Yifeng Wang

Why Learn English

So this blog has been pretty quiet since my last post almost a year ago. I’ve actually drafted quiet a few since but none of them made it to the site for various reasons. Today I all of a sudden really, really wanted to put something here, so I picked one from those drafts, did some light editing, and here we go. :)

“How can you not get tired of learning English?”

A friend asked last night while we were having seafood hotpot. “Don’t you get frustrated that even though you study your ass off, your English can’t even be half as good as that of a high schooler from an English speaking country?” he continued, “Don’t you get tired of spending thousands of hours learning something that millions of people born knowing? Plus if you want to watch a TV series or read a book that’s in English, why not just simply wait for the translation to come out.”

Exactly. How can I not?

I couldn’t give my friend a satisfying answer immediately but I was able to more or less solidify my reasoning after some thinking.

Well, the answer is simple: English happens to be the language spoken by people from different areas of the world. I remembered about a story that I learned in middle school, La Dernière Classe (The Last Class) by Alphonse Daudet. The story was about the last French class in a small French town, as the Prussians would soon take the town and there would be no more French class allowed. In the story, M. Hamel, the teacher, told little Frantz, the student and the main character, to never forgot French because language was the key to a culture. This is exactly what English is now. On so many levels, English is the world's lingua franca, the key to the culture of the world.

It’s estimated over 1.2 billions of people speak English worldwide. That’s 1.2 billions of minds from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds. When you know the language spoken by that many, you gain the freedom of confirming information on your own instead of doubting if the translator did a decent job. You gain the freedom of talking to and learning from billions more. You gain the freedom of voicing directly to the world. Admittedly, when speak English, I can’t construct my sentences with eight adjectives and six adverbs but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it to tell what I think. I can’t choose verbs and nouns like a wordsmith does but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell a beautiful and touching story about eat, pray, or love.1 You get the chance to talk with that Indonesian guy who sits next to you on a flight about that very important grumpy cat meme you saw last night because you both speak a little English. You get the chance to go out with that girl from Czech Republic because you like each other and you both speak a little English. You get the chance to discuss how big of a part Matthew McConaughey’s thick accent plays in True Detective with people all over the globe on the internet because you all speak a little English.

So no, I really don’t get tired of learning English. I don’t get frustrated by the fact that my English might never be as good as a native speaker's no matter how hard I try.2 But learning English is not just about mastering. To me, it's about a great communication tool, a language spoken by people from all over the world. That language happens to be English.

  1. I have to admit that I have no idea what the book is about. I do like the name a lot.
  2. Realizing that does hurt a little...