May 2010

A new school year has begun, and so now many students are starting to study English in class for the first time. I sometimes see my students wondering, "Why do have I to learn English?" And that's not an easy question for me to answer.

It's not because I don't know the answer. The problem is that there are many good reasons why it's important to study English, but they're all rather difficult to explain to young people.

The first, and easiest, point is that English is useful. It gives you tools and opportunities that otherwise you might not have. That's because English has become the main international language. A scientist who knows English can collaborate with others around the world, making research and development much easier. Many companies these days have to do business in many countries, so a company employee who knows English often has more opportunities for promotion. If you want to travel to other countries, or talk to visitors from other countries, knowing English is extremely useful.

But there's more to it than that. When I was a child in school, I had to study French. And I didn't like it very much. The hardest part was learning the rules of advanced grammar. "Why do I need to learn this?", I often asked to myself. But then I discovered something surprising. By learning how French grammar worked, I started to understand more about how my own language worked as well. It turns out that I wasn't just learning French — I was learning the rules of language and communication in general.

Learning a second language — any language — is like exercise for the mind. It stretches your imagination and understanding in new ways, and allows you to understand new concepts. It teaches you how to interpret things in many different ways — not just in language, but in art, and science, and every other field of study.

That's what I want my students to understand. As we say in English: "Knowledge is power".

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