English: Good or Bad?

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As some languages face extinction, English is taking a majestic walk through the globe. It is spreading at a higher rate in England’s post imperial period than it did when England was a mighty empire with numerous colonies under its arm. Regions of the world that never appreciated the language have toned down their Anglophobia, and they are now imbibing the language with zeal. Japan would not take anything to do with English at some point; instead they put a lot of emphasis on Japanese. They achieved a degree of success. But today young people in Japan are immersed in hip hop that has its roots in the African American community in the United States of America, and the vehicle for this is English (Condry 2006 pp.449).It is not this paper’s intention to argue out a specific thesis but to look at both sides of the coin. The aim is to see what the globe is gaining as it allows the uninterrupted trek of English and what it is putting on the line in return.

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What does the world gain by allowing for the dominance of English? I will boldly state that there is more literature condemning the spread of English than there is pointing out the benefits that English has given to people as it attempts to make itself a single vehicle of communication. Alistair Pennycook (2003) brings out the fact that natives of English benefit from the spread of English than non natives (pp.520). Is this not expected? Natives naturally know how to speak the language better than non-natives. This is also true for a non-native who is born or brought up in an environment where a certain language that does not belong to his or her native people is spoken.

Some scholars have read more into the match of English. Canagarajah thinks it is a deliberate move by the powerful English speaking countries in the world to spread English(1991).This is an outlying opinion because in the twenty first century, no one can force another person to learn a new language if he or she does not want. In a closely related opinion, Phillipson (1992) thinks that the spread of English as elements of imperialism to it (pp.11-14). The ever growing roots of globalization have reduced the world to a village and allowed competition to increase for scarce resources. People therefore make the choice to learn a new language on the understanding that they will gain an edge. But what are the real benefits we get by learning another language?

With all the sad stories being raised about English as a language, some of these concerns are genuine. But there should be a deliberate move made especially by non native English speakers to remedy the problems that arise from taking up a second language. This means any second language, and not just English. It can be French, Spanish, Swahili or Arabic.

Among the genuine concerns that have been raised over the global spread of English is the demise of other languages (Crystal 2000, pp. 17).A new generation is coming up of young people who are born in areas where their native languages are not in common use. This is especially true for urban areas, particularly where the well to do live (Grenoble & Whaley 1998, pp.1-2).The irony that has always existed in this language debate is that the people who have the responsibility to preserve native languages are the ones who engage in activities that negatively impact on their languages (Dalby 2002, pp.107).This is true for the schooled or educated ones as well as the economically empowered. Chief among the reasons for the manifest preference of English to their native languages is the illusion that English connotes class. This colonial mentality is one of the remnants of colonialism that is yet to be uprooted from the minds of many, especially in the third world.

Moving away from the demise of the local languages, a bigger threat exists. Language is closely connected with the way of life of the people. The death of language therefore naturally translates into the death of culture. This is a challenge to be tackled by communities facing rapid erosion of integrity of their native languages. The culture of a people starts with the mode of communication, which is language. Through native languages; younger generations are given finer details of the way of life in communities. But can this happen when younger generations cannot get a single word from their elders? This is definitely like a pipedream. I am sure no one at this point in history wants to see the disappearance of any culture.

Far from the above, there is the big role that has been played by English for a long time now. It is the vehicle through which ways that are not part of indigenous cultures have been spread around the world. And why should this be a problem? It is a problem because voids left by native ways of doing things are hurriedly filled by non-native or foreign cultures. What people want to do is to learn new things as they keep their own with them. That is what is supposed to be happening. But this is not English does. To some degree, this whole occurrence can be blamed on the new language.

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The next problem that comes with English is a shameful one. It is the arising of a unique case of language barrier. In this case, children cannot effectively communicate with some members of the family especially the old ones such as grandparents on the basis of the kids not knowing their mother’s language. In most cases these children have been born and brought up in towns and all they speak is English. They have effectively forgotten their native language or sometimes they have never heard a word of it; if they were born in the urban area.

The existence of problems does not mean that English is that bad. In fact by the end of this paper, I will have proven that English if good afterall. How wide open are doors of opportunity when we can speak a language that is widely spoken and used in the business world? As wide open as the vast blue seas! This is one advantage of studying English. The spread of the language of those in the seat of power is a historical fact. When the Romans were the most powerful, men jostled for Latin. The United Kingdom may not be as powerful as it used to be sometimes back but it still holds sway. Then it should be remembered that the legacy of English that it passed on to the United States still lives on. As the most powerful nation on earth, the United States still uses English that has its roots in the United Kingdom, its former colonizer. All the Americans did was to make alterations and come up with what they call the American English. With these in mind, there is no doubt that if a Swahili speaking country were to become economically powerful today, Swahili would become a valued language.Learning English then prepares one for a life of unlimited opportunities.

Speaking about opportunities, there are more of them in the ever expanding field of technology. Technological advances are very important to modern life. Most of the technological advances take place in Britain and the United States where the vehicle for scientific and technological discourse is English. These technologies are needed so badly by the rest of the world where English may not be so prevalent. In this case, the need for learning English has an advantage as it will enable the local people make use of new technologies that are now available but can only be used by a person who has sufficient knowledge of English. Such technologies include machines such as computers, photocopiers, printing presses and projectors.

Leaving that aside, learning a widely spoken language is a step towards world unity. We cannot keep on talking as if the language belongs to any one person. Anybody has the express permission of learning any language and using it in day to day conversation. The biggest way in which to unite people in any one place is to give them the ability to speak one language. They will be able to understand one another, share ideas and advance the course of humanity. It is a sure way of reducing conflicts. If this is so, then what is the other way of increasing harmony in the world? Teach everyone english.Using another language would have been an equally good idea but it will take a long time since it will mean that it starts at zero. Taking up English which has already traveled far and wide will be the best thing to do because it will take a shorter time to make reasonable progress given that much of the work is already accomplished.

Moving away from the benefit of unity, who does not want to learn another language? Is there anyone who does not want to become versatile by speaking more than one language? This is the edge the young generation has over the old people. The young ones speak more than one language (Zurer & Language 2008, pp. 5). It is true that speaking a second and even a third language assists in widening the social circle of an individual and being ready to fit in a new job market where the other language is spoken and compete favorably (King & Mackay 2007, pp.23). This is however not always true. Pennycook agrees that natives will always have an advantage over the people learning the language as a second language. This is true given the fact that they are born and brought up in that culture and therefore mastering their language is part of the advantages that come with being a native. But with effort, even those studying English as a second language can always make it like all the rest and thus widen our field of operation through being able to do as many things as possible and changing from one to the other as it may be dictated by circumstances (Steiner & Hayes 2007, pp.78).

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The last good area that English has helped enrich is education. The best institutions are in the developed world where the language of instruction is English. Thus in the absence of knowledge of this language, a number of people would be missing the ability to study in this prestigious intstitutions, English prepares them for this. Therefore as English makes its strides across the globe, those studying it are being prepared to grab the scarce educational opportunities in the best schools in the world where content delivery is in English. Thus it is true to say that English prepares one for educational opportunites, given that as a popular language, it is widely used as the language of instruction.

In conlusion, it is evident that English is gaining more dominance in the world today. It also is true that it is facing immense negative publicity from people who feel that non-natives are not treated equally with native speakers and that English is spread by people who want to spread it knowingly. It however has genuinely negative effects such as the demise of native languages, the demise of local cultures and the introduction of foreign cultures. The validity of some of these assertions is questionable.

The good side of the language seems to be heavier than the bad side. What is gained by embracing the language is far much bigger than what is lost. The first area of benefit is in terms of opportunities for people who understand English since it is widely spoken especially in business circles. Then there is the ability to grasp technology when it is delivered in English, the ability to live harmoniously due to a shared language and the room for versatility. There is also the opening of doors into the academic world where English is used for instruction.

References

Canagarajah, S. (1991). Resisting Linguistic Imperialism In English Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.

Condry, I., (2006). Hip Hop Japan: Rap And The Paths Of Cultural Globalization.London: Duke University Press

Crystal, D. (2000). Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dalby, A (2002). Language In Danger: How Language Loss Threatens Our Future.New York: Penguin

Grenoble, L &Whaley, L (1998).Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

King, K & MacKay, A. (2007).The Bilingual Edge: Why When and How To Teach Your Child A Second Language. New York: Harper Paperbacks.

Pennycook, A. (2003). Global Linguistics: Rip, Slyme and Performativity.Journal Of Sociolinguistics.7.4 pp 513-533

Philipson, R. (1992).Linguistic Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Steiner, N & Hayes, S (2008) Seven Steps to Raising a bilingual Child. New York: AMACOM.

Zurer, B &Language, L. (2008).Raising a Bilingual Child New. York: Living Language.

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