At the beginning of what we could recognise as the English language, it was relegated to being the common man’s language, second to Latin and early French for use in academic and literary circles. It took centuries and the influences of giants like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton to gain true respectability. With the rise and fall of the Empire, the language spread and evolved and endured.
While Mandarin may eclipse it in number of first person speakers, it is second to none in number of secondary or at least competent speakers. So, for anyone who intends to travel outside of an insular community or seek education in academic or professional fields at a higher level or simply wants to broaden their horizons, this is the language to learn. Textbooks on grammar and syntax can only help so far in this regard as in order to gain true fluency in a language, a healthy if not complete immersion in its literature is necessary. For in order to say that you have true fluency in the language, one must be able to tell at a glance whether a passage is from the era of Chaucer or Shakespeare and whether a metaphor used in a particular scenario implies praise or derision.
As Latin in the west and Sanskrit in the East was once the mark of an educated individual, so too is fluent English today. However, the gains are more than that of a status symbol. A lot of writers outside of English speaking countries often produce works in this language and even for the other works of literature, it is most likely that the first translation would be in English. So it would not be too far off to say that if you can read and write English, very little will be inaccessible to you.
This is where the literature comes into its own. For the English language readily absorbs words from other languages and it is constantly in flux. It possesses shades of meaning and often conflicting rules. So, to gain true fluency, practice is vital. This need of practice was and is still met through a student’ introduction to works of English literature.