Aiyshah had a fascinating post on their blog called “Is English Hijacking the World’s Intelligence?” You can check out the original article here .
As I wrote on in the comments, I don’t necessarily think that the fact that English has become the central language for academics and commerce is a bad thing. Rather, I see it as a common (and necessary) cycle, with certain languages gaining ascendancy and then falling out of use over time (think Latin, Greek, and French). As an English teacher, I’m blessed to be living in a time when the language I teach happens to be the dominant language for international dealings (whether those dealings be academic or business), but I don’t think that will always be the case; with time, English will be replaced by some other language (probably an Asian language, but you never know) as the center of power shifts from England and the US to some other part of the world.
But it made me wonder…are we as native English speakers really taking advantage of the priviledge of living during a time when our language is the dominant one? I’m not going to bash “text speak” here, or “emoticons” (although one of my favorite internet jokes is the one that says that the modern internet has basically become ancient Egypt; we write in symbols and worship cats) or any of the other modern aberrations from the language. (Okay, I guess I am bashing them just a little. Bear with me.)
We live in a time when English is the current dominant world language, used to connect disparate languages and culture across the globe….and yet American children are famously bad at reading, writing, and even speaking their own language. Surely we should put as much effort into learning our own language as other cultures do?
This train of thought is not new to me. It was beautifully expressed in the movie My Fair Lady, where Eliza’s grand triumph comes from a celebrated language master’s declaration that she is a fraud, a phony, not a native-born English lady as she is trying to claim, because
“Her English is too good,” he said; “This clearly indicates that she is foreign.
Whereas others are instructed in their native language, English people aren’t.”
And then promptly goes on to declare street-urchin Eliza a Hungarian princess, based solely on the strength of her English.
Working at the school, you do occasionally find parents who simply don’t care that much about their child’s English. Meeting with them to discuss problems their students are having in class, their response is often something along the lines of “Well, it doesn’t really matter; I sent them to this school for x reasons, so it doesn’t matter if they struggle in English.” Although I as a teacher would like for every student to reach their full potential in my class, it’s hard to argue with their logic; they WILL be able to get through the rest of their lives even if they fail English to the day they graduate. (Although, normally those students who struggle in my class also have wider behavior or learning related problems. In fact, I don’t think I’ve *ever* had a student struggle in my class who was not also struggling in his or her native language classes.)
And yet those parents are a minority. The vast majority of parents worry about their child’s English, look for ways to help them practice at home, and discipline them if they find out that they’re goofing off in class. It’s important to them.
Is it as important to us?