If you could know one thing well in order prosper in the global economy, what would it be? Stop and think about this before answering.
The view here is that a good command of the English language would come out on top, and that realistically nothing else comes close. If you doubt this, ask yourself how many times someone has approached you, only to ask you a question in Farsi, Urdu, or Mandarin. Conversely, ask yourself how many times you’ve approached someone with a question in English, anywhere in the world, and had it answered back to you in English?
The simple, undeniable truth is that English is the world’s language. Call it the currency of the world. You can take English just about anywhere and converse. Broad knowledge of English the world over is a powerful market signal that it’s easily the most important career skill of all, and it really has no rivals.
Why the question that begins this write-up? It came to mind while reading a recent Washington Post piece by sportswriter Sally Jenkins. She was writing about the very close, decades-long friendship between women’s tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
There are countless very interesting anecdotes about both in Jenkins’s long-form article, but for the purposes of this piece, Jenkins writes about how Navratilova learned English. She picked up the world’s language by watching re-runs of I Love Lucy. Yes, you read that right: Navratilova learned English while watching television.
Of course, some reading this are surely responding that the how behind Navratilova’s pick up of a language is as old as television, and it’s global. Surely many readers have read stories about the English speaking learning foreign languages the same way. Old news? Yes it is, but the fact that it’s old news is also the point.
It’s a reminder that with school or without school, we learn if we want to. It's a choice.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban famously asks his players and staff during periods of hardship if they saw any dinosaurs on the way to the football complex. Saban’s question is obviously rhetorical. No one saw dinosaurs simply because dinosaurs failed to adapt a long, long ago.
Eager-to-prosper humans adapt. In Navratilova’s case, she’d courageously defected from a repressive dictatorship in Czechoslovakia in order bring her talents to the world’s greatest stage for the talented: the United States. Navratilova would be more than a tennis player. As Jenkins tells it, she came out of the proverbial closet at a time when females just didn’t do that.
Navratilova would also learn the language of her adopted country. What’s important is that learning English was a choice for Navratilova. And not the only one. In Jenkins’s telling, Navratilova’s intellect could “light up a hillside.” Ok, the rhetorical flourish by Jenkins was a bit much, but not the broader truth.
Indeed, there’s no mention of Navratilova pursuing stateside education (rising to the top of tennis is incredibly exhasusting and time consuming), but it also didn’t matter. Navratilova chose to learn English, and chooses to this day to be extraordinarily well read. The guess here is that if in conversation about economics and politics, Navratilova and I would disagree far more than we would agree, but that’s surely not the point.
What is the point is that knowledge is a choice, as opposed to something handed to us. It’s important to remember with school well in mind. There’s a tendency to suggest that schools are failing kids. It doesn't read right. And if what you just read doesn't read right, please read again about how Navratilova became learned.