Image by Aaron Burden

English. It’s kind of important

At school, I never really understood why we studied English. Essays and speeches seemed odd, especially when it felt like so much energy was sunk into a single piece of literature.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the subject. I was a total teacher’s pet too. One year I even got 98% in an English exam. But in terms of really understanding how the subject was applicable, at the time I didn’t get it. Perhaps if it had been called “communications” it may have been clearer, sooner.

Today was the first day of SXSW Interactive. From keynotes, to panels, to general conversations there has been an incredible display of skill across the communication spectrum.

Unfortunately, I picked a bit of a doozy presentation this afternoon. It was about AI, robotics and the question of will they end up replacing humans in the workforce. It had potential to be great; there were a lot of juicy facts and interesting insights delivered — they just weren’t delivered well.

It was a bit sad to see, mainly because I don’t like to see anyone not do well, but a lot of people left. Not the entire auditorium, but enough to feel like it was a bit of a thing. On the one hand some might say this is rude, but when you’ve paid a lot of money to be at a conference and there are hundreds of things you want to see, you have to calculate your time carefully.

Anyway, I came away from it thinking there is so much more being taught in English than basic grammar or what the underlying theme was in Romeo and Juliet.

When we are sitting in a classroom it’s hard to know the value that all this English stuff will have in the future. Like many things, when we can’t see a direct application of it, it feels logical to focus on something else. But, seriously, what we learn in these lessons is so important.

Basically, all those essays and speeches lay the foundations for what it takes to communicate a point or get people on board with an idea; something that nearly every job requires at some point.

It sounds crazy, but every email we write, every presentation we give, every person we manage, it all comes down to being able to communicate with another human being. And it goes beyond the ability to articulate the point we want to make too. Good communicators will also factor in where the person they’re talking to will be coming from. It’s usually their starting point.

Someone once told me ‘forget what you have to say and focus on what the person will hear’. It has probably stuck because it’s damn good advice.

Speeches, irrespective of their main point, help to teach this. Essays (again putting the topic aside) can shape this skill. It seems that at school teachers never really tell us what the end goal of subjects are. Why do we learn them? Who even decides the curriculum? Can we go home yet? Looking back, I think giving context and practical application for what we are taught wouldn’t go a miss. For me, it really wasn’t something I understood the value of until I hit the ‘real world’ and saw it all come together.

English, as a discipline, teaches us to take a point and either get as many people agreeing with it as possible, or provoke thought and discussion. Yes there is grammar and other bits slotted in on the way, but ultimately it’s schooling us on the ability to communicate effectively. And when it’s done right, that is an incredibly powerful, and noticeable, skill to have.

(I should caveat this post with the fact it’s 12.30am and I’m incredibly jetlagged. If there are any typos or grammatical errors, the irony will not be lost on me).

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