Whether you are taking an English class in middle school, high school college or graduate school, you may wonder why English matters, particularly if you plan to study or work in a field in which you think English is irrelevant. Possibly the most important reason to take an English class is its relevance to virtually all fields and careers. Wherever speaking, writing or critical thinking is required, English class is useful.
Analyzing literature in English class challenges you to understand characters’ motivations, cultural contexts, and the causes and effects of various actions in stories’ plot lines. Learning to analyze literature effectively not only teaches you how to better enjoy books, music and film, but also how to better understand the causes and effects taking place in your family, neighborhood and the world around you. English teaches you to understand your world with nuance and conviction.
When teachers ask you to closely analyze a poem or section from a story in English class, the assignment usually asks you to read slowly and to look for metaphors, hear the sounds of the words and figure out as many possible meanings for the text as you can. Close reading teaches you to read between the lines, which is important for everyday tasks such as reading instructions, reading contracts, deciding which hotel to stay in or choosing a mortgage.
Most people learn to write well in English class. Learning to express yourself concisely, accurately and convincingly is not simply a box to check on an assessment test or a grading rubric; if you hope to write emails that earn respect, to enter any career in which communication is essential or simply to speak with authority, learning to write well is important.
Students learn about their own and other cultures not only through reading culturally relevant literature in English class, but also through discussion and writing exercises that draw on students’ biases, feelings and previous knowledge about human cultures to help students rethink their assumptions. English class is important for helping you appreciate diversity, develop sensitivity and, perhaps most importantly, contribute to the future of culture through your writing and critical thinking.
Vocabulary and Grammar
Because English emphasizes reading and writing, your vocabulary and grasp of English grammar will improve if you take English class seriously. The more words you have at your fingertips, and the more comfortable you are using them accurately in sentences, the easier it will be for you to communicate with others. If you speak or hope to speak other languages, studying English vocabulary and grammar will often make learning other languages easier.
Darla Himeles is a freelance writer, editor and poet living in Castine, Maine. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College's English and education programs and a current student in Drew University’s MFA in poetry and poetry in translation program, Himeles writes frequently about education, wellness, writing and literature.