English is the second most-widely spoken language – it is estimated that nearly two billion people worldwide can speak English at a useful level. That means they can hold a conversation with other English-speaking people.

A report by the British Council attests the importance of the English language to the world, and says that non-native English speakers far outnumber native speakers. It also recognises how being able to speak English can give individuals a competitive edge over others. If you’re asking the question, “Why should I learn English?”, read on to find out more…

Gaining a competitive edge can be particularly appealing for people seeking new jobs or looking to advance in their careers. Because of the amount of English speakers in the world, many international companies choose English as their language for business use. Our blog, The international companies using English as a common business language, looks into this in more detail. Well-known companies such as Renault, Samsung and Airbus are using English and it’s not a moment too soon. Using the language is helping them to facilitate communication and make their businesses more efficient.

In emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam, or low-income countries striving to climb the ladder of economic development, it is the urgent priority of governments and non-government organisations to ensure that the surging population of global youth has economic opportunities and upward mobility. The idea of learning English has widely been accepted as best practice and programmes are in place to facilitate this, such as the Right to Reading initiative in India. Students sit in state-of-the-art computer labs to learn how to master the language. They listen to a voice with an Indian accent read from their textbook, and every spoken word is displayed on a large screen.

Why should I learn English? More incredible reasons…

There are many other reasons why learning English today is a smart choice. Because the language is understood in many parts of the world, being able to speak English can give travellers confidence and help them integrate into the culture. Imagine visiting The Shard in London, or the Chrysler Building in New York and being able to find out more about these impressive structures in the native language. Interacting with the locals in their native language – or a language that is common to both speakers – provides learners with interesting experiences, while the satisfaction of the accomplishment boosts motivation for further learning.

As well as learning the language for pleasant conversations, there are more benefits than just experiencing a confidence boost. Medical research has shown that there are several cognitive benefits to learning another language, and these include:

  • Being a better listener: Being bilingual requires your brain to discern between two sets of very distinctive sounds and to identify them accurately.
  • Being less distracted: Speaking in a foreign tongue requires the active suppressing of the other language(s) that one knows, showing to better inhibit overall distractions.
  • Becoming a better multitasker: For someone who knows multiple languages, it’s a common occurrence to switch rapidly between tongues, effectively an exercise in quickly and efficiently switching between different tasks.
  • Better ability to problem-solve and be creative: Speaking in a foreign language inevitably requires creativity when faced with unfamiliar words or phrases in order to communicate effectively. Studies have shown that bilinguals have an advantage in overall problem-solving and creativity.

There are also health benefits associated with learning English. A study from the University of Edinburgh found that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities in later life and had effectively slowed the brain’s ageing process, with potential to even delay the onset of dementia. The same researchers found that bilingual people are twice as likely to recover from a stroke than those who speak just one language. Dr Thomas Bak, one of the researchers, said that switching languages “offers practically constant brain training, which may be a factor in helping stroke patients recover”.

Recent research led by Dr Daniela Perani, a professor of psychology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, found that people who speak two or more languages seem to weather the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease better compared to people who have only mastered one language. Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental deterioration (dementia) that can begin in middle or old age, due to generalised degeneration of the brain. We looked into this more closely in our blog, How being bilingual can keep your brain in good condition, and were pleased to discover that the theory that being bilingual can be a buffer against ageing and dementia is backed up by a further study conducted by a team led by Professor Ana Inés Ansaldo at the University of Montréal. The results suggested bilingual people have stronger and more efficient brains compared to those who only speak one language.

How has learning English changed your lives? Let us know in the comments section below…

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