting a program that's a good fit for your ambitions and budget. Get in touch with an EF office near you to talk to an education consultant.