Whether it’s in the workplace, on vacation or for everyday life, most people who learn English do so to speak with someone from another cultural background. Think about it – if you just wanted to speak with people from the same cultural background, there would be no reason to learn English!
So, does learning English help break down cultural barriers?
A shared language leads to situations where you can share experiences with people from many different backgrounds. Shared experiences are often an effective way to break down barriers. For example, being able to work on a business project, take a trip, or even do something as simple as share a meal with someone can be the basis of a a friendship.
Sharing a language also gives you the tools to really understand another culture. If you want to understand what it’s like to be a London punk-rocker, Brooklyn hipster or Australian flat white coffee connoisseur, speaking their language will give you a insight that reading about them in a book wouldn’t.
There is also the issue of making your voice heard. People from English-speaking cultures are likely to want to find out about the rest of the world and telling them about your culture in English is one way to help them do that. By speaking English, you can become an ambassador for your culture in lots of other parts of the world.
But, does it mean you’ll lose your own culture?
Not necessarily. The English language has a long history of incorporating cultural ideas. In fact English has so many words appropriated from foreign cultures that it could barely exist without them. There are also a lot of dialects of English that end up becoming dialects in their own right. For example, in Singapore Chinese and Malay influences have merged with English to become Singlish – a dialect which reflects the diverse culture of the country.
There are examples, even within the UK where use of English as a lingua franca has been responsible for losing unique languages. For example in Cornwall, south-west England, where the last mother-tongue speaker of the language is said to have died in the 1700s. Cornish culture is still strongly represented, though, and there is a movement to revive the old language.
So, while you are practising English, think of the barriers you might be able to break down and always stay open to new cultures.