Studying English in a Changing World

Or, What Will You Ever Do With That English Degree? 

This short piece of writing recognizes that the English language is not composed of one overarching language, but instead, many "Englishes" exist that influence literature and composition.

As a future professor, I plan to introduce a variety of English writings to my students, and these writings may stem from the African, Asian and Australian diasporas, and will add richness and context to the study of British, American and Canadian texts. 

     Studying English in today’s academic sphere requires an understanding of English’s place in the world. The word “English” is, of course, a misnomer, since current academic practices recognize many Englishes: Canadian, American, Australian, etc.

     English has become a truly global language, one that reaches across cultural and technological borders. At the same time, despite the individual geographic origins of specific Englishes, the language carries with it the baggage of European imperialism.  It is precisely because of this that today’s English student must be aware of the many different authors and genres that exist in English.

     So, what does it mean to study English? Or, as Michael Eldridge is fond of asking, “What do you tell your family when they ask you what you’re going to do with that English degree?” I’ve never feared the answer to the previous question, because I know that a future exists in English. Yes, I know, how utterly and simplistically naïve of me. Feel free to eviscerate this post at will. No, really, there is a future. And that future exists because of the worldwide acceptance of English as a language of commerce and education.

     Of course, English may not always retain its status as a world language. It’s possible that, sometime in the distant future, other tongues will attain global status; it’s happened before (Roman, Greek, French) and it’s bound to happen again. Does this mean that today’s English classroom is strictly concerned with turning out students who can write well enough to compete in the global business arena?

     The decline of English Literature, as discussed by Pope, would seem to concur with this. I like to think that the job of an English teacher, be it a lit, writing, or linguistics, is to foster the critical thinking skills of their students. Writing is not just about knowing when to insert a comma, and when to use a semicolon. Writing is a form of communication that can educate, or confuse, depending on how we construct our sentences and paragraphs.

     As students, we study English by using technology, by writing term papers, and by engaging in discussion with other classmates. We should never forget that our first goal should be clear communication—using English as a bridge between cultures and genders—and not as a divisive agent. As a former English Lit student now in the MATW program, I hope to help my students learn from their mistakes, and give them skills they can apply outside of the classroom. Writing is, again, more than learning a set of specialized skills. Bad writing can stand in the way of economic and intellectual achievement, just as good writing can help ensure success in a student's field of study or work.