If you can read well, you can write well. If you can write well, you can think well. If you can think well, you can speak well.
How essential reading, writing, thinking, and speaking are to our professional lives, and in how many different circumstances, cannot be underestimated. The development of these practices begins in the first years of life and continues until the very end. But how can they be harnessed? And what are the limits to enhanced reading, writing, thinking, and speaking? What are the personal, professional, and cultural implications of mastering these practices, for our individual lives and for our society?
English is usually a compulsory subject in the primary and secondary school curriculum in most predominantly English-speaking countries. This is English not only as a language, but in its cultural, historical, personal, and professional capacities. The reason English is made compulsory in our primary and secondary education systems is because it is extremely useful for the development of informed, capable citizens. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) writes:
It is through the study of English that individuals learn to analyse, understand, communicate and build relationships with others and with the world around them. The study of English plays a key role in the development of reading and literacy skills which help young people develop the knowledge and skills needed for education, training and the workplace. It helps them become ethical, thoughtful, informed and active members of society.
But this is just the beginning of an education in English. At the tertiary level, and beyond into careers specialising in professional English, individual development is taken to ever higher levels of personal, professional, and cultural mastery. Yet the wider professional benefits of this higher-level English are often overlooked.
English—learnt, taught, and practised in an integrous manner—leads to greater personal, professional, and cultural development because it facilitates analytical and creative thinking, excellent written and oral communication skills, an understanding of oneself and others, and a sense of historical and cultural perspective. English provides immensely valuable skills and knowledge for success in the world.
English as a professional discipline is an active pursuit that can be applied within a large range of professions. We can divide its practice into two aspects: creation and criticism. Creation relates primarily to writing and speaking, which combine the semiotic, rhetorical, and aesthetic aspects of language with the logical and structural processes of thinking in the communication of general or specialised knowledge according to a particular purpose directed towards a specific audience. Criticism involves reading and thinking. The reader analyses and evaluates the text, reading closely, precisely, and deeply with an awareness of language devices, content, context, and broader implications, informed by general and specialised knowledge. Thinking is foundational to the practice of English because reading, writing, and speaking require clear-minded insight and thoughtful reflection. Finally, because all these practices involve communication, English engages the personal dimension, which can be combined with knowledge of culture, history, politics, psychology, and other auxiliary fields. Mastery of English invites understanding these closely related fields, skilfully bridging language with the world. It broadens the professional’s comprehension of the fullness and richness of human life while enhancing reading, writing, thinking, and speaking within a wide variety of specialised contexts.
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In January 2016, the World Economic Forum posted an article entitled ‘The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ which discusses the dramatic shifts apparent in employable skills between 2015 and 2020. Their “report asked chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers what the current shifts mean, specifically for employment, skills and recruitment across industries and geographies.” These are the top ten skills they considered important for 2020:
1 – Complex Problem Solving
2 – Critical Thinking
3 – Creativity
4 – People Management
5 – Coordinating with Others
6- Emotional Intelligence
7 – Judgement and Decision Making
8 – Service Orientation
9 – Negotiation
10 – Cognitive Flexibility
How many of these skills are developed through the discipline of English? A strong case can be made for critical thinking (2nd) and creativity (3rd) as well as emotional intelligence (6th) and cognitive flexibility (10th). Other skills are also indirectly supported through higher levels of English practice. Professional English involves complex problem solving (1st). It also promotes people skills and cultivates human understanding, which can aid in people management (4th), coordinating with others (5th), and a service orientation (8th). Critical thinking and close reading support clear judgement and decision making (7th), and the language, speaking, and thinking capacity that English promotes facilitates negotiation (9th). Therefore, the discipline of English appears to promote or support the skills needed by the professional workforce of the Forth Industrial Revolution.
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A person who trains in the discipline of English develops self-awareness and better grasps the world through language. They increase critical and creative thinking in their workplace. They develop the ability to read more clearly, deepen knowledge, and cultivate complex understanding. They learn to write with precision, eloquence, and influence. They engage language meaningfully while considering both specific contexts and the bigger picture. And English professionals develop their speaking skills, to inspire, persuade, and convey knowledge clearly and effectively.
Through the four key practices of English—reading, writing, thinking, and speaking—an individual enhances their capacity in fundamentally human skills. They gain the power to articulate complex thought to a variety of audiences and to feel through language and express those feelings with empathy and cultural awareness. It could even be suggested that intelligence is harnessed and refined by such practices, promoting greater effectiveness in the world. While teachers, professors, writers, and speakers may specialise in English, it is equally a generalist discipline that can enhance any professional career by mastering its core practices of reading, writing, thinking, and speaking and applying these to one’s own work.
We are what we repeatedly do.Aristotle
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.