Wednesday, April 6, 2011

English? #Fail

For all our chest-beating about how important English has been to our economic rise, a recent survey ranks India 29th out off 44 countries in fluency of speaking English. To put that in perspective, China, a country against whom our trump card is supposed to be our knowledge of English, ranks just a place below us at 30.In fact, the Chinese people of Taiwan beat us by ranking four places ahead of us.

The Johnson blog at the Economist blames the elitism inherent in India’s approach towards English:

“Finally, one surprising result is that China and India are next to each other (29th and 30th of 44) in the rankings, despite India’s reputation as more Anglophone. Mr Hult says that the Chinese have made a broad push for English (they're "practically obsessed with it”). But efforts like this take time to marinade through entire economies, and so may have avoided notice by outsiders. India, by contrast, has long had well-known Anglophone elites, but this is a narrow slice of the population in a country considerably poorer and less educated than China. English has helped India out-compete China in services, while China has excelled in manufacturing. But if China keeps up the push for English, the subcontinental neighbour's advantage may not last.”

If language/linguistics interests you, the blog is highly recommended, by the way.

And since Gandhi’s methods and thoughts seem to be the flavour of the season—so influential has been Hazare’s fast that even Pappu Yadav, the Bihar strongman and convicted murderer, has gone on a bhook hartal against corruption—here’s an excerpt from a speech given by the Mahatma in 1916:

“I am hoping that this University (he was speaking at the Benares Hindu University) will see to it that the youths who come to it will receive their instruction through the medium of their vernaculars. Our languages the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, then say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. Is there a man who dreams that English can ever become the national language of India? Why this handicap on the nation? Just consider for one moment what an equal race our lads have to run with every English lad.

I had the privilege of a close conversation with some Poona professors. They assured me that every Indian youth, because he reached his knowledge through the English language, lost at least six precious years of life. Multiply that by the numbers of students turned out by our schools and colleges, and find out for yourselves how many thousand years have been lost to the nation.”

No comments: