The Benefits of English

Published: 2.18.2018
Level 4   |   Time: 3:45
Accent: American
Source: Freakonomics Radio (9.13.2017)

TOEFL: The second clip about how English became the dominant world language and the (unfair) advantages it gives its speakers.


You can download the file [ HERE ].


triangle Directions

  1. REVIEW the vocabulary.
  2. LISTEN to the audio above.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary

  • the primary driver [exp] - the main cause
  • wages [n] - money that your earn from work
  • a boost [n] - an increase
  • striking [adj] - unusual and extreme
  • contiguous [exp] - all together, not separated
  • tied to [v] - connected to
  • post docs [n] - research done by people with doctoral degrees
  • the natural sciences [n] - physics, chemistry, biology
  • overwhelmingly [adv] - with a large majority
  • oral [adj] - related to speaking
  • fluency [n] - the ability to use language easily and accurately
  • a counterpart [n] - a person with a similar position or job in another place
  • Anglophone [adj] - related to English
  • a mechanism [exp] - a system
  • massive [adj] - very big
  • leverage [n] - advantage
  • enormously [adv] - a lot
  • the status quo [exp] - the current situation unchanging

[n] - noun,  [v] - verb,  [adj] - adjective,  [adv] - adverb,  [exp] - expression

triangle Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the primary benefit of learning a second language?
    the cultural benefit
    the economic benefit
    the colonial benefit

  2. How much can learning a second language increase your wages?
    by 2-5%
    by 5-20%
    by 15-20%

  3. Which language gives second-language learners the greatest economic benefit?

  4. How many English speakers are there in the world?
    about 4 million
    about 400 million
    about 1.5 billion

  5. How many native English speakers are there in the world?
    about 4 million
    about 400 million
    about 1.5 billion

  6. According to the speaker, what factors have led to the rise of English?
    its simple structure
    British colonialism
    American colonialism
    American educational dominance

  7. In the past, what were the languages of science?
    Classical Chinese

  8. Currently, what are the languages of science?
    Classical Chinese

  9. What percentage of natural science papers are published in English?

  10. According to the speaker, which English skills are currently required in academic fields?
    written fluency
    oral fluency
    American pronunciation
    British pronunciation

  11. What advantages do native English speakers have over non-native English speakers in science?
    They are better at science.
    They don't have to study English.
    They can devote more time to studying English.
    They can devote more time to studying science.

  12. Who does he suggest cannot participate in the international scientific community?
    Japanese scientists
    Canadian scientists
    non-English speakers

  13. Why does the speaker suggest that the "status quo" is unfair?
    Non-native English speakers have to invest a lot in learning English, which mostly benefits native English speakers.
    Native English speakers have to invest a lot in learning English, which mostly benefits non-native English speakers.
    Native English speakers have help non-native English speakers, which costs a lot of time and money.

triangle TOEFL Questions

  1. What is the discussion mainly about?
    The unfair advantages of being a native English speaker.
    The economic benefits of speaking English.
    How English benefits scientists.
    The best ways to learn English.

  2. Why does the speaker refer to English as a big fat language?
    English is mainly spoken in countries with obesity problems.
    English has a very large vocabulary.
    English is a dominant language in the world.
    English is difficult to learn.

  3. According to the speaker, what factors have led to the rise of English?
    (Click on two answers.)
    It is easy to learn.
    It was spread by British colonialism.
    It gives speakers economic benefits.
    It is the preferred language for higher education.

  4. Why does the speaker state that communication in the natural sciences is "overwhelmingly" in English?
    Science requires a high level of written English fluency.
    More than 95% of scientific publication is in English.
    Languages like Sanskrit and Latin are difficult to learn.
    English has an elite status in the world today.

  5. Why does the speaker compare Canadian people to Japanese people?
    Because Canadian people tend to be better than Japanese people at science.
    Because Canada and Japan both have a colonial history.
    Because Japanese people and Canadian people often compete for scientific jobs.
    Because Canadians do not have to invest as much time studying English as Japanese people do.

  6. Which statements about English are made in the discussion?
    (Click on two answers.)
    There are more than 1.5 billion native English speakers in the world.
    In the past, English was the primary language of science in the West.
    The majority of scientific publication is currently in English.
    Learning English gives the greatest economic benefit to second-language learners.
    British English is much more popular than American English.

  7. Why does the speaker suggest that some people can't quite participate in the international scientific community?
    They don't have access to scientific publications.
    Their English ability is not sufficient.
    They don't have the economic ability to conduct scientific experiments.
    They don't want to get post docs in English.

  8. What does the man mean when he says this?

    Native English speakers benefit the most from the status quo.
    Non-native English speakers will soon benefit from the status quo.
    Native English speakers pay the most for maintaining the status quo.
    Non-native English speakers need to change the status quo.

triangle Script

There are obviously many reasons you might want to learn another language, but the primary driver seems to be economics. We looked at this in an earlier episode called “Is learning a foreign language really worth it?” One European study found that a second language could increase your wages between 5 and 20 percent depending on which language and country. The biggest boost, perhaps not surprisingly, went to those learning English. There are still plenty of places where English won't do you much good, but at something like 1.5 billion speakers, it has certainly become what John McWhorter calls “a big fat language” which is even more striking when you consider that only about 400 million of them are native speakers.

The reason why English is so popular around the world or so widely used has to do with the British Empire.

Michael Gordon again.

Otherwise, it's the language of a small island in the North Sea that happened to spread fairly globally, whereas Chinese is the language of a very large landmass that's contiguous.

But the rise of English isn't all tied to British colonialism.

So the story is partially about the rise of American power and the attractiveness of American higher education - the desire of people to get to postdocs in the US and to publish in US journals.

Consider science, previously dominated in the West by Latin and in the east by Sanskrit and Classical Chinese.

Today there is basically one common language for communication in the elite natural sciences, like physics biology chemistry geology, which is overwhelmingly English. By overwhelmingly, I mean over 95 percent of world publication in those sciences is in English. And there's never been anything quite like that before.

This requires more than just a familiarity with English.

What we now demand of people is an extremely high level of both written and oral fluency in English. So it's very hard to get that fluency, and it imposes an educational burden on them. And you have people in Japan who spend years learning English when their counterparts in Canada are just learning more science. And so that creates a mechanism that reinforces the elite status of Anglophone institutions. There probably are people in the world who would be wonderful scientists but can't get the English and therefore can't quite participate in the international community.

And if they can't participate, what kind of science is the rest of the world missing out on? The massive leverage of English in the scientific community and in other communities is something you probably don't think about much if you are a native English speaker.

So that native speakers of English learn English for free from their parents and the community around them and they benefit enormously from everybody else spending years putting this language into their heads.

For a native speaker, that's the status quo.

The problem with the status quo is it's not fair. The people who benefit the most from it pay the least for it.

Origins of Language
An Unusual Supernova