In today's global economy, it's almost impossible to measure the value of learning the English language because, frankly, not learning it isn't an option. After all, according to the "Oxford English Dictionary," English is the true global language, with an estimated "one out of four people worldwide" speaking English "with some degree of competence." Moreover, the English language "has official or special status in at least 75 countries (with a combined population of two billion people)," says the British Council.
According to the British Council, "English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising." Therefore, in order to enjoy reading the latest Stephen King or James Lee Burke novel; to stay abreast of local, regional and international events; to navigate around a busy airport terminal; to participate in global business affairs or even to enjoy popular tunes on your CD player or iPod, you must have some comprehension of the English language.
According to the British Council, three quarters of the world's mail is written in English and 80 percent of the world's electronically stored information is in English. Additionally, "Of the estimated 200 million users of the Internet, some thirty-six percent communicate in English." When you consider these numbers, the value of learning English becomes apparent, for without at least a working knowledge of the language, you will lack the ability to communicate, at least effectively, with other people around the globe.
According to Bill Bryson, author of "The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way," what sets English apart from other languages and makes it the number one language is the richness of its vocabulary. In fact, more English words are in common use around the globe than those of any other country because, as Bryson says, "English speakers can often draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-English speakers." For example, French speakers "cannot distinguish between house and home, between mind and brain, and between man and gentlemen." Consequently, learning English will allow you to interpret the world around you more descriptively and effectively.
The English language is more flexible than any other language, although this flexibility is what makes learning English perplexing and at times frustrating for non-native speakers. Yet, as Bryson maintains, the flexibility of English allows speakers to "roam with considerable freedom" between the passive and the active. For example, you can say, "I ate the cake" or "The cake was eaten by me," and such dual constructions are impossible in other languages. In addition, the English language contains many words that can operate in more than one capacity; for example, the word "love" can be a noun, a verb or an adjective. Thus, learning English will provide you with more ways to express yourself.
Both spelling and pronunciation are less complex in English than in other languages. According to Bryson, one reason this is true is because English contains "fewer of the awkward consonant clusters and singsong tonal variations that make other languages so difficult to master." For instance, as Bryson relates, "In Cantonese, 'hae' means 'yes.' But, with a fractional change of pitch, it also describes the female pudenda." Moreover, words in many other languages are often formed with combinations of letters that make them almost impossible to pronounce, for example, the word "cwrw," which means beer in Welsh. For this reason, learning English will allow you to communicate more easily and with less danger of being misunderstood.
- British Council; "The English Language"
- "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way"; Bill Bryson; 1990; pp. 13-16
A college instructor for more than 14 years, Carol Rzadkiewicz earned a Master of Arts from the University of West Georgia. She is also a freelance writer and author of three published novels, and her work has appeared in such print publications as “Predicate Magazine” and “The New Review."