Study Abroad Student Handbook
United Kingdom United Kingdom
ISA in United Kingdom

Why Learn a Language?

Following the American Revolution and the creation of an independent United States, a new variation of English emerged distinctly tied to the American culture. Through the subsequent 150 years that led to World War II, the British form of English was regarded as "correct," and was the form most often taught in American private schools and in ESL classes worldwide. However, with America’s emergence as the world political and economic leader after World War II, American English gained new prominence as a viable form of English. Today, both British and American English are accepted as "proper" forms of the language and both can be heard and read in classrooms around the world. However, learning British English can be a fun and satisfying way to integrate with the British culture during your stay overseas.

There are enough similarities between the two forms of English to make it relatively easy to function as a foreigner in the UK. However, learning the British counterparts – and additions! – to American words will make it much easier to: fully appreciate British humor, speak with locals, and understand cultural variations. For example, a joke involving a lorry and a dodgy barrister might not be so funny if you did not know what these were.

In addition, British English is still the form taught most frequently in former British colonies such as Singapore, Hong Kong, India, and Nigeria. Consequently, many of the inflections and slang spoken in English by natives of these countries will reference the British mother tongue. Should you wish to travel to these areas and have not learned the native language of the region, understanding British English will enable you to move about and communicate much more easily than if you were unfamiliar with British grammar and usage.

Regardless of whether you pick up British English while studying abroad, learning and improving your understanding of English of any variety can only make you a more competitive global candidate in any field. After Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, English is the most widely spoken language in the world and is the common language used for transnational communication in business, science, technology, telecommunications, medicine and several other major industries.

* Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic and Cornish are also spoken by minorities in the British Isles – by people from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Cornwall respectively. Together, over 885,000 people speak these languages as either their first or second language. Due to the overwhelming presence of English as the language of choice (and often force) for several centuries, these languages mostly (or completely) died out only to be revived in the late 19th-early 20th century by enthusiasts and language historians. Welsh, Manx Gaelic and Cornish have especially been targeted by linguists and patriots in these regions for revival, and as a result have re-emerged as viable living languages used on a daily basis by locals.

Read on – Why Study Abroad and find answers how study abroad can affect your personal growth and career path.

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