In this article, I will be attempting to answer the question of the title. I will be looking at what purpose learning English serves in our society. Some may think they are happy with their native language, their country, their life. Why should they bother to learn English? I will be offering a look at different situations where a knowledge of English is not only an advantage, but also a necessity.
I would say that globalization came into full force with worldwide access to the internet some years ago. The internet is commonplace today and smartphones have access to it. The internet also offers huge opportunities to businesses for both marketing purposes and for new businesses that are purely online. What is the main language for business? Of course… English!!
China is the most highly and densely populated country in the world and is a strong and ever-growing economic presence. We are all aware of the volume of often low-cost products that China produces, from clothes and household goods to watches and electronic equipment. But is everyone learning Chinese now? No, because Chinese is a difficult language and is beyond the ability of many, whilst English is simpler and more accessible to many.
Where is English spoken?
The UK, US and Canada, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. India uses English to communicate because of the numerous dialects spoken there. Various Caribbean and some Scandinavian countries also use English occasionally.
English is spoken as a first or second language over an extensive geographical area that covers a large part of the globe.
If you want to study abroad for an undergraduate degree, masters, or doctorate in an English speaking country, or in a country where English is the second language, chances are you will need at least an upper intermediate level of English. An academic qualification taken abroad can be a prestigious award leading to a good career. Most universities require that the student passes the IELTS exam with a minimum score of 7.0 in all skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking).
The professional aspect
As mentioned before, English is the international language of business. But English is the language used in ALL professions. Are you a doctor? The most up-to-date articles in your field from the US will be published in English in medical journals. Besides the medical field, science and really most other fields will also be published in English to make the information available to the widest audience possible.
Without English you limit yourself professionally! Conferences are held in English, international meetings are held in English. I once met a lawyer during the course of my work as a teacher. He was a brilliant Italian lawyer. But he never attended any international meetings because he didn’t understand English well enough and didn’t even want to try to learn it. He therefore cut himself off from professional advancement.
Many countries are suffering economically today. Young people, even graduates, are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good job in their native countries. Many do go to say, London, to work with a low level of English, but those people would have an improved chance of a better job with a level of upper intermediate.
Not having at least an intermediate level of English means that these people, although they could try working in another country where English is spoken, are only likely to find low paying jobs such as waiting tables or bar work.
Lack of personal investment in English
In many European countries (not including some Scandinavian countries), English is taught badly in schools and not by native English teachers. English education often consists of doing endless grammar exercises for years and years and at the end of school you can’t conduct anything more than a simple dialogue. To the question “Can you speak English?” - “No, just the English I learned in school.” Well, I’m not going to comment on this situation.
However, what I will say is that if you’re not learning English adequately at school, then why aren’t you taking lessons with a native English speaking teacher independently? The cost is pretty much the price of two pizzas and a couple of drinks in an ordinary pizzeria. Now, of course, there are language teaching websites, such as italki, that offer professional lessons by qualified native English speaking teachers online, often at a fraction of the cost of lessons in person. So, there really is no reason not to improve your English skills.
English for children
If you are a parent, living in a non-English speaking country and you know the schools do not provide good education in the English language, then it is time to think of providing your children with English lessons given by native English speaking teachers. Most reasonably big towns have English schools where qualified native English teachers work. These schools very often run classes for small groups of children. This is an excellent way to start your children off learning English well.
It is also an excellent way to start off because the interaction with other children is enjoyable and the cost of the classes should be less too. At what age should children start? I would say from six years old onwards, as they will have started normal school and learned the concepts of the alphabet, numbers and words. It is not ideal to start much younger. In my experience as a teacher of seven year olds, the word “sponge” does not even come close. The amount this class absorbed in terms of expressions and vocabulary in a single lesson was incredible! This is also a great time for children to copy and practice correct pronunciation. Adults struggle a lot more with this.
The real pleasure
The joy for those who persist in learning English and reach a certain level is the pleasure of being able to watch some great movies and comedies (both American and British) without subtitles. As a British person, I can say that there is a long history of high quality British comedies that I still find incredibly funny and put me in a good mood every time.
The other aspect of understanding without a dividing wall is the vast amount of music produced over the years by the US and the UK and to be able to immediately understand the words of the songs. Aren’t Pink Floyd and Queen worth understanding? I understand the words and I say they are!!
In this article, I have given my answer to the question “Why SHOULD I learn English?” I know for many people the reasons are obvious. However, perhaps I have made certain people become aware of other reasons for being motivated they hadn’t thought of. I want to add at this point that anyone, any age, from any culture can learn English. I have been an English teacher for fourteen years and I always say “There is no such thing as a bad student, only bad teachers”. Of course, some people are more talented than others, but anyone can try.
Nowadays, with the Internet, the financial commitment is very low. There are so many free resources online and an online teacher need not cost too much. Some people may think they don’t have enough time to learn English with all the commitments in their life. Well I, as a teacher, don’t overburden my students with homework. And I say that half an hour a day will lead to improvements in a fairly short time. So, jokingly now, I end my article with the following question: Does anyone think they don’t need to learn English?