Every English learner has a reason for wanting to learn. Besides the usual reasons, though, is there a reason that is more powerful and more motivating?
The Usual Reasons for Learning English:
- English is the world language with over a billion learners, so I have to study it.
- I want to go to a great university, so I need a high English test score.
- I can’t get that job promotion and make more money without a certain TOIEC score.
These are great reasons for learning English, but will they really motivate you? Does anyone ever really enjoy doing something because they ‘have to’? What happens after you get into a great school, or get a job promotion?
I believe there is a much greater reason–a reason that steps back from the superficial gains that someone can gain from learning English.
The Idea of Connectivity
The greatest reason for learning English that I teach my students is the idea of connectivity.
If you really understand the idea of connectivity, I believe it can motivate you so much more than any other reason.
The beautiful thing is, it is not confined to English. It just happens that the world we live in is speaking in English.
If the world was speaking any other language, we still have this idea of connectivity.
The idea will only motivate you if you let it take root in your mind and really understand it.
To really understand it, we need to take a look at the big picture of where language came from and how we live in a special time in history that is about so much more than taking tests.
Our First Language and Perspective
First, let’s think about how amazing language is, and how much our first language shapes who we really are.
Our first language is absorbed from the environment around us from the time before we are even born. Recent research has shown that new born babies respond differently to their parents’ language than they do to languages they hear for the first time–supporting that language acquisition begins before birth.
Of course, new borns don’t understand either language, but it’s interesting because it shows how much and how early language begins to shape the way we think.
As we grow, our language also gives us a certain perspective on the world. People from different language backgrounds even create memories in different ways–influenced by the perspective their language gives them.
Where does that perspective come from?
In my opinion, language and the understanding it gives people is greatly affected by culture.
Where does culture come from? There are many answers for that. The way I like to think about it is:
The environment around us creates a cause at some point in time, which becomes history. Culture is then the effect, or result. Language is how people communicate that effect.
In other words, culture is the way a group of people with common history and customs perceive the world, and language is how they come to understand it as a group.
Because language is inseparable from culture, learning another language changes how our own mind perceives the world, and shows us how people from a different background think in ways that are new to us.
The absorption and understanding of another culture is what people generally term as ‘open-minded’, and learning a second language is the best way I know for opening your mind.
If we ever want to live in a unified world, sharing culture and understanding is the best chance we have.
The Internet has created a time of global connectivity that brings us all together.
Disconnect to Re-connect: A Brief History
Why is the idea of connectivity so important?
To answer that, we need to look at where we came from and how we got so separated as a species.
(I have tried to streamline human evolution, history, and language into a quick read. I apologize in advance for the very simple and abridged version I’ve come up with.)
Humans are an interesting animal because we had an origin, but spread around the entire world for various reasons (there are many theories that try to explain these reasons).
Some linguists focus their research on trying to trace language to it’s origin. While that is an interesting pursuit, I find the results of that global spread to be much more fascinating.
One of those results was about 7,000 languages that are spoken today.
Humans, from their very social nature, have always had a need to communicate with one another. Over time and space, those needs continued to change, shaped by different events.
When tribes of humans started to move out of Africa in search of a suitable environment (eg. food sources, climate, etc.), they took innate communication skills with them.
Tribes spread, grew, split, and moved again. As new external factors from the environment were experienced by different tribes, the language they used to understand those experiences and communicate them to others also changed.
I imagine new language was needed to communicate danger, location, new kinds of climate and geography, etc. to other members in the group.
This continued to happen over and over again until about 10-14,000 years ago when humans began to develop agriculture and domestication.
These new inventions, based again on the environment where their ancestors had settled, created a whole new era for language development–more elaborate forms of government, religion, architecture, public works, etc. all needed to be communicated.
Settlements grew, and those environments that supported large populations became the centers for large civilizations.
Those centers that experienced rapid growth, ultimately lead to a need to look outside of the local area and explore other areas for resources that could support their growth.
This gave rise to other needs to communicate–organizing, trade, business, monetary systems, etc.
Civilizations grew as people from large cities expanded outward and encountered other groups of people along the way.
From this point, you probably know the story from your ancient history classes.
(By the way, Jared Diamond does a much better job expalining this).
That quick history illustrates how we are connected to an origin, but have lived disconnected for so long. Cultural differences and evolution are only a result of environment and the different needs people around the world had to adapt to.
The diversity that was created as a result really is amazing.
Connectivity is about Communication
And now, more than ever, we can really benefit from that diversity by sharing thousands of years worth of knowledge and understanding.
We really should feel honored to live in our current world.
Unlike any other time before, we now have the ability to create global communities, driven by the conversations between individuals.
It is not governments or religious powers that are leading the conversations, but real people with real reasons to communicate.
We now have the best chance we’ve ever had to work together, but it all begins with communicating and sharing our language, culture, and ideas with others around the world.
English is the glue that will hold it all together. Through a common language, we can teach each other so many things and accomplish so much more.
Whatever goals you may have for learning English, keep the idea of connectivity in the back of your mind. It will always be there as motivation to propel you forward–to live a life of learning.
What do you do next?
Once you get a higher grade on a test, or get a job promotion, you can be happy that you met your goals. But you must then decide what you are going to do with English after that.
Hopefully, you won’t just sit in your office and forget it.
Hopefully, you’ll continue to learn, teach, build, and accomplish great things with others from around the world.