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How Can Learning English As A Foreign Language Benefit You?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 14, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 14, 2020


There are 1.5 billion English speakers in the world, according to Babbel. Learning English as a foreign language or as a second language can have many benefits in a person’s life. It can help you access more opportunities in academia and in the workforce. And, not only is English beneficial for non-native English speakers, it can also be beneficial for native English speakers who are looking for a rewarding job teaching English to students around the world.

What Is English As A Foreign Language?

English as a foreign language, otherwise known as EFL, is the study of English by non-native speakers who live in a country where English is not the official language (or, the official second language).

Because English is the world’s “Lingua Franca” (a common language that’s used to bridge together speakers of other languages), non-native speakers are learning English as a foreign language in order to take advantage of the benefits which come with it.

Differences Between EFL And ESL

If you’ve heard of the term “English as a Foreign Language” or EFL, then you may have also heard the term “English as a Second Language” or ESL. The two are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different.

While EFL refers to the study of English in a country where English is not the dominant language or second language, ESL refers to the study of English in a country where it is (but may not be the native language of a majority of the population).

Highlights Of EFL

  • EFL classrooms and communities share a native language, which is not English.
  • One of the challenges for EFL teachers is finding English models that work for their students, as many instructors are either non-native English speakers or are native English speakers who don’t speak the local language.

Highlights Of ESL

  • ESL classrooms share a target language, but individual learners may not share a common native language.
  • Most ESL teachers are native English speakers, but students may come from different mother-tongues which may make it hard to cater to student’s individual learning needs.

Terminology And Types Of English As A Foreign Language

Within the context of English as a Foreign Language, there are different types and terminologies that are important to understand, whether you’re a teacher of EFL, a student, or you’re just curious.

Umbrella Terms

There are a few umbrella terms that include EFL and ESL and other forms of English language learning and instruction.

United States:

  • ELL – English Language Learning
  • ESL – English as a Second Language
  • EL – English Learner
  • CLD – Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
  • TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language

United Kingdom:

  • ELT – English Language Teaching

Canada and Australia:

  • ESL – English as a Second Language
  • ESD – English as a Second Dialect

Exams for Learners

There are many tests that EFL and ESL students can take to demonstrate their English proficiency. Many of these tests are required by institutions of higher education. Though they may fall within the term “TOEFL Test” category, TOEFL is just one type of test, when there are in fact many different tests with all sorts of abbreviations:

  • CaMLA
  • iTEP
  • PTE Academic
  • Trinity College London ESOL
  • Cambridge English Language Assessment
  • London Tests of English/Pearson Language Tests
  • Secondary Level English Proficiency Test
Two young girls studying and writing together
Image by klimkin from Pixaba

Challenges Of Learning English As A Foreign Language

Learning another language can be exciting, but it can also be hard. In particular, students learning English typically struggle with common issues, depending on what their native language is.

1. Pronunciation

English has a number of sounds that do not exist in other languages, making it hard for EFL students to pronounce. An example of this is how some Korean, Japanese, and Chinese dialects may have trouble distinguishing between the “L” sound and “R” sound. This is called “lallation.”

2. Grammar

English grammar and sentence structure can be difficult for English learners. These can include:

  • Functions and auxiliaries, e.g., “do/does/did”
  • Modal verbs, e.g., “can”, “must”, “have to”
  • Idiomatic usage, e.g., “make” vs. “do”
  • Articles, e.g., “the” and “a/an”

3. Vocabulary

There are over 170,000 words in the English language. In fact, according to World Atlas, English has the most words out of any language, and understanding when and how to use vocabulary depending on tense, context, who you’re talking to, etc., can be difficult for learners. Some specific challenges come with:

  • Phrasal verbs, e.g., “get along with”, “drop out of”
  • Prepositions/prepositional phrases, e.g, “into”/”into the cup”
  • Word formation/prefixes/suffixes, e.g., “unable”, “happiness”

4. Literacy

Learning to read in any language can be hard, but learning to read in a foreign language can be very tricky.

  • First-Language Literacy: This is if you have not completed literacy instruction in your native language before learning to read in English.
  • Second-Language Literacy: This refers to students who are proficient in speaking in a language, but have not learned to read or write.

5. Social And Academic Language Acquisition

The type of English that needs to be learned in order to function in a social situation is known as “Basic Interpersonal Language Skills” or “BICS,” which can take two years to acquire. For the classroom, “Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency” or “CALP,” refer to academic learning abilities, which can take seven years to master.

6. Class Placement And Dropout Rates

One of the biggest challenges among ESL/EFL students who are studying higher education in an English-speaking country is the struggle with appropriate class placement. Often, a student’s entire academic abilities are based on their level of English, and they are usually placed in low-performance groups which can set them back.

Along with this, ESL students make up a large percentage of drop-out students in North America. This is because students (especially those who may immigrate as teenagers), may have a hard time acclimating to mainstream classes due to their language acquisition difficulties. Many don’t get the support they need to be successful, and end up dropping out, even if they would have been successful in their native language.

Benefits Of Learning English As A Foreign Language

Now that we know the challenges of learning English as a foreign language or learning English as a second language, you may be wondering what the benefits are. After all, since learning English presents many difficulties, some people may wonder if it’s worth it to begin studying English in the first place. However, learning English has innumerable benefits that can set you up for a promising future.

1. Access To Higher Education

Many institutions of higher education use English as the language of instruction, even if they are not based in an English speaking country. And, what are considered some of the best universities in the world are in places where English is the native language. By learning English as a foreign language, you can have access to these programs.

If you’re a student from a non-native English speaking country, then learning English can help you study at an institution of higher education to earn your degree from a tuition-free university like UoPeople.

2. Interaction With Native Speakers

One of the fun benefits of learning any language is the ability to interact with native speakers. But in the case of English, because it is the common language in so many countries, learning English also allows you to communicate with people with whom you do not speak each other’s native language.

3. Better Job Propositions

There’s no question that those who learn English will likely have better job propositions than other non-native speakers who do not learn English. As English is the most widely spoken language and the official language across the globe, knowing the language will give you access to a lot more roles and opportunities.

4. Social And Cultural Benefits

Learning English as a foreign language or learning English as a second language can have many social and cultural benefits. Because you’ll be able to actively engage and communicate with others, you’ll be able to expand your social circle and make friends all around the world! When you travel, you’ll be able to use English to get by, which will be extremely useful. This will lead you to make connections and learn about others, since English will ideally be your shared common language.

TEFL teacher playing a game with students in a classroom
Image by Mới Ngô from Pixabay

What Is TEFL?

So, how do EFL students learn English as a foreign language? Usually, by a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, or through a TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language) course. One of the opportunities you can get as an English speaker is to become a TEFL (or TESOL) teacher. This can be a great job to have or career to go into, though there are some things to know about it, first.

1. Why Teach English As A Foreign Language?

Two of the biggest reasons to consider teaching English as a foreign language are that you can live and work in another country as a teacher, and you will likely find the job very rewarding. As an EFL teacher, you can organize fun games and activities in the classroom to help your students learn English efficiently. By being their teacher, they can have opportunities to practice English with a native speaker every time they see you.

2. Who Can Be A TEFL Teacher? Requirements And Qualifications

In order to become a TEFL teacher, there are usually some standard requirements and qualifications that you’ll have to meet:

  • Be a native English speaker or from a native English-speaking country, such as the U.S., Canada, or the U.K.
  • Have a Bachelor’s degree
  • Have experience teaching or working with children
  • Possess a TEFL certification
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Willing to live in another country for an extended period of time
  • Be an enthusiastic, excited teacher who is willing to acclimate to a new culture

These are just some of the basic requirements, and some jobs may not ask for all of these. If you’re not interested in teaching abroad, you can also look into teaching English as a second language in your home country to ESL students, or teaching online.

3. Where Do TEFL Educators Work?

TEFL educators can work in countries where English is taught as a foreign language to non-native speakers. These days, it’s quite common to find opportunities in Asia and Europe. Once there, TEFL educators will usually work in:

  • Public schools in K-12 settings
  • Private language schools or academies
  • Private tutoring
  • Universities or colleges
  • Private businesses
  • Government-sponsored programs
  • Charity programs/volunteer work
  • Religious organization

There are so many benefits to learning English as a foreign language. Whether you’re looking to study at university in English or you are a native speaker who wants to teach non-native English speakers, there are so many opportunities out there.

If you’re interested in becoming a TEFL teacher, for example, UoPeople offers tuition-free degree programs to help you start your journey as a highly qualified English instructor.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.