Learning English as a Second Language

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By Barney Meekin · September 1, 2023 · 9 minute read

People claim many things are revolutionary. But it isn’t hyperbolic to claim the internet has revolutionized language learning. It’s never been easier to learn English as a second language. No more lessons at the local community center. No more studying from boring textbooks. Effective English learning methods and resources are at your fingertips. You can learn English so much more easily than people 20 years ago.

There’s nothing stopping you. English is the lingua franca. It opens doors to new cultures, opportunities, and connections. You can connect with people worldwide, boost your education and career, and enjoy other countries and cultures through English.

In this guide, learn about the importance of learning English as a second language, the challenges you'll face on your learning journey, and some top tips to help you master English.

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Why learn English?

English is a global language. And a range of benefits come with that. There are way too many benefits to list here so let’s look at the top three.

1. English is the lingua franca

English is the lingua franca. Wherever you go, you see non-native English speakers communicating in English. No other language facilitates as much communication as English does worldwide. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you want to connect with, English will help you.

Almost 1.5 billion people in the world speak English. It’s the most common language ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. What’s most interesting is that out of those 1.5 billion English speakers, fewer than 500 million of them are native speakers. That means over 12% (1 billion) of the world is learning or has learned English.

Master English and you can talk to people in every country on the planet (This might sound like an exaggeration — but it’s not, I promise).

2. English boosts your career and education

Many international businesses or academic programs require people with English skills. There’s no way you can get around this criteria. If you have any ambitions like this, you need to learn English.

But even if you never plan to leave your own country, English language skills can be a big help. English skills impress recruiters and university admission staff. They show dedication and intelligence. And they give real-world value to businesses.

3. English helps you travel anywhere in the world

English is so widespread (it is ranked as the number one most spoken language in the world) that you can travel anywhere and use it. Seriously. It doesn’t matter if you’re inter-railing around Europe, backpacking through Southeast Asia, or scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean, English is the only language you really need. Sure, speaking the same language as the locals is best. But communicating in English is a great compromise.

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Challenges faced in learning English

Learning any language comes with its set of challenges, and English is no different. It’s a long process. You’ll make lots of mistakes but each time you do, you’ll learn and improve.

Here are some of the biggest challenges you’ll face learning English and some quick tips to help you out.

1. Pronunciation

English isn’t a phonetic language. And sometimes it has really wacky spellings (I’m looking at you, pneumonia, queue, and hiccup). It’s sometimes impossible to know how to say a word just by looking at it.

Quick tip: Read and listen at the same time. This will help you understand how to say new words you see.

2. Slang and colloquialisms

There are English native speakers all over the world. That means there could be thousands of local dialects. There are around 30 major dialects just in the USA but this doesn’t count all the little variations between cities and towns. Add in all the native speakers from countries as varied as Jamaica, Pakistan, New Zealand, and Fiji and you can see how there could be thousands of dialects.

Quick tip: You don’t need to understand all the dialects (native speakers don’t). Start with standard English. Later on, you can get more specific. For example, if you’re interested in the art scene in New York, learning the dialect spoken there would be a good use of your time. Or if you want to live in Scotland, practice listening to the Scottish accent.

3. Finding a good teacher

There are English teachers all over the world. There are probably thousands in your home country. Despite this, it can be difficult to find a good one. Many language schools employ young, unqualified teachers because they fit the right image. You might need to look a little harder, but there are good teachers out there waiting for you.

Quick tip: Use technology to find teachers yourself — don’t rely on local language schools. Language learning apps connect you to language exchange partners and experienced tutors.

4. Not enough comprehensible input

Unless you’re already living in an English-speaking country, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough comprehensible input in your day-to-day life. Comprehensible input is English you read or hear that is at the right level for you. And it’s one of the keys to learning a new language.

Quick tip: Read and listen to as much English as you can. Graded readers and podcasts are great when you’re commuting. You can listen to music as you do chores. Watching TV shows and movies on Netflix is a legit way to learn a language. Just make sure the language isn’t too difficult. It needs to be comprehensible (understandable).

Tips for Effective English Learning

There are many challenges. But all hope is not lost — by following these tips, you’ll master English.

1. Set clear goals

To keep motivated and focused, set clear (and specific) goals. Your goals should be achievable — don’t set yourself a crazy target. Make sure they’re realistic. And give yourself a time limit. Here’s an example: I will take the IELTS test and get a grade of 5.5 before the end of next year. This is super specific. And it’s doable in the timeframe.

2. Practise consistently

Consistency is key. Make English a part of your daily routine. Instead of doing marathon study sessions at the weekend, do something every single day — it doesn’t matter if it’s only for ten minutes. You can fit learning English into your daily schedule by watching English-language movies, reading English books, and practising speaking with native speakers. Start with small habits — 15 minutes per day — because they’re easier to stick to. You can increase the time you study later.

3. Try a range of methods

Take a page out of polyglots’ books (polyglots are people who are fluent in five or more languages) and find what style of learning works for you. Don't limit yourself to a single method. Through trial and error, find what you respond to the best. Think about the different skills you need to learn: Speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

And also think about the different resources you can use. Try learning with podcasts, language apps, online courses, and language exchange groups. Try the method out for a few months and also check out the Busuu methodology. If it works, keep doing it. If not, try something else. Sooner or later you’ll find the method that works best for you.

4. Choose the right language-learning app

Gone are the days of boring textbooks and boring language lessons (when I first started teaching English, we still used tape cassettes). You can master a language on your mobile device. You need a language app that has a large community of language learners and native speakers. An app that has language courses created by language-learning experts. An app that gives you the language you need for real-life situations. An app like Busuu.

Learning English isn’t easy — but it’s awesome

There are tons of reasons to learn English as a second language. English is a global language that allows you to communicate with other people and experience other cultures. It’s also a huge boost to your employability and education opportunities. But be prepared for a tough process. English pronunciation is notoriously difficult. It has a huge number of dialects. And getting enough comprehensible input to learn is a big hurdle you need to overcome.

If you set clear goals, build good habits, find the methods that work for you, and use a language-learning app like Busuu, you can overcome the difficulties. You can master English. And you can access all the amazing benefits that come with that.

Ready to learn English as a second language?

Busuu has a community of millions of native speakers and language learners for you to connect with. You can finish free online courses made by language-learning experts. And you can do it wherever and whenever you want.