Advice for Native English Speakers
2/7/2014

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Whether or not you think learning a language other than English is valuable, it's true that English has become the language of international communication. But that doesn't let native English speakers off the hook. In order for them to really benefit from the status of English as a global lingua franca, they still have linguistic investments to make.

Namely, they could learn from instruction in linguistics and the history of English, which would expose them to the varieties of English that are spoken by people with another mother tongue. At any given time, the vast majority of English used on the planet is spoken and written by people who aren't native speakers and who may have learned it as adults. It may be their second or third language. Their interactions will tend to be with other non-native speakers. They'll say things in ways that you don't say them in your version of English.

So if you're a native speaker of English and that's your only language, accommodating your ear and your speech to those users of the global lingua franca is a cultural and linguistic skill. It requires practice; you don't automatically get it by virtue of being a native speaker. You have to learn how to hear around accents, word choices and grammatical patterns. You have to learn to suspend your judgments of what may seem like deviations and errors, because in a particular variety of English, those things may be perfectly acceptable. You also have to understand how other people's mother tongues, educational systems and community histories influence the English they speak. You should also learn how to say the culturally appropriate thing about their native languages and the fact that you don't yourself speak them.

Once you've gone that far, you might decide to go ahead and study another language, as well. It's always a worthwhile investment, in both economic and cognitive terms, even if the value isn't immediately calculable.

extract from the NYTimes Room for Debate.

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