It’s not sure when the phrase "the Three Rs" (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) originated, but various theories put it to around the year 1800. Noted educationalists were in agreement that they form the basis of a good education, irrespective of which educational path the learner takes in the world. In a modern-day setting, even with our 21st century increased focus on specialist skills, the principle still holds true. I always wondered why the Three Rs are in that order; maybe because only the first one begins with R, but I think there is also a priority order to them.
As a former science teacher in secondary schools, I liked to ask the classes this question, “OK, Year 8, what would you say is in my mind, as the most important subject in school?” Various answers would come flying in; “Science, sir!”, “Biology!” etc. to which I would give a solemn shake of the head. “Alright sir, Maths!” Still no. Some classes were surprised to hear that the answer was, “It’s English. English every time”. That’s not to dilute the importance of Maths and Science, or any other high school subject (each worthy in its own right) but our language is our fundamental means of communication, whether verbally or in writing – so we should be as good at it as we can be. All too often we hear people almost bragging about how bad they are at maths, but we never hear people making a virtue of being barely literate!
Tuition can help of course, but reading is the main key to developing vocabulary, to allow us to choose exactly the right word to convey our meaning, with all the subtleties and nuances that our language contains. One thing I’ve discovered, through reading primarily on a Kindle or iPad (other e-readers are available!), is that a simple long-press on a word can open up a dictionary straight away to define an unknown word, when it might just have been too much effort to have walked across the room to a printed dictionary and opened it up. The wonders of technology. Knowledge of our language can of course assist in our understanding of complicated subject-specific keywords such as photosynthesis, tessellation and glaciation.
Increased pressure on reading time is all-too-evident, with on-demand viewing of TV and movies, endless online gaming, social media all competing for our eyes and brains. The same can be said for writing; this is typed by someone who has never had a typing lesson in his life, and I doubt if I have hand-written anything of substance for months. Maybe I’ll forget how to write with a pen. I bought a good quality Lamy pen a year or so ago and try when I can to write with it, on good paper. It’s great!
We make our first impressions using our language, for example a CV and a job interview, as well as the important non-verbal cues such as smiling and a firm handshake. It’s our common currency, and we can’t function without it.
So whatever field you’re in, whichever path your career takes you down, your command of English Language will help define your role throughout life. It also helps to be able to express yourself clearly, so you don’t have any embarrassing misunderstandings!