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Why is English Important?

I began my career in ESL as a public school teacher in South Korea. On my first day of class, the principal asked me to give the students a discussion question: “Why is English important?”

The first three answers my students gave were joke answers. “English is important because we’re sitting in English class right now,” one girl said. Then a boy smiled and said “English is important because Spider-Man is in English!” The third answer got the biggest laugh. “English is important,” another boy shouted, “Because Mr. Park is president!” At the time, South Korea’s newly elected President Park had was on TV almost every day talking about the importance of learning English.

Although my students were just trying to be funny, they gave the big three reasons that English may be important: their immediate situation (being in English class), their personal interests (Spider-Man), and the situation in their country and world (their President’s policies).

If you are reading this, your immediate situation is pretty obvious. You are considering taking the TOEFL. Your personal interests are something you can easily figure out on your own too. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, there is so much entertainment and information in English that you can always find something that interests you.

However, sometimes your immediate situation or your interests aren’t very motivating. Learning the TOEFL and getting a degree at an English-language college or university can help you get ahead. But it’s usually not your only option. And there’s got to be plenty of entertainment and interesting information available in your own language. When your circumstances and interests aren’t enough to motivate you, sometimes looking at the “big picture” can really help.

So why is English important? Why do heads of state encourage people to learn it? Why are there tests for English that people take, all around the world?

Much of English’s importance is an accident of history. Between the 1500s and early 1900s, England became one of the most powerful nations in the world, conquering many countries and trading with many others. England’s empire shrunk and eventually disappeared during World War I and World War II. As Britain’s Empire went away, another English speaking country became very powerful worldwide. The United States gained a lot of influence because of its participation in the World Wars. And so, between the British Empire and America’s influence, the world has been dominated by English speakers for the last 500 years.

Many of my students have told me this isn’t really fair. I agree. I don’t like the idea that one group of people has more influence in the world than another. However, the power of English has some advantages. Having a single global language that’s spoken by people from around the world is useful. English helps people to share their ideas and get to know each other, even when their cultures and native languages are very different. To write or speak in English is to have a voice that can be heard around the world. English is a powerful tool that lets you say what you want to whom you want. It’s a global language that lets you and your ideas travel more freely. Before we had a world language, no one had the power you can have now, the true ability to be a global citizen.

Maybe in your current situation you don’t absolutely need to improve your English. Maybe you like television and books in your native language perfectly well. But if you look at your country and the world, I think you’ll find that improving your English can always help you improve your situation and follow your interests. Coming to a website like this one could be your first step to better living through your second language. And reminding yourself of the power of global language can really motivate you to reach your target score on the TOEFL.

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