The Importance of Learning English
In the last few weeks, I have spoken with people from Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore, Vietnam, Sweden, France, the Philippines, Spain, and many more. All people who want to come here and explore Kerinci. Now, I don’t speak German, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Vietnamese, Swiss, Tagalog, Spanish, etcetera. So how can I have conversations with all these different people from across the globe?
Of course, the answer is English.
Did you know that English is widely spoken in 101 countries around the world?
It’s also the most widely studied language, with 1.5 billion learners.
If you know English, really the whole world opens up to you.
So, with that said, here are three main reasons why I believe it’s important to learn English.
The first reason is for knowledge.
We’re living in the Information Age. There has never been a time on this planet where people have had such incredible access to the cumulative knowledge of mankind, so easily accessible in the palm of one’s hand. The amount of new discoveries that come out daily, the amount of research and exciting ideas being produced, is unprecedented in human history.
Like it or not, English is the universal language of science. In SCOPUS, the world’s largest database of scientific journals, 80% of the publications are in English. Every single one of the top research journals in the world, from medical journals, to life sciences, to technology, to psychology, are all in English. Are you hoping to study abroad, or even get an advanced degree here in Indonesia? Chances are, you’ll need to know English in order to really excel.
Even the majority of the internet is in English. Over 55% of all the webpages in the world are in English, far more than any other language.
If you don’t believe me, I think Wikipedia is a good example of this. Open virtually any Wikipedia page in Indonesian. Say, Cassava. Ketela Pohon/Ubi Kayu.
Not bad right? A fair amount of information is there. But then switch to the English version, Cassava. How much more! And especially notice how many more references are cited, if you want to learn more or check the facts.
So, the other day there was a cobra at my house. Wanting to learn more about the species, and particularly if there was an available antivenom, I started my search for information at Wikipedia, as I usually do. Again, when comparing between the English and Indonesian Wikipedia, we see the same situation – there’s so much more information in English. And ironically, there aren’t even cobras in English speaking countries! Notice once again the difference in the amount of references between the two versions – and that even the references listed in the Indonesian article are mostly in English! And these two examples are actually pretty generous – most Wikipedia articles don’t even have Indonesian versions at all.
That concludes the first major point – if you really want to increase your knowledge, you should be motivated to learn English.
I believe the second major reason it’s important to learn English is for business and financial benefits
There’s actually research that shows there is a correlation between the English proficiency of a country, and their gross national income. Especially in this globalized world, knowing English brings financial benefit.
Likewise, there’s a correlation between knowing English and a country’s ranking on the Human Development Index. Countries with high quality of English generally are better educated, have longer life expectancies, high literacy rates, and higher standards of living.
This trend even applies to individual households in Indonesia.
In the English At Work report by Cambridge English, their survey found that 87% of the Indonesian employers that they surveyed said that English is significant for their organization. This means that, knowing English will more easily help you to find a job.
The same survey found that 55% of the Indonesian companies surveyed would pay a higher income to employees with good English proficiency. Again, knowing English can help you make more money.
I see this even here in Kerinci, where I’m involved in tourism. An English-speaking guide makes on average at least 50% more than a non-English speaking guide or porter. Their guests, from countries around the world, are willing to pay more for someone that can speak English to them, even though most of the visitors here are not native speakers either! In fact, most foreign visitors won’t even consider taking a guide that doesn’t have some level of English proficiency. And they often wouldn’t even know how to contact one ahead of time without seeing an English language website or recommendations from other English speakers.
Even farmers can benefit greatly from English proficiency. So many of the products here in Kerinci, like coffee and cinnamon, are exported to foreign countries. Being able to negotiate prices and logistics directly with importers, rather than going through many different middlemen, can greatly increase the amount of money that stays in this community. Farmers can also study for themselves growing trends, such as the increased demand for crops like avocados or improvements in farming methods, and adjust their crops and growing techniques to capitalize on this information.
In short, no matter the economic sector you work in, there can be significant financial benefit to knowing English.
The final major reason it’s important to learn English, is because it’s just plain fun!
No matter your taste in music, movies, books, TV shows, comics, or computer games, there really is something for everyone. The amount of entertainment available in English is ridiculous. English also allows one to make friends from around the world – on Facebook you can enjoy political or religious conversations, and discuss other shared interests and hobbies with people from literally every corner of the globe. You can watch or maybe even create Youtube videos for others to appreciate.
But ultimately, the most important reason to learn English is really whatever *you* say it is. What motivates you to want to learn? Take a moment to focus and remind yourself why you want to learn, so that you can be inspired once again to continue that journey of growing in your English ability, and reaping all of the benefits that come with it.
As I return this microphone, please turn to the person next to you, and tell them what it is that is motivating you to improve your English skills.
Thanks for your time!
Five practical tips for learning English:
1) Listen as much as you can.
Not so much music or movies, which can be too difficult at first, and often too abstract. But explore the many, many English audio lessons available online. Watch interesting Youtube videos (feel free to use subtitles). Watch television shows for children. These things are very helpful, and are what I often used when first learning Indonesian.
2) Read as much as you can.
Get in the habit of reading the news, like the BBC, CNN, and Jakarta Post. Usually the English is not too complicated in these. Read children’s books. Storynory (http://www.storynory.com/) is a great resource, with both audio and text. Download the Kindle App and find free books. There are so many resources. Reading books is the main way native speakers, both children and adults, increase their vocabulary, grammar, and even writing skills – not to mention intelligence! If you aren’t in a habit of reading books, learning English will be slow and boring.
3) Find people to chat with, both in person and online.
Both native speakers and English learners. Form a club with your friends, and agree to speak only English when you meet. Play English games together. Watch and discuss English movies or television shows together. Form a book club, and discuss a book together. Read the news and talk about current events. Join Facebook groups for other people learning English – although be very careful because there are some creepy people out there!
4) Have fun and follow your interests.
If English is just an academic subject, if it’s boring to learn, you won’t be motivated to keep practicing. What are your hobbies and interests outside of English? Cooking? Photography? Travelling? Fashion? Football? Computer games? Whatever it is, find an English website to read or community to join on this topic. Read blogs, watch Youtube videos, read the news on that topic. When you see new words or phrases, write them down in a journal (or the Google Translate app), in context, to help you remember it later. Doing those things will keep you motivated to be in English, and you’ll suddenly realize that you are learning without just boring study.
5) Don’t be afraid of failure!
As mentioned before, just try! If you see a foreign tourist, be friendly and try to talk to them. Ask them how long they have been in Kerinci. How long they have been travelling in Indonesia or in the world. What are the fun things they have seen? Your grammar will not be perfect! Your pronunciation will not be perfect! But that’s ok! You can still communicate. They don’t expect you to have perfect English. It’s very likely, even with many mistakes, they can still understand what you are saying. In fact, their English probably isn’t perfect either. That’s one thing that’s great about English – it’s easy to be understood even if you have bad grammar. The important thing is to try. Both with foreigners and your friends. You won’t get better unless you practice. Learning English is pointless if you are just studying books and never using it in real life – language is meant for communicating!
One of the best English speakers I know in Kerinci is my friend who never finished SMP. He learned from being brave and practicing speaking with foreign tourists, from reading books outside of school, and eventually watching television. You do not need a university degree to learn English. You just need to try and fail and try again!
Just as a child does when they’re learning to talk for the first time!
I won’t say “Good Luck”….but rather “Work and Play Hard!”
Some resources you might find useful:
TED Talks: https://www.ted.com/
TED Education: https://www.youtube.com/user/TEDEducation
Sacha Stevenson: https://www.youtube.com/user/sasaseno
Korean Englishman: https://www.youtube.com/koreanenglishman
Books and Stories:
Kindle App: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/fd/kcp
Games and ideas for an English Club: