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“Next to money, English is the leading international language.”
—Evan Esar (1899-1995), American humorist
How does learning English open doors for people around the globe? What prejudgments do we make about why others want to learn English? How can we, as English teachers, help students make the most of their language education?
Knowing English makes “Life Good”
For better or for worse, knowing English makes life easier and better. Speaking English allows individuals to communicate with hundreds of millions of other people from around the world. As a result, English speakers are often the more educated, affluent, and successful individuals in several developing countries.
Many document the use of English in advertisements in non-English speaking countries, often portraying English as the language of modernity and prestige. For example, LG Electronics – a Korean company – uses the English phrase “Life’s Good” as an advertising slogan. The clear implication is that buying their products make life good – as does speaking English, since only English speakers can understand their ads. Hence, English has also become a symbol of global sophistication and stylish consumerism.
However, attacking the spread of English remains popular. Globalization critics and ethnic nationalists, especially in smaller countries, have accused English of subverting national and group identities. These critics also include a surprising number of leftist English teachers, who feel seeking worldly success, money, status, or an international spouse is capitalist and elitist.
This ideological analysis seems misguided and ironic. As English teachers and tutors, we need to carefully assess our students’ full range of aspirations and skills as we select and develop materials. Yet assessing English skills does not mean judging students motives or lifestyle choices! As the American poet Walt Whitman advised, “Be curious; not judgmental.”
Choosing student needs remains essential
Above all, we should help our students realize their ambitions, support their dreams, and avoid judging their motives. Our students have chosen to learn English because it opens more doors. Naturally, some doors seem less attractive or honorable than others to me. Yet those same doors appear attractive, honorable, or even necessary, to others. Live and let live.
Regardless of motive, learning English remains a smart choice. It presents possibilities for better-paying jobs and additional choices in pursuing an international education. Plus, it helps immigrants to English-speaking nations adjust to their new homes.
Therefore, shouldn’t we help our English students lead the life they dream of? Which doors would you like to open for your English students?