The Number 1 Reason Why Improving Your English Is One of the Best Things You Can Ever Do
A lot of my students want to improve their English because of various reasons. Here are the most common ones I’ve heard in my 7-year teaching career:
- They want to understand and enjoy Hollywood movies, TV series, and songs in English.
- They want or need to go abroad for work, study, or pleasure.
- They feel English is important because it’s ‘the language of the world’.
- They just like English, that’s all.
If you asked me what moved me to get serious about improving my English, I would reply, ‘Because 13 years ago I spoke English like a parrot.’
The day I decided I could no longer afford to speak like a parrot
In the summer of 2008, I was on holiday in Italy with my friends. I was 21 and my English was elementary. I could say a few basic things but wasn’t really able to hold a conversation.
Do you think I cared? Not at all, until one day we met Charly and Karen, two girls from Germany whose English was way better than mine. They actually had better English than all of us except one: Jody. Jody’s English was great and I couldn’t believe my ears when he started chatting with the two Germans.
We became friends with the girls and every time I talked to them and wanted to express something more complex than ‘Do you prefer pizza or pasta?’ or ‘Let’s go to the beach’, I had to ask Jody, ‘Come si dice_______in inglese?’ (Italian for ‘How do you say________in English?’).
Jody would translate and I would repeat the message to them, just like a parrot. Most times he even had to translate what Charly and Karen replied to me as well as I couldn’t understand them.
It was so frustrating.
There were so many things I wanted to say but couldn’t because of my poor English. I couldn’t communicate with these girls the way I wanted.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: you were 21, on a summer holiday, with your male friends, you’re Italian….c’mon…did you really need to tell impressive stories to flirt with them!? You’re right, except for the fact that I couldn’t care less about flirting, not least because my flirting skills were even worse than my English.
Anyway, what I realized through that experience was that my crappy English was a serious limitation for me and what I believed in. Who am I and what do I believe in?
Christian Saunders, an English teacher, and YouTuber I very much admire, asked David Crystal, a British linguist, to talk about some great reasons to learn a language.
This is what Crystal replied:
“Some people are only interested in similarities, but I […] am only interested in differences. I don’t want to spend my whole life just talking to the people I know, who have exactly the same background as me. I want to find out about the diversity that really will give me an insight on what it means to be human. There are something like 6000 languages in the world and I’d love to study all of them because each one has an individual insight into the nature of the human condition like no other language has got.”
I’m quoting Crystal not only to sound smart but also because I can’t find any better words to describe my values. Speaking good English, to me, is all about making connections with others and discovering differences so that I can better understand who I am. That’s all.
Good English has enabled me to connect with people from Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, North and South America. I learned a little bit more about their identity and culture, and came to understand my own more.
And what’s the best way to connect with others? I believe stories work fantastically. Sharing stories about past experiences, moments, places, people, beliefs, visions, failures and successes – I think this is the most authentic way to build relationships, establish connections, and get ‘an insight on what it means to be human.’
So, you really don’t have to learn 6000 languages to understand who you are. Whether you like it or not, English is the global language, which means that it’s the one that members from different communities use to communicate.
Improving the way you use it means improving how you connect with these communities, which has the resulting benefit of getting a better understanding of yourself, your life and culture.
If this isn’t a valid reason for learning, what is?
Here are a couple of links for you:
Canguro English – If you haven’t yet visited Christian’s YouTube channel, do it now here!
Click here to watch the interview with David CrystaI I mentioned in the article.
If you’re wondering why English is the global language, here is a very short video that explains why.