Bridging the Language & Culture Gap: The Importance of English Education

January 8, 2013 in Inspiration

I have a friend in Canada who works with a government program assimilating immigrants into Canadian society. Similar to this English school in Exeter, she is teaching them English, but also helping them learn to function within their new environment, from simple tasks like learning to grocery shop and pay their bills to mastering the subtleties of colloquial speech. It’s a labour of love that has been as educational for her as it has been for her students. In reality, it’s a cultural exchange that is taking place, drawing people together from the heart across the language gap.

We’ve always stretched to try to communicate in the language of the places we’re traveling and I know what it feels like to feel adrift in a world that is rushing by in a stream of words that are drowning you. Asia has been a lesson in what it feels like to be truly illiterate and “out of the loop” in the culture you’re walking through. It’s overwhelming sometimes. It’s one of the reasons that we travel with our kids, so that they understand that feeling, and so that they learn to communicate across that gap while developing the ability to learn the languages they need.

I passed a sign here on Borneo yesterday that said, “You need English!” And it got me thinking. English really is a currency in the world economy. Without it, so many are shut out of the ability to work the jobs that pay better and provide the opportunities they need to procure education for their children and pull themselves out of poverty. Virtually every job ad that we see posted here in Malaysia reads, “Must speak English.” Schools like Skola are providing the tools that students need to master English and catapult themselves into the global market place.

I got a Christmas note from our student Piet Po, in Cambodia. He’s the boy we’re putting through university for his English degree, remember? For him, and so many others like him, the ability to speak fluently and communicate in writing are the crucial connections that will provide a better future for their families and lift many out of bone crushing poverty. It seems odd to us, as native English speakers, but it’s the bar separating the haves from the have-nots in many parts of the world.