Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why has English become a necessity?

I came across this wonderful article on Mint and it's a must read.

Freedom to study: Anil Sadgopal

“I will take this chit, take a bus straight to Rashtrapati Bhavan and ask the President why we ever fought for our independence when I don’t even have the freedom to study in my mother tongue.”
he had said when he was being denied admission to St Stephen's College, Delhi, apparently because he had studied in a Hindi-medium school.

But, our preoccupation with the language continues. It crops up everywhere, ever so often...

The first thing the NGO person said was, "Hamare bachchon ko English nahi aati. Aap bas unhe English sikha dijiye."

"Our children don't know English. You just teach them English..."

He said a lot other things, in a tone I disapproved of, of how pathetic the kids were in the said language.

So, the emphasis was English... And I wondered why, for the students of an Urdu medium school, should English be imposed with such a fanatic reverence.

The students who came up for the class were indeed extremely weak. The attendance has dropped as days have passed, but one Class V student is persistent.

I have taken a special liking for this girl because she turns up regularly two days a week, with her books and pens and sits expectantly. She struggles to read basic English words like his, this, with, that, the, is. Her face cringes with effort to recollect a correct meaning, to pronounce w-i-t-h and yet, she labours on.

The first time she began reading, she spelt out each single letter- I-- T--- IT, H--I--S HIS and so on. In this manner, reading one and a half paragraph took one and half hours... Also, her writing is all jumbled up, with no space between different words. I am basically a lazy person, but if I have stuck to this class for one month now, it is because of this girl.

I wonder how she was promoted to class V without being able to read that, when, why, what or know what these words mean.

What her teachers do in class? Do they eat from the children's tiffins and polish their nails? (A very smart girl in Pune indeed told me this. "I left the Zilla Parishad school because the teacher doesn't teach there. She eats from our tiffins and paints her nails in class."

I have digressed. Lax education system in our country is not a matter of debate anyway. It is a taken fact.

The thing that disturbs me is our preoccupation with English. Take Japan for example, the country has excelled beyond excellence without being crippled by English.

In India, English has somehow become irrevocably linked with the confidence and job prospects of a student. It has become a standard benchmark to judge capabilities.
I remember my parents, who struggled with the language and often felt snubbed because of their inability to speak 'posh English'. The idea that English is the only way to surge ahead has somehow taken deep roots. This mindset, coupled with the pathetic tribe of teachers, is set to ruin our country.

Related Post: Speak Correct, O Really?


Sara said...

Agree totally, as its said-Angrez chale gaye,angrezi chhod gaye!
And our obsession with english is increasing by the day.Every year, I go to India and as I go shopping or just around Delhi,it feels like I'm back in America.Noone pays any attention to you,if you speak in hindi, be it the store attendants in the mall, or the hairdressers in a salon.
But the upside is that because of our fluence in english, India has become the hub of call-centres, which provides job to millions!

Solilo said...

India with its diversity needs a language which connects all. Unfortunately that is English.

Now if the fight is about one Indian language becoming the unifying language then it was absolutely not possible as any Indian language at the time of unifying all provinces into one country was not acceptable to another set of people. It is tough to learn any alien language and any language other than one's mother tongue is an alien language to an Indian. Whatever the argument is but the fact is we are just too diverse in every way. For a long time people conversed only in their mother tongue and then with invasion of outsiders which started much before British, various languages came into existence. In that sense those languages became more closer than the existing Indian languages. Like in Goa it was Konkani and Portuguese. In Pondy it was Tamil, French etc. And rest of India too it was mother tongue and English. Only after independence and when India became one country came the need for one language but by then the damage was done.

I have no problem with English but yes! it is sad that people are denied admission in their own country because they studied in a native tongue. But can we survive with just Indian language? I don't know. This is a debate for which I have different arguments depending on situations. I might as well sit on the fence. :)

Calliopia said...

I've heard this argument time and again from local wannabe pundits - let's popularise Mizo...we don't need English...look at the Japanese...they can't speak English for nuts but look at where they are. Every time I hear the Japanese link towed in I want to scream oh yeah, and have you taken into consideration the Japanese economy? Because that's what it all eventually boils down to in the end - the money factor. If India or for that matter, Mizoram was as economically well-off as Japan, heck, the whole world would come knocking on our doors either speaking in Hindi/Mizo or dragging in teams of translators with them!

As an English teacher of 25 years experience, I'm tired of the struggle of trying to teach this alien language to people who just can't and never ever really will pick it up. My dream now is for English to just be an elective paper like any other subject and not the glaring, compulsory, you-must-pass-this-or FAIL forever dragon. But dream on I must. Sigh.

manju said...

Gauri, different people will look at this problem in different ways- depending on their experiences.

Those who have studied in English medium schools in the cities and who have no knowledge of how difficult it is for students in rural areas to learn English will favour the use of English.

Students who want to pursue vocational courses after 10+2, will wonder why they have to study in the English medium at junior college level.

English in India is not merely a medium of instruction. As Anil Sadgopal has said- "In India, English has somehow become irrevocably linked with the confidence and job prospects of a student. It has become a standard benchmark to judge capabilities."

An English speaking student generally looks down upon one who speaks in an Indian language.- that is the reality. Why should a student who has studied in an Indian-language school be made to feel inferior in his own country?

sm said...

i got your feelings.
to be honest i do not agree

Pins N Ashes said...

As a student of Endlish, this is an oft talked discussed subject, a course for an entire term, questions in exams...and so on...

It is an acquired language alright which has come to have a certain power with it (maybe the british power)... mixed with the Indian's love and ready acceptance for everything foreign(read western) plus the neutrality that comes with this medium (no connotations as in regional tongue)

You shd read Braj Kachru's the alchemy of english....

too little space...too much to say

Gauri Gharpure said...

Sara-- I know what you mean.. :)

reminds me of Puskar, the fair was on and shopkeepers' first priority was the foreigners.. actually, they were fleecing them like anything. a woman walked in with some friends and pointed to a carpet she said she looved a lot. me and sis had picked somethings and were asking the price, but the man left us and ran to that woman. when she asked the price, he said without missing a beat, 1000 $. I opened my mouth wide in disbelief and the shopkeeper gave me such a look, i kept shut..

anyways, about call centres, it sure generates jobs, but i am not quite sure abt the quality, or the skills that go in it..

Solilo, Callopia-- yes, you are every bit right about the diversity angle.

And about japan, the country being so so small compared to the huge penisula tht india is-- and its healthy economy.

i am just uncomfortable with the idea that if you don't know english, you are missing out something huge.

manju-- agreed.

also, there are still people who favour studying in the regional language, both my cousins did so and they are now well-settled in America, have broken the language barrier.. i don't know if i could be so brave with my children though..

the quote you have attributed to Anil Sadgopal is my personal view. his quote is right at the beginning of the post.

sm-- what are your views then?

Pins and Ashes-- i will look out for the book, thanks. and welcome to the blog, do drop in again

Kaushik Chatterji said...

Sad but true - a language that lends status and a superiority complex to a bunch of people who mostly happen to be from a certain strata of the society.

Kaalicharan said...

It's indeed sad to hear such stories when native language is playing second fiddle to english but somewhere down the line,I too agree with Solilo's words...its hard to find an other language that traverses indian mainland quite the same waya s english does.

Before you point your canons at me,I ain't glorifying english. I'm just putting forward the idea that along with the native language of the individual,english too,should be blended in the syllabus from elementary schooling days.

As for teachers prying on student's lunch boxes...wait till my molars get hold of them! Woof woof....grrr.....!

Gauri Gharpure said...


i think the word 'necessity' in the title is misleading my readers.. i, by no means, mean to say tht there is no need of English in our syllabus and tht it be done away with. that would be rather foolish.

i agree with Solilo's point, which is valid. but then, as a binding language, hindi is also other option, may be simpler to pick up than English too).. then again, many people also object to it claiming it be one-upmanship of people from the north..

it's just that English seems to be getting that 'superior' edge (as Kaushik says in his strongly worded comment) at am alarming rate, perhaps belittling those who are more comfortable in using their own language and have little or very basic, communicative skills in English.

thanks for dropping by.. i am still reading up your very interesting blog..

sm said...

In the past i have written the one article regarding English language.
i am giving you the link,

feddabonn said...

just before i finished my degree, my grandad and i visited relatives in a small village in mizoram. my aunt asked me if i would consider teaching the school kids english-the village felt that was the only way for them to 'progress'. all these years later, i *still do not know how to respond.

अब्द said...

महत्त्वाच्या विषयावर पोस्ट लिहिल्याबद्दल धन्यवाद.
I feel there are too many subtle aspects which need to be addressed.
Firstly, we have to accept that we have not made our regional languages 'stronger' enough to compete with the 'lingua-fanca'.
By 'stronger'' I mean:
1) adapting to technological changes(making it flexible to use for blogs, wikipedia, twitter, etc. )
2) "marketing"(yes, the same so called capitalist word) our literature on the international stage.(it is assumed that we have atleast some literature of international standards!),
3) translating literature from one Indian language to another Indian language (साने गुरुजींची 'आंतरभारती'ची संकल्पना.)
Secondly, rather than showing politically motivated violent chauvinism, we should use English as a "means to achieve the desired ends". (इंग्रजीला चिपळूणकर "वाघिणीचे दूध" म्हणाले आणि आपण ते इतर अनेक महत्त्वाच्या गोष्टींप्रमाणे विसरलो.)
Lastly, we are making our languages economically weaker, which probably leads to dead end.
(The last point needs more description). There are many such aspects(about which generalised comments are made on the T.V., in the newspapers and even in our drawing rooms)
Again, thanks for writng about one of the most important issues in the globalised world.

john doe said...

unfortunately in India we have two types of language crusaders. the inglis camp or the hindi camp. we who fall in between are just caught in the cross-fire. i speak from experience that most of the so called people who speak up against teaching in english want to replace it with teaching in the so called national language hindi. just a reminder. hindi is a national language. not the national language. we have other national languages too... like tamil, bengali, malyalam, sindhi, nepali and gauri your mother tongue marathi too.

yes, english is also our national language.

i am not saying all this, the indian constitution is.

personally i see no problems in learning english. as long as it is made available to all and sundry from the primary level.

since gauri you stay in calcutta, you might have come across the great tragedy that is the west bengal education system. and yes, primarily because they rejected english (except in select english medium schools which only a few including the grand children of great marxist leaders can afford to go to) students from bengal are totally incapable of getting employment outside their home states. employment in west bengal is of course a joke.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Sm-- i read the post and appreciate your views..

Baruk-- English = progress. this seemed the notion at the NGO. what bothered me is that this seems the prevalent idea

Abd-- some very relevant points... especially interested in the word 'marketing' that you have used.. this post however, does not delve into matters as deep as literature. it's abt basic primary education (lax) and if I may put it too loosely, the apparent oneupmanship of a language

John— so much food for thought… I didn’t know there’s a whole bunch of national languages. and yes, I have heard about the whimsical anti-English stand by the Marxists time and again from my ma-in-law…

Darshan Chande said...

Great write-up, Gauri! Indeed, in India people are gone crazy after English. Living in India and not knowing English has become like a matter of shame!! Pathetic is people's mentality!

You have spiked an idea in my mind. I am soon going to write about this scenario..!

Darshan Chande said...

I wrote that! You might like to see it here(click)!