There are over 1.5b people learning English in the world. Let’s put that number into perspective: that’s roughly 20% of the world’s population learning English. Right now.
That’s a really big number. I mean, China, the most populous country in the world, has around 1.3b people, and India, the close second in terms of population, has about 1.2b people.
So think about that. If every single person in China or India were learning English, it still wouldn’t reach the total number of English language learners worldwide.
I think there are probably as many acronyms for those learning English as there are actual folks learning the language: from English Language Learners (ELL), to English as a Second Language (ESL), to English as a Foreign Language (EFL) to English Language Teaching (ELT) etc. (and don’t even get me started on TOEFEL, TEOSOL, ETS, or IELTS!). There are four main components to what these 1.5b people are learning:
- Listening Comprehension (aural)
- Speaking Competency (oral)
- Reading Comprehension
- Writing Competency
How does this relate to EssayJack?
At EssayJack, we focus on the writing competency. Learning to understand spoken English and respond back orally is very important. It is a first step to linguistic competence and allows you as an English language learner to speak with those around you; however, if you find yourself in an English language context where you need to succeed in writing – which is necessary for scholastic and professional progression – you may be out of luck if all you can do is listen for comprehension and speak basic English back in return.
You will need to master additional skills in your writing beyond verb tenses, grammar, and idioms. You will need to wrap your head around the cultural conventions that shape how written English operates.For instance, a sonnet is a 14-line poem with a specific rhyming convention. To write a sonnet, therefore, you need to know those rules. Otherwise, you may well write a great poem, but it won’t be a sonnet.
Similarly, an argumentative or persuasive essay in a Liberal Arts or Humanities class also has a set of conventions: where you find the thesis statement, how you integrate evidence, what the logical flow of ideas might be, etc. If your training in essay writing happened in another language, those conventions might be different. Dirk Siepmann has a great article on this, comparing English essays to those in French and German, writing that “every effort should be made to preserve the present plurality of lingua cultures through adequate writing instruction in each language.“
For English language learners, what this means is that in addition to learning the basic building blocks of language (or as I’ve called them elsewhere, “chunks”), we must also pay attention to the larger cultural conventions of what makes a good essay in English as something that is culturally specific and not universal.
My Chinese students have said the equivalent of an English thesis statement appears at the end of a piece of writing in China after a more general exploration of the topic. That structure just wouldn’t cut it for an English essay, even if the student’s English linguistic abilities were perfect!
So what does this all mean for English language learning and teaching?
It means that we have to make sure that in addition to teaching the speech and comprehension parts of English, and in addition to teaching the basic building blocks of writing sentences, we also ensure to extend our students comfort levels with the kinds of genres and cultural expectations that shape certain writing tasks, such as the ubiquitious essay.
You can see what we, at Team EssayJack, are up to in an English language teaching and learning context by checking out this panel we participated in online with a number of excellent English language teachers, or view our YouTube videos, but most importantly, if you are an English language teacher, do not forget to tell your students about the kinds of cultural expectations that shape certain assignments and assessments, and if you are a student, do not forget to ask all kinds of questions about the nature of these cultural expectations.
1.5b is a big number of English language learners, and we believe they can all become English writers!