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...

I Write

When I get bored,1 I write. Most of the time, I don’t care about the content. I just write.

I love writing on iPad. The experience feels calming. Editorial, Byword, iA Writer, Daedalus Touch...you name it; I have it. Now, I’m writing in 1Writer, which recently got an awesome update. Sometimes I hook up my iPad with a keyboard and sometimes I just type on the glass screen, like now.

I love technology, but I wouldn’t call myself tech savvy. I’m far from being qualified. I barely know anything about programming—I can’t even make an AppleScript all by myself. However, all those rocket-science-looking things don’t scare me off. I love playing with them. I set up this blog on Scriptogr.am, a Dropbox based blog service. With zero knowledge, I tweaked the site's HTML and CSS by guessing, trusting my gut, and searching online (thanks, kind people on the internet), trying to satisfy my aesthetic as much as I can.

I've never promoted the blog; not even posting links on Twitter. The reason? I’m not sure. Maybe I just don't feel like it.

Pretty pointless, huh? Isn’t my kind of writing a waste of time, time that can be used for something more important in life? But who can say for sure what are the more important things in life? I know I can’t.

So write, I do.

  1. And sometimes not.

The One That I Can Go To

Jakub Arnold in his How To Teach Your Girlfriend Programming:

I wanted my girl to be the person I go to whenever I find something new that excites me, and I wanted her to understand it.

I don’t know about programming, but neither is this about programming. I hope when I get excited about some music I just listened to, a book I just read, or a movie—or even a basketball game I just watched, she can be the one that I can go to.

And Yes, Social Media Does Work

Does social media actually work? The answer depends on what you consider social media’s job (besides making money) is. For me, one important job for social media is helping people stay connected with their friends. And yes, social media does that job quite well.

The most basic action that you might take on almost all kinds of social media is posting. You go on social sites to post things, things about yourself. They can be words, photos, videos, or links—all kinds of stuff. What you post keeps friend updated about you, the current you. Via social media, your friends get to know about your new haircut, your new baby dog, the crazy party that you went to last Friday night, the song that you are insane about recently, the new movie that you went to theatre for and considered a total waste of two hours, and the Europe traveling you are planning on...

But why is it so important to tell your friends something about you? Or why would they give a heck about my crap, you might ask. They will, because they are your friends and they do give a heck about you. You meet friends in different life stages—high school, college, different jobs, and so on. But you and some of yours friend might be lack of topics to talk about after a while not seeing each other, and gradually you are less of friends. You don’t want this to happen; you try to make things like you were still living together (just like in school). So you call your friends, text them, and email them. But still, gradually, you don’t know what to call about, to text about, or to email about. Soon, you know less and less about your friends, and so do them. Sure you can just let things go and maybe cut these friends out eventually. But what if you don’t want to? What if some of them you treasure too much to lose? And of course there are some. That’s why you were trying to do all those calling, texting, and emailing in the first place. As you can see, keeping your friends informed via call, text, or email is something really hard (and almost impossible) to do in the long run. You need to know your friends enough to keep those phone calls going. But you don’t. You don’t know what happened to them recently. Social media helps solve this problem (not entirely, but still).

Besides, traditional methods require you and your friends to be involved at the same time. However, your friends don’t usually have free time when you want to call them. Social media, on the other hand, can be used by you and your friends at different time. You post a photo of your new baby dog while you’re walking him in the sunset, and your friends can see it and maybe reply to (or comment on) during their tea break the next day. To some degree, traditional methods are instant while social media is idle.

People used to lose friends because of losing connections. But with the development of modern technology, what happened doesn’t necessarily have to happen again.