Thursday, August 18, 2011

English: The Inescapable Language

"English dominates the Internet. It is the only language used in air traffic control. It is the overwhelmingly dominant language of science. (Even the premier French scientific organization, the Institut Pasteur, publishes its papers in English first and only later in French). Sixty percent of all students studying a foreign language today are studying English. It’s a required course in school, starting early on, in an increasing number of countries.

So we native speakers of English have a great advantage. Learning English at our mothers’ knee is almost like being born able to do algebra. Those not so fortunate can still get a handle on it fairly easily, however. That’s lucky for them because, like it or not, acquiring a competence in English is now a necessary part of every serious education around the world."

~John Steele Gordon writing in The American.com

15 Comments:

At 8/18/2011 2:01 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

Aren't we smart for having developed the best language in the world.

 
At 8/18/2011 2:22 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

I thought the dominant language was Spanglish.

Spoken everywhere in the Western hemisphere, except Brazil.

 
At 8/18/2011 2:37 PM, Blogger Jason said...

And progressives want America to be a bi-lingual nation? Makes perfect sense.

 
At 8/18/2011 4:37 PM, Blogger Cloudesley Shovell said...

Except that English is not the only language used in air traffic control, as anyone who has flown in Quebec knows.

 
At 8/18/2011 5:29 PM, OpenID Sprewell said...

The author makes a big mistake when he compares learning English early on to being born knowing algebra, considering how useless algebra is in this day and age when Excel and various other software are easily accessible. Of course, considering this is the same guy who wrongly argues that the book will always be around, he clearly doesn't know much about how tech is changing everything.

 
At 8/18/2011 6:57 PM, Blogger Craig said...

We are lucky. English is one damned hard language to master.

 
At 8/19/2011 12:44 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> considering how useless algebra is in this day and age when Excel and various other software are easily accessible.

You are a moron.

No, wait, morons understand math, though not much.

You are an ape who has learned to wear pants, tie shoes, and not fling your poo overly often.

 
At 8/19/2011 12:46 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>> English is one damned hard language to master.

*sigh* Considering the number who actually manage the task to even a 90% level, this is a correct statement.

 
At 8/19/2011 12:56 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

BTW, Sprewell, that was not an ad-hominem broadside.

You ARE a moron.

Anyone who fails to grasp the importance of learning math to a certain basic level -- and, actually, algebra is a markedly basic level -- is an baboon studying to be a moron and failing.

Excel does not render Algebra teaching useless. It makes it all the more critical, since it is very easy to MESS UP the entry of a formula and have it produce a corrupt and valueless output.

Developing a FEEL for how numbers behave can assist in both sensing this kind of error and also in isolating the placement of the error.

Further, knowing math to at least certain minimal levels -- actually BEYOND Algebra is preferable for this -- produces a kind of rigor in critical thought processes which one will retain and use all one's life almost without thinking about it.

This makes it much, much harder for charlatans and demagogues to lie to you and tell you stories you should know better than to fall for.

When the AGW crowd makes predictions that don't pan out, you remember that. When they claim that "'x' has happened 'y' times!! The SKY!! It's FAAAAAALLLLLIIINNNGGG!!!", you ask yourself: "Is that really all that unlikely?"

I don't argue that everyone needs to learn Calculus -- but you should endeavor to learn math to the highest level you can do so easily... and then go one level past that.

It doesn't matter if you need it for work. It matters that you need it for LIFE in a complex, technical world where everything we do is based on an understanding of things we barely grasp in the first place. The better you are at critical thinking, the better you understand how numbers behave, the better off you'll be when something isn't quite right and you are the only person who is in a position to notice and give warning to others.

 
At 8/19/2011 4:52 AM, OpenID ampontan said...

[[Those not so fortunate can still get a handle on it fairly easily, however.]]

That leads me to suspect Mr. Gordon might not have fluency in a foreign language himself. Mastery of English is rather difficult, even if instruction begins in primary school. That's even more true for people in countries whose languages are structurally different from English.

Functional fluency in a language requires a lot of work over a long period of time. Most people aren't willing to do the work.

 
At 8/19/2011 5:05 AM, Blogger David said...

What is not generally recognized, however, is that, unless you know a second language, you don't really know English.
This may not be evident to speakers of English only.

 
At 8/19/2011 11:48 AM, OpenID Sprewell said...

OBloodyHell, sorry to say it but you're the only moron here. Algebra is basically useless in this day and age when software will do everything for you. That goes even for arithmetic, just use a calculator. If you have to enter a formula, you've already messed up the design of your software, as that should all be baked in already. As for a "feel" for numbers, that's a vague criterion but really very little is needed, orders of magnitude and that's about it. If you're depending on math to provide critical rigor, you might as well learn astrology or phrenology, as both are also needlessly complex and essentially useless for the normal person. If you think charlatans and demagogues use algebraic errors to cover up their "math," you haven't been looking too closely at where their real mistakes are. ;) As for the AGW math that you mention, that's basic statistics and is one of the few mathematical subjects I'd still require. I'll note that I graduated high school without having done any statistics, though I maxed out on all the math offered up to calculus, so the currently broken system can't get even this basic requirement right.

 
At 8/19/2011 11:53 AM, OpenID Sprewell said...

The notion that you should learn as much math as you can is silly, no doubt pushed by teachers who trap an ignorant public in their scam. In a complex, technical world, you cannot be expected to learn all the math that's used, particularly when algebra is only a small part of it, so saying that we should try is just dumb. That's like saying we should all know how to properly wash our clothes by hand, just in case all the washing machines stop working. Guess what, we don't force people to know that either. Critical thinking is definitely a much-needed skill, but it doesn't come from math.

In fact, I'd argue that wasting time on the math gives you less time and ability to stress critical thinking, just like if you wasted time on teaching how to hand-wash clothes or survival skills in a desert island. We're always going to need a few engineers to do the math and design the calculators, just like we'll always need a few engineers to design the washing machines, but that small minority always elects to learn it on their own. But to say the rest of us need to learn anything beyond basic counting, fluency with orders of magnitude (which even most journalists seem to lack), and some basic statistics, ie no arithmetic or algebra or anything more complex, just goes to show you've fallen hard for the scam perpetuated by the academics.

 
At 8/19/2011 2:20 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"The notion that you should learn as much math as you can is silly, no doubt pushed by teachers who trap an ignorant public in their scam"...

No sprewell I have to disagree...

Math if nothing else teaches orderly and disciplined thinking...

I mean someone has to program math formulas 'properly' in software...

Think of it this way sprewell, math is the hammer and software could be the nailgun...

Well if the more complicated nailgun breaks down you can still use the hammer...

 
At 8/19/2011 7:40 PM, OpenID Sprewell said...

juandos, I'll note that we're only talking about what should be required. Of course if someone wants to learn more math or how to sew and crochet, that's up to them, but the fact remains that those extra subjects are fairly useless for most people. "Orderly and disciplined thinking" as exemplified by algebra and other symbolic math is actually fairly useless in life. Dealing with fuzzy concepts and being able to manipulate them is what's useful. I already said a few engineers will program the math, that doesn't mean everyone going through high school has to learn it as we only need a few programmers to write the software. That's right, why use hammers at all if we have robots wielding nailguns? ;) If you're worried about redundancy, you would also require learning survival skills, sewing, and a host of other worthless activities in a modern society. It is about requiring that people learn only what they absolutely need and then letting them choose their path beyond that. Beyond the basics of counting, etc., some will choose to learn history, others more math, but forcing either on them is just silly.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home