Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Most of the World in One Room

A group of 19 engineers was in attendance for an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) writing class I recently conducted in New York City. Counting myself, I realized that to my pleasure, but not to my surprise, each of us represented a different nation of origin (listed in order of greatest population): China, India, United States, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, Ukraine, Colombia, Poland, Afghanistan, Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, and Slovakia! In a world of 6.7 billion souls, those 20 countries represent only 9 percent of all the 220-plus nations and territories on Planet Earth, but their 3.9 billion residents account for 58 percent of the world’s population—more than half the world!

What’s the point? I could think of three:
  1. It doesn’t get more diverse than working in New York; for this very reason, I love working there.
  2. It goes to show that the United States does not need to make English the official national language, since so many people want to learn English, which has become the unofficial language of the world marketplace, anyway.
  3. It proves that the term ESL is a misnomer because for the multilingual professionals who come to my writing courses, English is the first language of their jobs. What they do at home is their business; however, they are all well aware that English is their first on-the-job language. They desire to get it right—and they leave the course feeling their progress.