28 Nov 2007

Why Study English?

April 2010
from MacLean's Magazine: "French is out of fashion in Rwanda" by Kaj Hasselriis

When Governor General Michaelle Jean visits Rwanda next week, she might have to bite her tongue about the country's new language policy. After a century of close ties to France and Belgium, the East African nation is phasing out francais and embracing English. "English is becoming more and more dominant in the world,," says Arnaud Nkusi, anchor of Rwanda's state-owned TV news. It's all about business. You have to move with the rest of the world." Full story here.

June 2010
From antimoon.com: "Why Learn English?"

What are you interested in? Is it science? Music? Computers? Health? Business? Sports? Today's media — such as the Internet, television, and the press — give you almost unlimited access to knowledge about your favorite subjects. After all, we live in the information age, don't we?

There's only one problem. Most of this knowledge is in English. Here are some examples of knowledge you can use if you know English:

  • Most pages on the Web. That's over a billion (1,000,000,000) pages of information! It's amazing that learning just one language gives you access to almost all knowledge on the Internet.
  • Books — on any subject, from all over the world. Read books by British or American authors, and books translated from other languages. Whatever you're interested in, you can read about it in English!
  • The press. Only English-language magazines and newspapers can be bought in every part of the world. You don't have to search for Time, Newsweek, or the International Herald Tribune!
  • Science. English is the key to the world of science. In 1997, 95% of the articles in the Science Citation Index were written in English. Only about 50% of them were from English-speaking countries like the USA or Britain.
  • News reports. Watch international television networks, such as CNN International and NBC. They broadcast news much faster, and more professionally, than smaller, national networks. And you can watch them everywhere in the world.
  • Communicate with people. We like to call English "the language of communication". Why? Because it seems all the people in the world have agreed to use English to talk to each other. About 1,500,000,000 people in the world speak English. Another 1,000,000,000 are learning it.
  • 75% of the world's letters and postcards are written in English.
  • Almost all international conferences and competitions are conducted in English.
  • Diplomats and politicians from different countries use English to communicate with each other. English is the main language of organizations like the United Nations, NATO, and the European Free Trade Association. Read more here

From from The Economist, March 7, 2009:
Language and trade (Letters)

SIR- Charlemagne lamented the fact that English has arisen as the main language that Europeans choose to learn while Anglophones remain monolingual (February 14th). In his gloominess, Charlemagne missed an important point: the linguistic unification of Europe can yield economic returns in addition to the cultural and social ones enjoyed by those of us who speak English, whether or not it is our first language.

In a recent paper, we found that bilateral trade between European countries depends positively on the probability that two randomly chosen individuals, one from each country, would be able to communicate with each other in english. We predicted that if knowledge of English in all European countries increased by ten percentage points, European trade would rise by 15% on average. Bringing all European countries up to the level of English proficiency enjoyed by the Dutch could increase European trade by up to 70%.

This comes close to the gains reckoned to accrue from adopting the euro. But unlike joining the euro and having to give up your currency, you need not give up your own language to use English. Our analysis does not hinge on English enjoying official-language status across Europe, only that Europeans are able to speak it well.

Jan Fidrmuc
Senior Lecturer in economics
Brunel University

Jarko Fidrmuc
Professor of political economy
University of Munich

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