Yesterday I talked with a colleague about whether English should be a required subject at university. We talked about several issues that I thought about later and replied more thoroughly in this way.
First, you said that we don’t know if the students will need English after they graduate. You are right, but that doesn’t mean much in anacademic sense. For example, it doesn’t matter if a person will use algebra after they graduate, but everyone learns it in junior highschool. I have never and will probably never use algebra in my dailylife, but I sure learned it in school. The point is that society says an educated person knows this stuff. If a university says, in response to student, parent, and social needs, that graduates must know some English then they must know some English. If it isn’t a priority for those groups, then we don’t need it.
A university is obliged to educate people according to societys expectations. This isn’t a trade school, so we don’t have to expect that skills students learn here will apply directly to post-graduation life.
One other point I wanted to make is that English is often saddled with the practicality test when other disciplines are not. Take economics for example. How many students expect to make their livings as economists? Very few, but that is no reason not to learn something about it. Language is the same way. We never know if we need it or not, but that’s not a reason not to learn it.
Also, when people say “English”, they think about language learning, as
if stringing together some words in the right order is, in the end, very
important. It isn’t. We stand to learn a lot more about ourselves, our
culture, our language, our minds, than we do about “communication.”
Universities most places don’t require languages for communicative
purposes. Ancient Latin and Greek are not offered so that learners can order
food at a restaurant. They are offered so students can know their own
languages better, and to know what great thinkers have said in those
languages in the past.
But then, let’s look at the practical side. Would English be of use to
our students? Of course it’s useful. That is why so many other teachers
at this university are so good at English, because it is a useful skill. 80% of the
Internet is in English. Japanese, the third largest language on the
Internet, commands a mere 3.1%. Do we want our graduates to have that
difficult-to-obtain, but valuable skill? Of course. Do they have to like
it? Does it have to be fun? No more than any other discipline offered
here at the university like math, economics or local governance. We can
try, though. We can work hard at making it enjoyable, but in the end
language is hard hard work, just like any other skill worth having.
So, do I think English (or some other language) should be required? Yes,