High School Academics: English

Each month, our team of tutors will introduce you to a key academic subject and offer you a guide to what to expect. Once you start high school, you’ll take a mix of required courses and electives spanning STEM (math, science, and technology), the humanities and social sciences (including English, history, geography, economics, and psychology), foreign languages, music and art, and health and physical education. You will also have all sorts of extracurriculars to choose from, some of which will allow you to explore these topics in a more relaxed setting. Our series will help you get up to speed and hit the ground running on Day 1! Today, read on about English…

As you begin your Freshman year of high school, many of you will be getting your first experience of choosing what classes you will take. No doubt you’re looking forward to the day, later in your high school career, when you have met the graduation requirements and can stop taking science or history or French or whatever class it is you particularly dislike. But wherever you go to school, you’re never going to get away from English. You always need four years of it. Sorry.

But not really sorry, because let me, a STEM* guy, tell you what English is really about and why it’s one of the most important subjects you’ll take in your high school career. It’s probably the one that has the most power to shape your life going forwards.

English class isn’t really about learning verb tenses and participle phrases and indirect objects and gerunds (though as an SAT/ACT tutor, I will say that learning that stuff does actually help, and not just for your test scores). It’s also not really about learning the structure of a sonnet or the symbolism in Moby Dick or just how many off-color jokes Shakespeare worked into his plays (which turns out to be an impressively large number).

What English class is really about is learning to communicate.

There are two parts to communicating: outgoing and incoming. All of the grammar stuff is about the outgoing side of communication. How to express yourself so that others can understand you. All of the reading stuff is about the incoming side of communication — how to absorb information, how to take in the written word.

No matter the path you take in life, being able to speak and write in correct English matters. Write a résumé with mistakes, and it’s going to go straight in the trash. Speak English incorrectly, and people will automatically assume you’re less intelligent and anything you have to say is probably not worth listening to. Is that fair? No. Does it happen? Constantly — there’s plenty of studies confirming this.

And on the other side, all that time your English teachers spend making you read and analyze books and plays is worth it. Reading takes practice, and really reading is a lot more than just being able to sound out the words. Being able to absorb written material is important in literally everything — to say nothing of the sheer joy of a good book. Not much of a reader? As far as I’m concerned, that’s because you just haven’t found the right book yet.

So pay attention in English class and learn as well as you can. Even if it’s just so you can dunk on someone on Twitter without them correcting your grammar. Nobody wants to be that guy.

* Haven’t heard the acronym STEM yet? You’ll hear it plenty later on, but it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.