Jul 152009

Here’s an interesting question that one of our readers posed. The question elicits thought.  We’d be interested in your comments and thoughts.

in china the english teacher always teach englisn grammar , instead of english story.so students all bore of english lesson. but i think englisn is not a knowledge , it is a tool ,we can ues it to make our life, to do our business,to trip globe. is this right? please send your opinion to me by email. my email adress is XXX@XXX.com  thank you.

We responded this way:


Thanks for writing to us!

I have enjoyed reading your comment. Is English “knowledge”?  Knowing a language or acquiring the ability to communicate in a given language  is definitely a valuable skill and asset.   It’s an intangible asset, something that others cannot take away from you.  Sure, people who are away from their native countries for a long time lose the ability to speak and think quickly in their first language, and they aren’t able to keep up with the growing body of vocabulary. But once you have a language, it’s yours to keep.  At the same time, what is the purpose of this knowledge?  It’s purpose is to enable communication. To this extent, it is a tool, and an important one for human relationships.

Many “language” teachers take language apart and just focus on the rules or on the structure of language, i.e. on grammar. They never put the pieces back together again and create a language. You want your teacher to focus on language as a means of communication.  You want to be able to read and understand books and stories, to listen and talk and more.  Knowing the rules of grammar and don’t know how to communicate, it is not of any practical use. You’re right; if you are not reading stories and communicating with others, it’s boring. It’s like having the pieces of a car in your garage all taken apart. The car won’t get you anywhere.

And as a means of communication, it is valid in so many situations, as you indicated, for pleasure, for business, to be able to read great literature or the newspapers of other cultures. Sometimes a husband and a wife have a
different first language and so they need to be able to learn each other’s language, too.

I hope that you’ll find lots of ways to make English enjoyable, just as Chinese is a language that is both useful to you and allows for pleasure, entertainment, and the acquisition of knowledge.

Thanks for your interesting questions. We’re sorry you’re bored by your teacher’s style of teaching; hopefully you can enjoy all the benefits of knowing English –  to enjoy reading interesting English books and articles, to understand the lyrics to music, to do business in English, and even enjoy the thrill of traveling around the globe and interacting with English speakers in English (just like you’re communicating with us through this website)!

All the best,

The ESL Help! Desk