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Learning English Reaps Major Rewards

A second language may help you land a better job, keep mentally fit and get closer to your grandkids

En español | Luz Marina Little, a spiky-haired, fast-talking Colombian, has lived in the United States for more than two decades. She's raised two children here and held down a string of jobs in factories and stores.

Though she's managed to navigate life in her adopted country using halting English, her language limitations have always weighed on her. Over the years, Little bought English-language textbooks, practiced her pronunciation at home and even signed up for a few classes.

See also: How being bilingual combats dementia.

Chalkboard with written Spanish and English, English as a second language

— Photo by: CORBIS

But the demands of work and children always seemed to hinder her hopes of learning English properly – until now. Little, 65, has completed three of six levels of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. She plans to stick with it.

"I come to class now because I was finally able to find the time," says Little, who now works just part-time. Little is one of more than a million students nationwide taking ESL classes at colleges, community centers and other locations. And the number of older students in such classes is growing.

In 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, more than 300,000 students ages 45 and older had taken an ESL class in the past year. [Editor's note: there are no figures exclusively for Spanish speakers] That's more than double the number of a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Next: ESL benefits across a lifetime. >>

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