The Push to Learn English


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

It is estimated that over 1 billion people are currently learning English worldwide. This push to learn English is not necessarily for cultural enrichment, but more so for professional and financial reasons. Globalization and other changes in the world economy often force people to move to other countries to find better job opportunities. For countries that are struggling with a recession, some of those studying English are hoping to land jobs in the U.S. or U.K. Countries vying to compete in a global economy will also stress English learning. In addition, many companies are requiring workers to be bilingual. As a result, English language learning across Europe and Asia is up and expected to grow.



Learning English is mandatory in several European countries within secondary education institutions. A number of Member States see the majority of pupils learning English in the primary grades. Spain, Italy, Austria, and Greece recorded the highest number of primary education pupils studying English in 2010, with nine out of every ten children enrolled. In Norway, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Croatia, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of pupils learning English, often above 50%, while Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Poland see over 70%.



China is learning English in an effort to promote internationalism. By 2015, state employees younger than 40 will be required to master at least 1000 English phrases, and all schools will teach English in kindergarten. The government is also funding teacher training programs, looking at new models of learning English and developing new textbooks. Parents, who can afford to, are sending their children to one of the hundreds of small, private language schools that have cropped up in response to a current academic shortfall in English language learning in the country. For many Chinese adults, learning the language is more of a struggle than for their children, but they persevere, as English communication skills are considered essential to transforming the population into a high-value workforce.


In 2011, English became a compulsory subject at Japan’s primary schools in an attempt to improve the country’s language skills and its ability to compete overseas with rival Asian economies. Intense lobbying from the business community rose from fears that Japan might lose its competitive edge unless it took English communication as seriously as China and South Korea. The long-term goal is to improve Japan’s English proficiency standards. Japanese students have among the lowest scores in Asia in the International TOEFL test for English.

Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype


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