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Why Do So Many US Immigrants Learn English?

There is an old saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

This idiom means that when you’re visiting or trying to live in a new country, you have – to a certain degree – learned to adapt to the life and culture there. 

For immigrants in the US, that means mastering English. Sure, it’s not always easy. Learning a new language from scratch can feel like scaling a mountain. But here’s the kicker: not learning English is even tougher.

Think about it. Without English, everyday tasks become Herculean feats. Simple things like grocery shopping or asking for directions turn into nerve-wracking ordeals.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With determination and effort, immigrants can conquer the language barrier. And the payoff? A whole new world of opportunities swings wide open.

From better job prospects to deeper connections with fellow Americans, English fluency unlocks doors. So, while the journey may be challenging, the destination is worth every step. Dive into the article below to discover the transformative power of learning English for US immigrants.”

How Does Not Speaking English Affect US Immigrants?

Language and communication are integral parts of human life, especially in adapting to a new environment. It is already hard enough to uproot one’s entire life, connections, and memories to live in another country as an immigrant. 

This difficulty could be aggravated by not being able to fully express yourself in the manner you used to do. Here are some areas on how not being able to speak English could affect US immigrants. 

1. Professionally

This is the most immediate effect of not being able to speak English when moving to another country. You will have limited options when it comes to career and professional growth. 

Even before you move into a country, you will find that careers that you can apply for can be a little bounded – even though your work does not require you directly talking to customers or engaging an entire team. 

This is because internal communication within the company is important in any professional setting, whether you are to work behind the scenes or up and center in the frontlines. 

Example: You are a nurse from an Asian country and you decided to migrate to an English-speaking country. You will find that most of these countries require nurses to pass an English proficiency test to be considered for the job.

Another example is, if you do land a job, your promotion prospects can also be affected because of your inability to communicate and, thereby, lead a team.

2. Emotionally

Imagine being able to speak freely our entire life, and then suddenly, you become voiceless. This is usually the feeling of moving into a country where no one can understand you. 

Being understood is one of the basic needs of a person. When you want to express something but you already know you won’t be understood, it can take a toll on your feelings and emotions. 

Aside from that, racism has been on the rise all around the world. Being targeted for not speaking English can be extremely hard to deal with. 

Example:  You were used to having friends over for the weekend as an outlet to vent after a busy week. However, if you move to another country and do not speak their language, it is going to be hard for you to vent to newfound friends, or even find new ones to connect with. 

If you do find work, you also could face the possibilities of racially charged attacks, and what could make it worse is that you will be unable to defend yourself because you can’t confront your attacker in a way that they will understand. 

3. Psychologically

Being drained emotionally from not being understood can also take a toll on one’s mental health condition. If the feeling of not expressing yourself is prolonged, it can destroy your perspective on life and yourself. 

Aside from the daily burden of feeling isolated, stigmatized non-native English speakers will also have a more challenging time learning and growing with the language down the road. 

According to a study in 2019, stigmatized non-native speakers reported a reduced performance on an English test compared with non-native speakers who did not experience stigma. They also experienced more anxiety. 

Example:  The psychological impact of not being able to speak English in the US can manifest through the feeling of isolation, anxiety about future interactions, low self-esteem, and potentially depression. 

4. Socially

Language is all about communication, expression, and interaction. Learning English in an English-speaking country enables the person to socialize and mingle with other people fully. 

Socialization is also an essential need for humans. However, one cannot fully realize their potential in creating new friends if one cannot communicate properly. 

Aside from the difficulty in creating friends, refusing to learn English can also limit your life because you cannot expand your network – may it be professional or otherwise – and put boundaries on future human resources you may need. 

Example: You are a non-English speaking person in the US, imagine yourself spending a significant amount of time explaining yourself to the cashier to buy bread, or telling the waitstaff that you don’t want pickles on your burger. 

More than that, imagine longing for someone to talk to outside your current circle but can’t mingle at a party or network with colleagues for future job opportunities because no one can understand you. 

5. Physically

Physical problems are probably a not-so-obvious effect of not speaking English in the US. After all, you won’t get a cold or the flu if you don’t speak English. 

However, it is important to note that the quality of healthcare also depends on the patient’s ability to express oneself. To be able to take good care of your body, you have to be able to communicate what you need. 

Example:  If you need to buy medicine for a headache, the pharmacy will find it hard to give you the right medicine if you can’t tell what’s wrong with you. Or if you have an ailment that you need to get checked, it would be hard finding a specialized doctor that speaks your language. 

For more severe issues, you could also run into an accident or an emergency where time is of the essence. If you call 9-1-1 and can’t speak English, it may take longer for them to respond to your immediate needs. 

It will also be hard to voice out certain conditions, like telling a restaurant to take out the nuts if you’re allergic to them. 

Why US Immigrants Struggle Learning English? 

While there are many benefits to learning English, it is not always a walk in the park. It may be hard enough for normal people to learn English, but there are more unique and specific barriers to why US immigrants struggle to learn English.

Here are some of the struggles and what you can do to get through some hoops and start learning English:

1. Financial Limitations

Financial limitations are one of the main reasons why some US immigrants can’t learn English. People, especially US immigrants, think they do not have enough money to enroll in language courses and learn. 

Some immigrants, especially the younger generation, have no means of income yet to buy books or courses. While they know the importance of learning English, their guardians or sponsors won’t provide for it. 

Also, on the other hand, some immigrants are already struggling to make ends meet daily. That financial strain takes up so much space in their head that they won’t even bother thinking about learning English. 

It is a common mistake among immigrants. Because while it is a noble cause to focus first on earning more for the family instead of self-growth — learning English is an investment for your career to broaden your horizons and open yourself up to new and better-earning opportunities. 

Here are a few things you can do to overcome this hurdle:

  • Save up: Recognize that learning English is an investment that will allow you to get better-paying jobs one day. Saving up little by little until you reach the goal will get you there.
  • Learn for free: There are a lot of ways to learn conversational English without having to spend money. Do your research and discover how you can learn English for free

2. Unwillingness and Fear

There is always fear in getting out of your comfort zone. Learning a new language often exposes one’s weaknesses and fears. 

However, it is important to realize that this unwillingness and fear to learn English will not do you any good, especially if you are a US immigrant. I will only open you up to more situations that will drive greater fear in you. 

Some immigrants are also unwilling to learn English because they think that learning a new language apart from what they used to have is letting go of their culture. 

On the other hand, some have the intention and means to go to English-learning classes but are afraid that they might get bullied in a language school. 

Here are a few things you can do to overcome this hurdle:

  • Keep an open mind: Take time to ask yourself why you are unwilling and fearful in learning English. Be as honest as you can with yourself and try to address the situation with an open mind. On the other hand, if you’re trying to help a friend get over his or her unwillingness and fear to learn, don’t try to judge your friend and listen to the roots of why he or she is unwilling to learn. 
  • Look for company: If fear is your main enemy, look for a friend or an accountability buddy that will help you jumpstart your learning process. Look for someone who has similar experiences with you so you can relate to each other. 
  • Start small: Learning English does not always have to be a big deal. Start with small steps like learning a handful of daily words or phrases.

3. Not Enough Knowledge of Resources

Because US immigrants come from different backgrounds and cultures, they may find it hard to look for resources to study English. More often than not, immigrants want to learn the language, but they do not know where to start. 

The internet, for example, is filled with a lot of resources to study English. There are websites, YouTube channels, and even social media pages such as Instagram accounts where mentors offer their services for free. 

However, immigrants were usually preconditioned that learning English could only be possible through expensive and more formal classes, books, and lectures. This, in turn, causes them to shy away from even starting to learn English. 

Here are a few things you can do to overcome this hurdle:

  • Ask around: Within your community, look for people who have been through the same journey and have started learning English. Do not be afraid of asking how they learned and what materials were particularly useful for them.
  • Do your research: There are a lot of resources online that are great materials for learning English. Read websites and blogs dedicated to helping people learn English to get tips on where to find these materials. 
  • Spread the word: Help other people in finding resources, too, by spreading the word on which particular materials are helping you learn and where you found them. You can tell a friend or post it on your social media. 

4. No Clear Goal

Not having a goal in mind will hinder one’s progress in learning English. Immigrants may not even start or think about learning if they don’t have a goal in mind. 

While some immigrants have external struggles like limited resources and an unfriendly environment, some have no motivation to learn English because they don’t see what it is for. 

These people are so deep in their comfort zone that they don’t want to make an effort to see a better future. While this may be a hard struggle to get over, it is not impossible. 

The key to convincing yourself – or others – to have a goal in learning English is by imagining how your life can progress if you people in your new country understood you more. Think about your potential, skill, and talent, and believe that you can reach a higher level in your life. 

Here are a few things you can do to overcome this hurdle:

  • Assess yourself: Set aside a quiet time to think about your current situation and assess yourself. Answer the following questions:
    • First, what level are you in your life?
    • Second, where do you want to be in the next 5 years?
    • Third, how will learning English help you reach that goal? 
  • Start formulating a goal: Start writing your goals down. Create an action plan with a timeline and actions to go with it and stick to it. 

5. Limited Environment to Practice

Sometimes, immigrants are willing to learn English but are discouraged because they would not have anyone to talk to. These are usually the first English speakers in their family and friend group. 

Because language is all about communication, conversing and practicing the language as you learn is very important. This is why it is understandable for people to get disheartened if they have no one to look forward to for practice and conversation.

However, this should not hinder people from actually learning the language. There is a huge population of English speakers around the world that you can tap to speak to. 

Here are a few things you can do to overcome this hurdle:

  • Join a community: Whether you are at the workplace, or in school, you can find a group of people who will talk to you and be your support system through the process. It is important to get along with people with who you can be comfortable and who won’t judge you so they can’t hamper your progress. 
  • Make friends on social media: If you’re having a hard time finding a community in person, the online world can be your best friend. Many people in the world are also in the process of learning English and they can be your friends and practice buddies. 
  • Teach your family members too: You don’t have to learn alone. If some of your family members or friends are also interested in learning English, you can share insights and practice as a team. 

13 Reasons for US Immigrants to Learn English

If you analyze the situation, it is almost always worth it to get through the struggles and learn English. It may be challenging initially, but there are a lot of long-term benefits to learning English, especially if you are a US immigrant. 

Here are some of the main reasons why US immigrants should learn English: 

1. English is the Universal Language 

The English language is widely used not only in the United States but also worldwide. According to Statista, English remains the most spoken language globally, with Mandarin Chinese and Hindi following next. 

As of 2021, there are about 1.35 billion English-speaking people in the world. This means that English is used in worldwide organizations, multinational companies, and global offices. 

English is used to communicate important global decisions down to giving instructions on how to build the table you just bought from the department store. This is why choosing to learn the language gives you a big edge in life in general. 

Practical use cases of learning the English language: 

  • Read more books
  • Watch Documentaries or YouTube videos.
  • Travel comfortably to more countries
  • Connect to the world
  • More upward mobility in your professional life.

2. More Career Opportunities 

Because many people understand English, it is also often used as one of the main languages in the workplace. Knowing how to speak English fluently will inevitably open doors of opportunities in your career. 

First, because clients usually speak English in the US, your career opportunity can include a front-facing position at a firm where you must engage with customers. 

Second, knowing English also allows you to collaborate with your workmates, thereby increasing your chances to lead your team and earn a promotion for yourself. 

Third, if ever you want to relearn another job or move to a new industry, it will be easier for you to pick up on instructions and new lessons because the mode of teaching in the US is usually English. 

Practical use cases of English in your professional life: 

  • More career choices
  • Easier career change
  • Less misunderstanding in the workplace
  • Better in taking up instructions from English-speaking colleagues
  • Higher chances of promotion

3. High Acceptance Rate in Educational Institutions

If you want to study in the US, it is a requirement to learn how to communicate in English. Most universities in the country require non-native English speakers to pass an English proficiency test. 

This is to make sure that students will be able to grasp the lessons in college. Educational institutions, especially those of high quality, want to get students with the highest potential to lead in industries worldwide. Most universities in the US, Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand require their students to submit their English proficiency scores in the IETLS exam, TOEFL test, Duolingo English Test, TOEIC, or others.

Being fluent in English will also help you do better in universities’ entrance examinations and increase your chances of passing with flying colors. If you’re also gunning for grants and scholarships, learning English is a must. 

Practical use cases of English for higher studies:

  • A better understanding of school lessons
  • More choices of schools
  • Better chances of being accepted in better universities
  • Good collaboration with other students

4. Helps You Build Connections Easily

Connections are significant in the development of different aspects of one’s life. There’s a saying: “it’s not what you know that matters; it’s who you know”

Building connections is important in school, work, and even in social life. To build valuable connections, you need to be able to communicate properly and express your feelings freely. 

Since English is a major language in the US, learning how to speak gives you a significant advantage in talking to new people and getting your ideas across. 

On the other hand, you could also build meaningful connections in your community – especially those with non-English speakers – as you become their bridge of communication to other English-speaking persons. 

Practical use cases:

  • Easier to make friends
  • Better in finding help
  • More opportunities for socialization
  • More positive relationships
  • Help more people

5. You Can Understand Slangs & Expressions

You may think to yourself: why are slangs and expressions important in learning how to communicate in English? Well, slang and expressions are important because they make you realize that language is continuously evolving and growing. 

Slangs and expressions evoke a sense of ease and fun into daily conversations, allowing for better expression of self in the informal world. It also creates a sense of belonging in a certain culture. 

Understanding informal phrases in English is as important as understanding formal ones if you want to fully communicate on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, if you refuse to speak English properly, you might get confused with the slang words and find yourself being discouraged from going out and mingling. 

Practical use cases of understanding English slangs:

  • Better conversations
  • A deeper understanding of various generations
  • Won’t sound too formal
  • Enjoy light and easy conversations

6. Helps You Boost Your Confidence

Confidence stems from knowing your potential and being able to express it to the world freely. While there are many ways to express yourself, one powerful way to get your ideas across is through language. 

Learning English as an immigrant in the US is very important in building up your self-esteem. May it be in school, work, or in social gatherings, the ability to express yourself naturally – without excessively thinking about the words and phrases – boosts your confidence and makes you perform tasks better. 

Having language confidence also takes away one more thing you worry about and helps you focus on more important things like getting what you want in life. 

Practical use cases:

  • Can be yourself anywhere you go
  • Know how to ask for what you want
  • Better in approaching people
  • Enjoy being bilingual or multi-lingual

7. Avoid Being Ridiculed

Racism has been one of the biggest societal problems recently, especially in the US and other developed countries. The baseless hate on other people’s ethnic background and skin color has perpetuated fear among those who don’t belong to a certain culture.

This, however, should not stop people from living their lives. It should also not, in any way, be tolerated. 

While learning English as an immigrant in the US will not necessarily solve systemic racism, it can help you and your friends. You can better understand people trying to talk bad behind your back or mistreat you because of your ethnic background by learning English. 

Knowing how to speak fluently in English also allows you to defend yourself against those who ridicule you or others who have not yet learned the language. 

Practical use cases:

  • Stand up to racism
  • Spread the word against bullying non-English speakers
  • Doing your thing without fear
  • Being an inspiration to others

8. You Won’t Be Left Out

If no one understands you, you will inevitably feel left out. For an immigrant in the US, this feeling can be extra hard. 

As an immigrant, people are already dealing with the cultural shift and the new environment. Add that to not communicating with anyone, especially for necessities like buying food or getting into local transportation. That can make their life a lot harder. 

You can help yourself not feel left out by learning the basics of the English language even before you migrate to the US. This way, the adjustment can go a little smoother and may lessen the feeling of being left out.

Practical use cases:

  • Avoid the feeling of alienation
  • Get to join various groups
  • Meet friends of similar interests
  • Be able to jive with other groups of people
  • Less fear of missing out

9. Can Blend Well into the US Society

Various studies have shown that having a sense of belongingness can improve a person’s performance and quality of life. 

For example, a study in Harvard showed that a high sense of belonging in the workplace was linked to a 56% increase in job performance

Meanwhile, a different study showed that a sense of belonging positively affects a student’s academic achievement and motivation. 

Learning English can help people blend well in society and, in turn, create a positive impact in their individual lives and their communities. 

Practical use cases:

  • More efficiency in doing daily activities like grocery shopping and eating out
  • Won’t be afraid to ask for what you want
  • Can have more contribution to society as a whole
  • Be an aid of communication for those who are non-English speakers

10. You Can Understand and Take English Jokes

If you’re in an English-speaking society and don’t understand English, it will be tough to understand jokes, banter, and humor. While this may sound unimportant or trivial, it comprises a very significant part of human life. 

Jokes, humor, and laughing are all important parts of daily life. According to a 15-year study published on ScientificAmerican, there are strong links between a sense of humor and mortality. 

The study showed that a strong sense of humor lowers death rates and susceptibility to deadly diseases. That makes for a pretty strong case on why you immigrants should learn to speak English. 

Practical use cases:

  • Fewer chances of misunderstanding jokes
  • Fewer chances of being unnecessarily offended
  • Make your own jokes
  • Engage in friendly banter

11. You Can Join In Conversations With Your Native English-Speaking Friends

True friends will stick with you even if you don’t know how to speak English. They won’t judge you and will help you learn the language. 

However, it is always fun to be able to pitch in the conversation with your friend group. Not only will you feel like you belong, but you’ll also be able to express yourself and will allow your friends to get to know you better. 

This is one good reason why immigrants in the US should learn English. It makes for a deeper bond with friends and will help you find new ones that will enrich your life along the way. 

Practical use cases:

  • Widen your horizon
  • Make new friends
  • Gain new insights from other people’s experiences
  • Share your culture with new friends
  • Be yourself without the constraint of not being understood

12. You Won’t Feel Intimidated

This is particularly true in school and the workplace. In places where you need to perform and deliver, you must always be at the top of your game. 

Language and the ability to communicate are not the end-all-be-all of good performance in the office or school. Skills still account for a big chunk of your performance. 

However, communicating your ideas well and not being limited by the few words you know is also important in performing your tasks. This is because knowing English won’t make you feel intimidated by explaining your new ideas and innovative thoughts. 

It’s one less thing to worry about, and you can focus more on the task at hand. 

Practical use cases:

  • Higher self-confidence
  • Better self-awareness
  • Ability to defend yourself
  • Help others who can’t speak English
  • Assert what you believe is right 

13. You Can Express Yourself Freely

As a society, freedom of expression is essential to a harmonious life. This is especially true in the US, where people place high regard on expressing themselves and their beliefs without constraint. 

As an individual, you would not necessarily stop yourself from expressing your true self. However, there are external forces that may prevent you from doing so. 

Not learning English in an English-speaking society is one of those external hurdles. You may know yourself and the potential you hold, but not getting your ideas across will take a toll on you and your perception of yourself.

It is always important for humans to be seen, heard, and understood. Learning English is one big step towards those basic human needs.

Practical use cases:

  • More chances of being heard
  • Lower prejudice on your ideas
  • More time to think about other things because you won’t have to worry about not being understood
  • Higher appreciation for the English language

Final Thoughts

Most of the time, the US allows people to migrate to the country regardless of their language. It is important to note that living and adjusting without learning English will be complicated while entry is possible. 

Not speaking English in an English-speaking country could affect you professionally, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and even physically. While there are many reasons why immigrants don’t usually learn English, there are always alternatives to what you can do to pick up even the most basic words or phrases. 

Ultimately, if you weigh out the pros and cons, there are many reasons why US immigrants should learn English, especially if they want to live a full, fruitful, and happier life. 

Additional FAQs

Are immigrants in the US required to learn English?

Immigrants in the US are not legally required to learn English. However, proficiency in English can be crucial for many aspects of life, such as employment opportunities, accessing services, and integrating into the community. For those seeking naturalization, English proficiency is a requirement, as applicants must demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak basic English during the citizenship test. Therefore, while not mandatory for all immigrants, learning English is highly encouraged and beneficial for full participation in American society.

Why is English so popular in the US?

English is so popular in the US primarily because of historical, cultural, and economic factors. The foundation of the United States by English-speaking British colonists established English as the dominant language. Over time, English became the primary language of government, education, and business. Additionally, the influence of American culture, through media, technology, and global trade, has reinforced the use of English both domestically and internationally. As a result, English remains the primary language spoken and used in the US, making it a central part of American identity and daily life.

Why is English widely used globally?

English has become widely used internationally due to a combination of historical, cultural, and economic factors. Firstly, the British Empire’s extensive colonization efforts spread the language across continents, establishing it as a lingua franca in many regions. Additionally, the rise of the United States as a global superpower further solidified English’s dominance, especially in the realms of business, technology, and diplomacy. Moreover, the widespread adoption of English in popular culture, media, and the internet has accelerated its global reach. As a result, English has become the primary language of international communication, facilitating trade, education, and cultural exchange on a global scale.


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