English as a Global Language: What Motivates Students to Learn English?
As an international study major in college, I learned that the United Nations, a non-governmental organization, officially recognizes six world languages: every meeting, written document, and speech are translated into these languages. English is one of them. It is spoken and written by billions of people around the world. Having traveled in eight countries myself, I was surprised to have seen how commonplace it was for countries to translate directional signs in both the official language and in English. A student’s mastery of the English language, or in any language, can be a difficult journey to venture. Therefore, this essay will explore what factors may motivate a student to learn English.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kiara L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
English for adults
For adults, the world is becoming more globalized than ever adding to the importance of English as a dominant world language. It has become an incentive for transnational businesses to employ bilingual workers or even offer paid English language training to their staff. Last month, I called a transnational company’s customer service department to have found myself conversing in English with representatives from Asia and South America. Employees bilingual or multilingual in languages like English are often paid a higher salary than those who are not.
Ways to learn
People who are learning English as a second language may seek online resources, attend English courses at a community college, access free local programs, or hire a personal tutor to acquire the skill set. For example, I am currently a volunteer English tutor with the International Physicians Medical ESL Tutor Program based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that caters to international physicians who need to or voluntarily want to learn English to practice and study medicine in the United States. The students range in age and nationalities. I was paired with Farba, 35 years old, who was a doctor in Senegal and is currently residing in the US with plans to recertify as a doctor. He once told me he would not miss our tutor sessions because he realized his productive English speaking skill was improving! For him like many other adults seeking to learn English, the ability to fluently comprehend, communicate, or write in English can offer a greater degree of economic opportunities for them and their families.
English for young learners
Furthermore, young learners have an incentive to learn English as well. Although young learners oftentimes do not decide to pursue language learning independently from their guardians or parents, those who do choose to or simply enjoy the English learning process benefit from doing so. I have been interviewing with private after school English learning programs in both South Korea and China and found that the common goal for their students is to prepare them to work or study abroad in countries where English is the official language. The parents are most likely aware of the benefits of being bilingual and have taken steps to expose their children to English as early as five years old until their teenage years to equip them for the globalized world ahead of them. Conversely, in the case of widespread migration in the past few years, the importance is even greater for children of families emigrating from their home country to flee violence, natural disasters, or economic plight. In my neighborhood, after the passing of Hurricane Maria in 2017, children of Puerto Rican families who migrated to mainland US play the role of the translator for their parents. Young learners absorb language learning more quickly than adults who may have never needed to learn English, but in the case of a migrant young learner, learning English is an inevitable external pressure that is needed to navigate their new home environment.
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In conclusion, learners may want to seek English for better employment opportunities, economic stability, professional development, or personal growth. Young learners who experience English language exposure, by choice or by force, will most likely grow up with the advantage of being bilingual or multilingual and enjoy the benefits as described for adult learners. What motivates a person to pursue English may differ for each cultural group and individual, but English is, without a doubt, a global language of importance for these reasons and beyond.
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