Johnny hates English?
Don’t read his awkward paper; erase that high GPA; un-write his job acceptance letter; decline his raise; forget his projects; pass him over for promotion—Johnny can’t write.
This is what I know: If you want to shine in any career, you must write. Prepare yourself by studying English now.
You must start by challenging what you think about English. You might think like Kevin: He tells me he hates English because “it’s all about fake stories about people that don’t exist,” and he can never “figure out what the authors mean” in their books. Do you think like him? Talk about themes, characters, symbols, motifs, irony, plot, and climaxes—if that’s what you think English is, you’re wrong. You’ve been misled—though talk about the meaning of fiction does dominate English classes today, it’s a fraction of what English is: merely the icing on a rich cake. When we think of English class as a book club, or the ticket to get into a character’s pajamas by reading his mind and taking a stroll, we’ve gone the road most traveled but most crooked. English is not just reading fiction.
If not literature circle, what is the purpose of English class? In its most useful form English class is the study of rhetoric: the study of effective speaking and writing. It tells you how to write so your parents, teachers, friends, and future bosses get what you mean. It shows you how to persuade. It teaches you that English is not a random game—where only the poets among us win—but a rule-based system anyone can learn. When you recognize good writing is not unattainable art, but a crack-able code, you’re on the way to greatness.
So, English class is not just fiction but also writing techniques. Maybe you’re convinced and rushing to your English books now. Or, you may think like Sarah, who insists: “ I want to be a [insert career here] when I grow up, so I don’t need English.” Why would a doctor, lawyer, businessperson, accountant, scientist, etc. need to know how to write?
I thought this way, too, until I became a tutor who has helped adult professionals with these concerns: a medical analyst, needed help writing reports; an émigré lawyer turned broadcaster, writing scripts; a computer scientist, preparing proposals; and a businesswoman, also proposals. All of them needed clear writing. Friends in a variety of fields (e.g. graphic design, accounting) also ask me for editing help. So, the question is not: “Will you be writing in your future career?,” but: “What will you be writing?” Here are some potential writing tasks in your future: a pamphlet, factum, presentation, brief, prospectus, memo, e-mail, summary, lab report, scholarly article, advertisement, sales letter, or web page content. Take your pick, but you still must pick.
Writing—love it or hate it—will follow you into your career. It will follow you especially today, in our fast-paced times, where we haven’t the time to sit and chat; we “zap” our written thoughts from one place to another to get things done instead. That document you send to your colleagues will say a lot about you. What do you want it to say? Let what you write speak well of you. Study English today.