10 Reasons to Learn: English
(This article is part of a series that celebrates individual languages)
English is a quirky language and a truly global one. Whether it be for business or pleasure, it is definitely important and well worth learning.
Below are ten reasons why I believe we should learn English (apparently, fish and chips isn’t a good reason…).
1: English is a global language: For better or worse, English is the lingua franca of the world. It is the official language of the most powerful country on Earth (USA), and one of the most influential countries in Europe (UK). The Anglocentric duo of Australia and New Zealand is the dominant economic force in Australasia, while Canada is the tenth-largest economy in the world. It is a native language to a whopping 360 million people and an estimated 1.5 billion people speak the language to some degree. English is an official language of NATO and, despite Brexit, it still remains as an official language of the EU. This idea was summed up by an EU Commissioner, “We have a series of member states that speak English, and English is the world language which we all accept.”
“We have a series of member states that speak English, and English is the world language which we all accept.”
2: The Language of Science: The field of science is dominated by English like no other. Just a few years ago a popular French journal of medicine reluctantly decided to publish its findings in English to gain a wider readership. The breakdown of the top 10 universities by country for the natural sciences saw that 5 were from The US, 3 from England, and just 2 from non-English-speaking countries (Switzerland and Japan). That’s 8 out of 10!
3: Language of Business: A Portuguese man and Greek woman meet up in the German capital to discuss business. Do they use Portuguese, Greek, or German? Probably not. The reality is that this entrepreneurial dyad will use English in their wheelings and dealings. Even I, who has been doing business in China for over 10 years and armed with a BA in the language, find myself being coerced into using English as many clients and possible customers enjoy practicing the language! And who can blame them? Learning a language is wonderful!
4: Language of Education: This isn’t to say that ALL education requires English; that would obviously be a stupid thing to say, but looking at the Times list of top ten universities in the world, it is evident that the best schools require English. In fact, in the top 20, there is only 1 university that isn’t either in the UK or the United States. Even in subjects like the Classics (Ancient Greece and Rome) or Sinology (studies in (usually ancient) China) which traditionally have nothing to do with Anglophone countries, the phenomenal amount of research that has been first produced in English before being translated into other languages is further testament to the importance of the language in the field of education. Furthermore, many of the fundamental theories in subjects as diverse as psychology, anthropology, political science, linguistics, etc, have been achieved by native English speakers or foreign scholars working in English carrying out research at English speaking research faculties.
5: Great Shows: What a fun reason! It’s no secret that English has some really great shows; Friends, Game of Thrones, Frasier, The Big Bang Theory, the list is seemingly limitless. Whatever your interests, there is a great show out there for you! I constantly complain to my wife that she can treat The Office as a textbook. And what better way to learn a language than to watch an hour of Scrubs every night?!
6: Films: British cinema is pretty good, as is French, Spanish and Japanese, but the best films come from Hollywood, make no mistake! Yes, I concur, there is a lot of pap, but there is also an enviable amount of amazing films. If you want to get the most out of the silver screen, watch films in the original. Watching great films to learn a language? I’m in!
7: Work: Obviously, there are several traditional industries that are defined by their reliance on foreign languages, such as tourism and foreign language instruction, but in so many other capacities, knowledge of English is also, if not essential, then highly encouraged. Such professions include business, medicine, work in the hospitality industry, IT, etc.
8: Literature: So many wonderful works have been written in English; the bucolic poetry of Pope, the visceral tragedy of Shakespeare, epics by Milton, and the playful pilgrimage depicted in the Canterbury Tales, and that’s just from England. On the other side of the pond, Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck really did write the great American novel by creating a paradigm shift in the way we view the disenfranchised lower echelons of modern society. But even if we don’t seek such highfalutin, Twinnings totting high literature, there are mountains of good reads such as classical sci-fi from Asimov, game-changing fantasy from Tolkien, and even wonderful children’s literature (Harry Potter and my daughter’s current favourite, Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes). So, what are you waiting for? Get stuck in!
9: Availability of Resources: This is a weird, but perfectly viable reason to choose a language. One of the trickiest aspects of learning a language is often availability of resources. During my failed attempt to learn Icelandic (I gave up to concentrate on other languages- I plan to come back eventually), one of the most frustrating things was the lack of materials. Greek also suffers from a poverty of learners’ resources. But the invisible hand of market economics does not have its death grip on English. On the contrary, besides volumes upon volumes of study materials, there are oodles of films and shows (see above), magazines, books, websites, and other media to help the learner. Less influential languages have these, but the difference is one of quality and quantity of what’s available. It’s simply astonishing.
10: English is Beautiful: It’s true. Even if there were only a handful of people left who could speak it, it wouldn’t change the fact that English is beautiful. From the stress-timed accent of its poetry to its huge, massive, humongous, gargantuan vocabulary, English is impressive just as it is. And this isn’t surprising as the language itself exists as a microcosm of its own history, picking up ideas and expressions wherever it has been defiled or imposed itself upon others. From the Latinate lexicon that permeates its soul to the invasive word-hoard of its Norman yoke; from its acquisition of a Renaissance and Enlightenment scientific terminology to its modern-day dissemination of IT nerd words. English is creative in ways that many languages cannot be due to its own peculiarities of syntax and grammar. English,
In short, English is, like any other language, wonderful!
I hope you've enjoyed this article. Do you agree with the reasons listed? Are there any other reasons that I could have mentioned? Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments.