English has been described as “the language of opportunity”, and by the time you get to the end of this article, we’re pretty sure you’ll agree.
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If you’re currently in the throes of trying to pick a language to study at school, or you fancy taking on a new language in your spare time, we’re willing to bet that the English speakers of this world would join us in giving you the following words of advice: if you have to choose one additional language to learn during the course of your years at school, make it English. Why? Let us count the ways…
1. English is one of the most widely spoken languages
Although it comes second to Mandarin in the total number of speakers, English is the language you’ll be able to use most widely, as it’s spoken in more countries than any other language. That means that English is the language that will give you the best return for your efforts; after all, intellectual challenge aside, there’s little point putting a huge amount of time and effort into learning a language that you’ll hardly ever have the opportunity to use.
As well as the UK, a whopping 60 of the world’s 196 countries have English as their official language: the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, to name but a few. It’s the language of diplomacy and the official language of the European Union, the United Nations, NATO and the European Free Trade Association, not to mention many Commonwealth countries. What’s more, English is the commonly adopted second language of people in a great many more countries, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Holland. In total, around 1.5 billion people speak English worldwide – and another billion are in the process of learning it. Will you make this number even bigger by learning it yourself?
2. English will open up more opportunities for you
Being able to speak English allows you to communicate effectively in numerous countries, and this opens up lots of possibilities for you in terms of the countries you could choose to seek work in one day – not to mention travel to as a tourist. You won’t have to worry about getting lost when you travel to an English-speaking country, as you’ll easily be able to ask for directions, and taking guided tours, ordering food and chatting to the locals will no longer be a source of stress.
What’s more, careers that involve lots of travel or international exposure, such as the airline, tourism and film industries, use English as their official language, and many employers in these sectors are likely to require evidence of a certain level of proficiency in English before they will consider employing you. This means that if you can speak English, you’ll find that you have a greater number of possible careers to choose from after you finish at university.
3. English will make you more desirable to employers
Being fluent in a second language clearly demonstrates a powerful brain and reflects someone who has put in the huge amount of time, resources and commitment needed to master another language. But while being bilingual is impressive full stop, no matter what combination of languages you speak, adding English to your CV will be particularly useful. Not only is it an especially complex language to get to grips with, a fact that reflects well on you for having mastered it, but as we’ve seen, it’s also an incredibly useful language to learn because so many countries speak it. You’ll be in a much stronger position to apply for jobs overseas if you’ve reached a good level of fluency in English.
English has been referred to as “the language of business”, and it’s not hard to see why. If you have ambitions to become an international businessperson, it’s essential that you’re able to speak English fluently; business conducted internationally is done in English more often than not. Even if you’re not thinking of living and working abroad, that doesn’t mean you won’t find English a helpful language to put on your CV. There may well be plenty of English-speaking multinational corporations with offices in your home country. What’s more, English skills are just as desirable to employers in your own country and language as they are to employers in English-speaking countries. Here are just three examples to give you an idea of the kind of situations in which English may come in useful in your own country:
- Business meetings – being able to speak English puts you in a position to be able to attend or hold international business meetings. Where several languages are represented, the chances are that the meeting will be conducted in English – and if you’re the only one in your team who can speak English, you may find yourself being put forward to attend important meetings, advancing yourself up the career ladder in the process.
- Customer service and sales – you’ll be able to help with any English-speaking customers your employer may have – and sell to them. This gives you the chance to build relationships with overseas customers, and the ability to build relationships is an important business skill that puts you at an advantage over non-English speaking fellow employees and makes you more valuable to the company you work for.
- Marketing and communications – if the company you end up working for markets its products or services to English-speaking countries, or releases other sorts of communications such as press releases to these countries, your knowledge of English may come in handy for translating marketing materials or communications with customers or sales prospects. The cultural knowledge you’ll acquire through learning English may also come in handy in knowing how to pitch products and ideas to English-speaking nations.
4. English gives you access to some of the world’s best universities
English is widely regarded as the language of higher education. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and MIT are just a few of the famous universities that occupy the lofty heights of the top of the world education league tables, and you’ll need to speak English fluently for access to any of these, as they’re all English-speaking. It goes without saying that if you are able to study at one of these institutions, you’ll start your career with an illustrious name on your CV – and the benefits of that speak for themselves. If English isn’t your native language, you’ll need to take an English test during the admissions process to prove that your level of English is up to scratch for the demands of the academic environment. If you have your sights set on a top university, the effort you put in to study English as early as possible in your school years will be rewarded when it comes to the choice of universities to which you can apply.
5. English is the language of some of the world’s greatest literature
If you learn English, you’ll be able to enjoy works by some of the world’s most famous writers, in the language in which they were intended to be read or heard. The works of Shakespeare will take on a new meaning when you’re able to speak English, and you can look forward to enjoying such influential classics as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and her sister’s Jane Eyre, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and many, many more. Translation rarely does a writer true justice, so the only way to appreciate a classic literary work properly is to read it in its original language. Even better, through doing so, you’ll deepen your knowledge of English by enriching it with new words and sentence structures.
6. English allows you to get more from popular culture
The world’s highest-grossing movies are made in Hollywood, and needless to say, they are made in English. How many times have you been to see an American blockbuster and been frustrated by having to keep up with fast-paced subtitles? And how many times have you hummed a favourite pop song, but not been able to sing along because it’s in English and you don’t know the words? There’s a solution… Kiss those annoying cinema subtitles goodbye and get more out of the music you enjoy by learning English.
7. English allows you to attend international conferences and events
Major sporting events such as the Olympics are held in English, and so are international conferences, so competitors and delegates will need to be able to speak English to be able to get the most out of taking part. You may find yourself needing to attend conferences as part of your chosen career, so learning English now will be of enormous benefit to you in years to come. Not only will you be able to understand the talks, but you’ll get a lot more out of the networking opportunities that come with such events if you can talk effectively in English. You never know – there may be a new employer or client among the crowds of fellow delegates, so make sure you can communicate with them!
8. English has a simple alphabet and everyone’s equal
The English alphabet is straightforward, making it easier to master than the symbols or pictures that make up some languages. If you’ve struggled to learn more complex alphabets, you may find you make more progress with English, which shares an alphabet with many other languages.
There are no complicated symbols and characters to get to grips with in English, either; even in French, which essentially uses the same alphabet, there are several accents used on certain letters that alter the pronunciation. Not so in English. Furthermore, not matter how important they are, everyone is addressed as “you” – there are no polite and informal variants to agonise over (as there are in French with “tu” and “vous”, for instance), so you won’t need to worry about inadvertently creating social awkwardness by being overly familiar. And unlike many European languages, there are no masculine and feminine words to remember – it’s “a dog”, not “le chien”.
9. English gives you wider access to knowledge
Did you know that 55% of the world’s webpages are written in English? This absolutely dwarfs that of any other language, with the next most widely used language on the internet being Russian (which constitutes just 6% of pages). Knowledge of English therefore allows you to tap into far more of the world’s intellectual resources.
English is also the language of science. If you learn English, you won’t just have access to a greater proportion of the vast amount of knowledge available on the web; you’ll be able to educate yourself still further by being able to read scientific books and papers. English is, of course, essential if you intend to pursue a scientific career. Within the Science Citation Index, compiled by the Institute for Scientific Information, an estimated 95% of articles are written in English despite only around half being from English-speaking countries. According to the Open University, “At Oxford University two thirds of post-graduate students come from outside the UK. The students in the university’s chemistry research lab admit that working in English is a key attraction.”
10. English is a fantastic intellectual challenge!
English is undoubtedly one of the harder languages to learn. Full of nuances, unexpected pronunciations, odd rules and infuriating exceptions to rules, it takes dedication and perseverance to reach a good level of fluency. If you’re on the lookout for a new challenge, learning English may be just what you’re after. Not only that, but because it’s so widely spoken, it opens you up to a huge number of new cultural experiences, which will help you develop life skills, meet new people and grow your confidence in handling new situations.
Have we convinced you yet? If you’ve been inspired to learn English, consider enrolling on one of our English as a Foreign Language (EFL) courses (for students aged 13-15 or 16-18) and develop your English skills in the company of like-minded students in the beautiful city of Oxford.
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