How in the World is Everyone Learning English?

One day soon – and perhaps it has already happened – the number of non-native speakers of the English language will surpass the number of native speakers in our world. 

You may lament this thought or think it unfair but that does not change the fact that the English language has become the most prominent language on Earth since Babel.

And it’s easy enough to see why.  There has been a perfect storm of globalization coupled with light speed innovation in communication and media that has lead to the raise of the English language.  The great linguistic empires of the past did amazingly well considering.

And so in today’s world, all across the globe, knowledge and understanding of the English language offers unprecidented opportunity.  If this were not the case, English would not be the world’s number one target language.  Schools like Kaplan International  Colleges would not spend their time and energy creating infographics like the one above and asking bloggers like me to share it (see the disclaimer below).

Of course we could wonder how anyone in the world doesn’t learn English.  English is the language of the Internet and of entertainment – movies, television and music –  you would be hard pressed to find a city, a town even, anyplace on the globe that was not touched in some way by the English language.  The numbers on the infographic reflect the reality: 82% of English language learners watch TV to learn English, 79% watch movies, 80% listen to music, 56% play video games and 55% read comics.  There is an amazing saturation with English in our world.

We can argue the merits and faults of a world gone English all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact that for many, English is a ticket to a better job and hopefully, a better life.  Becuase of this I’ll continue to work to preserve and encourage the learning of minority languages even as I work to help my readers from all over the world learn English.

Visitors from all over the world since January 1, 2012.

Last year I was surprised to discover that nearly 50% of the readership of The Everyday Language Learner blog come countries where English is not the native language.   I’m not sure why I never considered that this would be the case when I began this blog, but this is both exciting and challenging.  It excites me to be a part of helping so many people learn languages from all over the world.  It creates a challenge in that I am an American very much colored by American culture.  After writing an article about Tim Tebow – an American Football player – my wife told me that it would be lost on a great majority of my readers, and she was right.

And so I continue to refine my writing to meet my readers where they are at.  Hopefully I am doing that in some small way and am doing a better job month after month of offering encouragement and empowerment to language learners everywhere.

Today then I’d like to write specifically to my readers who have learned English as a second language.  I’d like to dialogue a bit and to learn from you and to ask for your help.  If you have learned English

I live in Turkey. Turkey is a great nation and I have grown to love the people and the language.  But I think Turkey is a lot like most of the nations in the world when it comes to language education.

My observation has been that those whom I have met who have learned English to a high enough level to actually open up new opportunities for better jobs, did so outside of the public education system.  They may have gone to public school, but inevitably they were either able to afford private schools or special English classes or had some other extra opportunities like a summer home in a resort town or the opportunity to travel to England or America.  It is certainly reflected in the fact that 65% of respondents felt that the massively expensive trip to the states or England to be in classes was the best way to learn.

I guess my sense is that if you don’t have financial means, your chances of learning English to a level that would offer significant opportunity to change your economic circumstances are very small.

And I wonder if this  is not the case throughout the world – especially in developing nations.

Thinking back to the journey of learning English, does this resonate with your experience?  If you were to compare those friends who have mastered English with those who have not, what was the differnce?

I would love to hear from all of you who speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language in the comment section below.

First, does the infographic at the top resonate with where you are at and what you and your friends think about learning English?  If you had been asked the survey questions, what answers would have you given?

Second, what is the experience in your country for English language learners?  Are the people who are learning English doing so through the national education system or are the vast majority of successful learners doing so because of other opportunities like private classes or schools?

Third, what can be done to help those in your country become more successful language learners?

I would love to be a part of helping everyone in the world learn another language – even those who do not yet know English and cannot access the content at The Everyday Language Learner.  If you would ever like to translate and use any of my blog posts or guides in order to help those who have yet to master English, please feel free to do so.

Disclaimer:  I was contacted by a representative of Kaplan International Colleges a month or so ago about the infographic and a blogger competition.  They wanted to be able to share the infographic and in doing so spread the word about their school.  They are giving away either an English Course in San Fransisco or an iPad 3. (You can enter too).  I do not know very much about Kaplan’s programs an so can’t endorse them as such – and in fact I make it a point not to endorse language schools.  There are loads of great schools out there and if you can afford to take a course at one of them, I think it could be another part of a well rounded personal language learning program.  I did however like the infographic and think it would be something worthwhile to share with my readers – 50% of whom speak English as a second (or perhaps 3rd or 4th or 5th) language.  If you’d like to help me win the iPad 3, feel free to drop by and mention that you like The Everyday Language Learner post in a comment HERE. Thanks.

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15 Responses to How in the World is Everyone Learning English?
  1. Judith Meyer
    April 18, 2012 | 9:11 pm

    I have learned English to a near-native level without spending any significant amount of time outside Germany and without meeting any English native speakers locally. I met them online, in forums, chatrooms and voice chats. I did not pay for classes or watch movies either, just public school and online practise and some books were enough to catapult me to this level.

    I believe that the infographic is actually misleading. First, the indicated series, movies, etc. just reflect what is popular and not what is the most effective for learning English. Harry Potter for example contains tons of specialized vocabulary that is useless for anything except reading fantasy novels, so any detective or romance story is better suited for learning languages than Harry Potter. One of my favourite authors for this is Dan Brown; vocabulary-wise his books aren’t any better or worse than dime novels, but the plot has you at the edge of your seat and dying to read more – which is all that matters if you agree that massive amounts of input are the key to learning. (See my post

    The infographic is also misleading on the importance of going abroad. If you ask some random language learners, of course they will say that living in the country is the best way to learn a language. True or not (I would put some conditions on this), it is popular knowledge that you have to go abroad. However, that doesn’t mean that this percentage of learners went abroad to meet their goal. It’s unlikely that they had the money. Make a different poll: how did YOU learn English to fluency, and then see how many people answer “at a language school abroad”. My guess is that it would be 10% or less.

    • aarongmyers
      April 18, 2012 | 9:26 pm

      Thank you so much for your great response. It is good to hear your experience and see the fruits of your labors – your English is excellent! You are a real testimoney to the reality that languages can be learned in a self-directed, independent manner outside of expensive programs and classes.

      To be fair to the infographic, it doesn’t say anything about the most effective method but rather is just reporting what people said they did, or rather watched. Harry Potter is popular and so it was watched more than others – it could have as well just been the first movie that came to mind – there are seven of them after all :-) .

      As well, I think we can all assume that Kaplan created the infographic in part to act as a sort of marketing tool. They are a business and so the question wasn’t asking what people do do, but rather what they think would be the best method of the choices that were given.

      The infographic does offer a place to begin a conversation about how we can learn English and for that it is useful I guess. I am hoping more will share their experiences here along with you. Thanks so much for getting things started!

    • aarongmyers
      April 18, 2012 | 9:44 pm

      Hey, I also wanted to say that the article you shared is really great! Thanks for sharing it here.

  2. Thomas
    April 19, 2012 | 12:35 pm

    I come from Denmark and in addition to my native Danish I can also either speak or understand English, Swedish and Norwegian (the last two are mutually intelligible with my native tongue). I have an above average comprehension for German (B1 approx.) and speak a little French too (about A2).
    Disturbingly, I have had five years of German in school and four years of French, but my understanding of German and French is a good deal below Swedish and Norwegian, which I have never taken any classes in. Granted, Swedish and Norwegian are very similar to Danish, but I have next to nothing to show for four years of French.

    I speak English fluently and have studied it as a minor in University. However, I would say that my language skills are not the result of formal schooling. In elementary school my English classes were sub-standard and boring, but I still received plenty of English input by spending my spare time either reading English at the library (I read essentially all the books they had by Tom Clancy, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and others in the original English) or by sitting at the TV at home watching American movies (I also saw a good deal of Swedish and Norwegian TV, which also helped with these languages). Unfortunately, I never bothered to read any books in German or French, but this does give me good grounds for comparison: I am absolutely convinced that had I relied entirely on my school classes for English, I would probably be no better at English now then I am at German or French. Had that been the case I would never have been able to complete university and I certainly would not be able to apply for a job teaching English in Gymnasium (Danish equivalent of high school) which is what I am looking to do with my future career.

    • aarongmyers
      April 19, 2012 | 1:09 pm

      I suspect that for many it is the same – English is learned because it is both more available than anything else and becuase – at least for the youth – it is more important (if you want to listen to U2 and Madona and watch Spiderman, its all in English).
      And it would seem that those in Europe get more English than say someone in Asia – thus more Europeans find themselves speaking fluent English. (that would be an anecdotal observation that I have no real evidence for)
      What do you think?

      • Thomas
        April 20, 2012 | 11:27 am

        To a certain extent I agree. You could write a thick book on all the things I do not know about how much English Asians get exposed to, but my impression is less then Western Europeans.
        However, I have noticed that when Danish television shows an English language movie they will use sub-titles and preserve the spoken English, whereas the German television will always dub (post-sync) the movie and thereby prevent the viewer from hearing any English. But the Germans still have almost as good English skills as Danes do, even though they never hear it spoken on TV, which Danes do all the time.

        The reason that Western Europeans knows more English than Asians is probably that our native languages are closer related to English the the native languages of Asians, just as ours are written in the Latin alphabet. Both gives us a substantial ‘head-start’.

        • aarongmyers
          April 20, 2012 | 7:24 pm

          It all always more complicated and nuanced than I’d like to believe. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

          I’d love to hear from others too. Share your experiences everyone.

        • Ara
          May 23, 2012 | 10:50 am

          in the classroom due to the laaggnue difference between English and their native laaggnue. Initially, this is a hard one to combat since many times the student will not come out and say, Hey, I don’t understand, could you please explain it to me. Fear of standing out and appearing not as smart as the rest of the class keeps them from speaking out. Children want to be accepted and that feeling of being on the outside looking in is overwhelming, especially when that child has no other members of his/her culture in the group of people they are with. Many times the child will act like they understand when they don’t so as not to call attention to themselves which puts a big strain on their academic performance.To correct this problem, perhaps the teacher, when seeing an assignment with what appears to be poor effort, should talk to that student one on one and ask them what the assignment was. about. Once a teacher notices this, she/he should pay attention to make sure they take a moment one on one (so as not to embarrass the student) and explain the assignment being given from there on out. Additionally, perhaps she could find someone who knows the laaggnue spoken by the child and give them directions in their native laaggnue as well as in English. This will provide an opportunity to compare the two laaggnues and learn how it is being said in English so when the child moves on, he/she has a better understanding of what is being asked of them. It is imperative that the teacher also documents this laaggnue issue and provides information on what worked best for them.

  3. Karen
    April 19, 2012 | 1:04 pm

    I appreciated this infographic. It is interesting. One of the reasons I feel people have to go abroad to learn English is because the time when it is taught to them – they are not so interested. They are too busy being teenagers. Later, when they are older and pay for that expensive trip, they are ready to learn.

    I have to agree with your wife about the Tim Tebow reference. Even though I’m American and it had no resonance with me because 1) I don’t care about sports and haven’t ever actually seen the guy, and 2)I’m female. I don’t think I read that post because I didn’t consider it relevant to me.

    • aarongmyers
      April 19, 2012 | 1:10 pm

      Karen, you really should give the Tebow post a try. There are some lessons in there and then you’d know what he looks like – except that next year he’ll be wearing green! :-)

  4. Jose Carrillo
    April 19, 2012 | 3:08 pm

    My first language is Spanish. I was born in Puerto Rico.

    Growing up we studied English language and grammar since first grade, still not enough to make us fully bilingual.

    But (in my case) good enough to be able to read it well enough. My father used to buy both an English and Spanish daily newspaper, so by reading the Spanish one first and then reading the English one afterwards, I improved my reading comprehension tremendously.

    I improved my listening comprehension through music on the radio, cable TV shows, and going to the cinema (in English language but with Spanish subtitles). There was no internet back then…

    Without yet mastering the English speaking component, I moved to an English speaking island (St. Thomas in the USVI).

    I was quite nervous about not being a fluent English speaker (although I was pretty confident about my reading, writing and listening).

    Within a week or two, I got my confidence and was speaking English without major difficulty!

    I did have a lot to improve about my pronunciation throughout the years; but my reading, writing and listening comprehension were good enough for my speaking to just come out on it’s own.

    I have been living in Canada now for 12 years, and had it not been for my English, I wouldn’t have made it here.

    • aarongmyers
      April 21, 2012 | 9:33 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story. It seems you had some good opportunities in moving to improve your English – which seem native like here. How about childhood friends who didn’t have the same opportunities? How has their English come along?

    April 24, 2012 | 1:50 pm

    Learningenglish is my fav topic. Thanks for sharing information on that issue. Thanks, Ruben :)

  6. Roman D.
    April 26, 2012 | 7:01 pm

    Hey, Aaron!

    Thanks for the insightful post and awesome infographic! I’ve studied it with great pleasure, as well as read the comments.

    Always eager to share, I started to write a reply, but it got too long, so I prepared it as a separate post for my blog instead.

    Even then, it was way too big, so I had to split it in two parts, one I have just published and the other is scheduled to go live this weekend :)

    In a way, your post inspired me to write it. Here’s the link, if you find some time go over it: I hope it answers some of the questions you’ve asked!

    Roman D.

  7. [...] the following infographic from The Everyday Language Learner gives a few more suggestions for interesting ways to study a language. These [...]

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