Opening doors to opportunities: Benefits of learning English as second language
David Payne, 12 Jul 2017
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Over the past several decades, English has become the leading language chosen by people from different geographic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to communicate with each other. Today, there are almost two billion English-language speakers around the world. As a result, the need for English-language proficiency in academia and in the global workplace has significantly grown. To the extent that English has become the lingua franca for international exchange, more people than ever before are learning English including international students interested in pursuing degrees in the STEM and business fields.


For example, within the engineering discipline there are approximately 5.4 million students worldwide enrolled in an undergraduate engineering program with 1.5 million in India alone.[1] Yet, according to The Economic Times many engineering graduates struggle to secure a job.[2] Developing one’s English language proficiency can provide job candidates with a competitive advantage as “employers seek graduates with sound communication skills, along with technical engineering knowledge.”[3]


In addition, CareerIndia reports that, “To study abroad…students have to take up standardized tests to prove their English language proficiency. These tests play a major role for admissions to most of the universities overseas. These tests are measurements carried out to ensure that the students from non-English speaking countries are able to write, listen, and converse in English fluently.”5


Furthermore, for students interested in the sciences approximately 80-90 percent of scientific papers are published in English[4],[5] further establishing English as the language of scientific communication. However, no matter the field of study, strong English language skills are critical for educational success, as well as for positive personal, social, and professional experiences and outcomes.


Having the ability to understand English at the university level provides students with many benefits beyond the classroom. Prior to joining ETS in 2003, I served as Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School at SUNY Binghamton. During my tenure at Binghamton, I also served as Director of Distance Education and was a tenured professor in the department of psychology. In my experience I can tell you that international students who studied English as a second language not only had an easier time understanding lectures and coursework, but also an easier time engaging with their classmates and teachers, developing relationships, learning local culture and colloquialisms and having fun. It helped them to have a much more robust and rewarding collegiate experience.


Beyond academia, English is also the language of international business. It provides a common platform for international communication—and job candidates who can demonstrate their English proficiency have a competitive edge in the global marketplace.


How big of an advantage?

According to Harvard Business Review, “English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide—that’s one in every four of us. There are close to 385 million native speakers in countries like the U.S. and Australia, about a billion fluent speakers in formerly colonized nations such as India and Nigeria, and millions of people around the world who’ve studied it as a second language. An estimated 565 million people use it on the internet.”[6]


Moreover, Independent News for International Students reports that, “…most multi-national companies require some level of English comprehension. The truth of the matter is that those who have a fluent grip over the English language tend to receive a higher salary than those who don’t.”[7] Knowledge of English as a second language is a valuable asset for effectively communicating with clients and suppliers, preparing business reports, conducting meetings and business travel.


The bottom line is that English is the language of global opportunity for individuals worldwide and proficiency is becoming more important at a younger age. Thus, English-language learning has increased in popularity among people of all ages worldwide. In fact, an estimated 1 billion students are learning English at any given time. That number continues to grow and studies also show that English proficiency is improving.


As the popularity of English and the number of Indian students studying abroad increase—India remains a top sender of international graduate applications to U.S. schools with test takers indicating a variety of intended fields of study—there will be growing need for valid, fair and reliable assessments to measure their English proficiency. Students who are applying for international study in English-speaking countries can demonstrate their English-language skills through our TOEFL® Family of Assessments.

*David Payne is ETS Vice President & COO, Global Education

Stay tuned to for updates on English Language cours


[1]   How Many Engineers Does India Produce?:

[2]   A million engineers in India struggling to get placed in an extremely challenging market:

[3]    How important is English language fluency for Engineers?:

[4]    The Language of (Future) Scientific Communication:

[5] English Is the Language of Science:

[6]     Global Business Speaks English:

[7]      Top 5 Reasons to Study English as a Second Language:


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