7 Ways Studying English Sets You Up For Life
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already understood how important learning English can be.
But perhaps you’re struggling to motivate yourself. You’re fed up of the ridiculous irregular verbs, or the way that the use of prepositions with particular constructions seems to follow no consistent logic. Maybe the bizarre variety of ways in which particular combinations of letters can be pronounced (“ough”, for instance) is making you wonder why you’re bothering with this language in the first place, and not learning something more logical, like Esperanto, or spending your time practising something constructive instead, like learning how to paint.
If you’d like to be reminded of why it’s worth persevering, why being able to put ‘fluent English speaker’ on your CV instead of ‘nearly fluent English speaker’ is a triumph, and why all the hard work will be worth it, this article is here to help. We take a look at some of the top ways in which learning English is rewarded – from the next few years through to the rest of your life.
1. You increase your university choices
The majority of the best universities in the world are in English-speaking countries, and even the ones that aren’t frequently offer courses in English. For instance, the National University of Singapore – which is consistently one of the top-ranked universities in the world that isn’t in the UK or USA – teaches primarily in English. Even in universities where the main teaching language isn’t English, such as ETH Zurich, many courses are taught in English so you can still gain a degree without needing other languages to an academic standard (and English is the main language at Master’s level). Of the top ten universities in the world according to the QS World University Rankings, nine are in English-speaking countries and all offer courses taught through English.
But speaking English doesn’t just increase your access to the very top tier of universities, as valuable as that is. It also increases your options across the board. If you only speak – say – Polish, then you’re limited to applying to universities in Poland, and you have no options if the Polish application system doesn’t suit you. But with English, you can apply to universities in a whole range of countries with a whole range of different systems. Do you shine at extra-curriculars? Then the US system is open to you. Are super-curriculars more your thing? Your British UCAS application will shine. Or do you just have really great exam results? The Irish CAO system wants to hear from you.
In some countries (such as the UK), it’s nearly impossible to apply for different subjects at different universities while having any chance of getting in. But if you’re able to apply to multiple different countries – limited only by your ability to afford administration fees and your patience with filling in applications – then you can apply for different subjects in different places as you please. If your preferred subject is highly competitive, or places are limited because it isn’t widely taught, then this also significantly increases your chances of getting a place at the university that’s right for you.
2. Your job prospects are hugely improved across the world
Just as speaking English opens up opportunities for university study, so too does it open up opportunities for employment once you graduate. First of all there are the opportunities within your own country, where being able to speak good English is a huge bonus for your CV, enabling you to communicate with suppliers and clients internationally. In particular, speaking English is an asset in business, science and technology, all sectors where the primary language of international communication is English. But even if you’re in a field that’s typically conducted through your native language – law, for instance – being the rare fluent English speaker in the office could be an asset in getting promoted. And for any job that involves travel, being able to speak the world’s lingua franca to a high standard will make your working life a lot easier.
But the opportunities within your own country aren’t all. You also create opportunities for yourself in countries around the world. These can be English-speaking countries such as the USA or Australia, or they can be countries where a significant enough proportion of the population speaks English that you can work through that language nonetheless, such as many of the Gulf States. While your specialist skills might be enough to get you a job offer even if your English isn’t as good as it could be, having fluent English helps speed up the visa process in many countries, from being an extra factor in your favour in immigration weighting to making it easier for you to navigate the forms. So whether you’d like to spend a summer travelling through Australia and working in cafés, or you hope to head straight to a top job in Silicon Valley, having great English is essential.
3. You can speak to people from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds
There are languages with more speakers around the world than English has – Mandarin Chinese, for instance, has vastly more native speakers and still comes near to the top if you’re adding people who speak it as a second or third language.
But there are very few languages that have the same diversity among their speakers as English does. While Spanish may be the best language to speak if you want to travel across South America, in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia, you’ll get furthest by speaking English. It’s a language that lets you speak to Glaswegian hairdressers, Nigerian teachers, Finnish students or Singaporean businesspeople – even if their vocabulary and accents might be quite strikingly different.
Because English is often a key language in popular culture – such as pop songs – as well as being useful in jobs from the tourist industry to the world of banking, speaking English also crosses class boundaries more often than other languages. It’s spoken by baristas as well as by university professors. The fact that English pop songs are so popular around the world means that people can pick up a few words of English from listening to the radio regardless of their level of education.
This means that when you travel around the world using English as a lingua franca, you get to speak to all kinds of people in a language that they understand. Of course, better educated people are still more likely to speak English than those who haven’t had the benefit of a good education. But that’s less true than it would be of just about any other second language that you could think of.
4. You get to read incredible literature
One of the main reasons people cite for learning a language like Latin or Ancient Greek is the ability to read ancient texts without any of the meaning getting lost in translation. There’s just as much reason to learn English so that you can read the works of great English writers in the language in which they were written. Good luck to anyone trying to maintain Shakespeare’s puns, Jane Austen’s dry wit or the density of allusions in Ulysses when translating them into any other language.
Modern English literature gets translated into other languages at incredible rates, such that bestseller charts across the world are frequently dominated by English books in translation. A huge proportion of the bestselling books of this century were originally written in English. While many of those may not be the greatest literature ever written, it’s still fun to be able to read things in their original language when you can; it may be that some of your favourite novels were originally written in English, and you didn’t even know. And if you’re following a series – A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance – reading them in English means that when the next one comes out, you don’t have to wait for ages before it’s translated and published in your language.
5. You get to take ownership of the language
One of the best things about the English language is that it doesn’t have any kind of governing body determining its spelling, its grammar, how many words it’s allowed to pinch from other languages – nothing. Most European languages have some kind of authority that exercises prescriptive rulings over them – sometimes successfully, and sometimes not, as the growth of Denglisch (pseudo-English vocabulary) in Germany despite best efforts shows. English doesn’t. Even the Oxford English Dictionary, which comes about as close as it’s possible to get to being a ruling body over the English language, takes a strictly descriptive, non-judgmental view of the words it records; it reflects how English is used in the real world, rather than seeking to dictate it.
And this means that you, as an English speaker, get to have just as much of a say in how the language progresses as a native speaker does. If there’s a term in your first language that doesn’t exist in English, and speakers of your language start to use it when they’re speaking English as well, and it catches on, there’s no authority who are going to say that the term isn’t authentically English enough. The English language is incredible at thieving words from other languages like this; it’s one of the things that makes the vocabulary of English so rich and enjoyable.
6. You can access meetings and conferences internationally
If there’s a conference or meeting with an international reach – whether that’s the annual international clown assembly or the world association of plumbers – you can be reasonably sure that the language everyone there will be using to communicate will be English. It’s the world’s lingua franca, and where that holds for tourism, it holds double for any academic or business assembly such as a meeting or conference.
Having good English is a huge advantage here, even in circumstances where most people will speak English as only a second language. If you’re giving a talk or even just asking a question, you’ll be a lot more confident if you know you only have to worry about the content of what you’re saying, not mispronouncing something or making a grammatical slip-up. That’s even more the case if you’re Skyping in or following a Livestream, where it may be harder to get cues from body language to help you work out what’s being said. Being able to speak English well, rather than just getting by, means that you’ll be able to communicate with people whose native language is different from yours and whose English isn’t quite as good, rather than getting stuck at the points where your knowledge doesn’t overlap.
7. You can get hold of more information than in any other language
Because English is the leading language of science, business, academia, engineering, and so on and so forth, there are very few sources of information that weren’t either originally written in English, or that haven’t been translated into English. English language Wikipedia is vastly larger than Wikipedia in any other language. If you’re looking for a term in the sciences, there may well be languages in which it cannot be expressed, but it’s extremely likely to exist in English.
The 20th century was the point at which English became firmly established as the leading language in the world, and it’s also the century of the information revolution: where information, in general, ceased to be something available only to the elites in private library shelves or closed lecture theatres, and by the end of the century, became available to anyone with an internet connection who cared to look. The language in which this revolution took place was English, and as a result, it’s through the English language that this huge volume of information can be accessed. It’s not even just about the internet; travelling the world you’re likely to find newspapers in the local language, and in English, and the same is true of news broadcasts. English opens up a world of possibilities, and if you master it now, it will continue to present you with opportunities for the rest of your life.