Is English language important?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010 Dr. Vishaal Bhat 0 Comments

Travelling by bus in this country enables an observant individual to obtain great insight into the attitudes of the average Kannadiga mind in general. 

A recent conversation I overheard was between a young man and a slightly elderly gentleman demonstrated the stupidity, myopia and backwardness inherent in a large segment of our population. 

The elder of the two, speaking in Kannada was describing an incident at the office where they apparently worked together. 'Magaa', he said "that new bugger was actually speaking to the boss in English. He even spoke to Priya.... in English, but then quickly changed to Kannada when Priya.... replied in Kannada. These buggers think they are big shots because they know that language. If he comes to me with it, I know what to tell him." 

The younger man agreed, adding that this was a kannadiga state and those speaking English should not be tolerated in their clique. 

I was not in the least surprised or perturbed listening to this conversation for I had come across this attitude to the language quite often before. What was amazing was that after a few minutes of silence between the two with previous conversation abandoned and forgotten, the older man says: "Magaa, now that my daughter has finished school I've enrolled her in computer and English classes and once she finishes these I hope to get her a job at.....". 

That incident fundamentally sums up the way in which the English language is perceived by the hoi polloi of this country; they fear it, hate it, but need it, like a key to a locked door. 

One of the most important legacies left behind by our former colonial overlords who granted us our independence was an educated upper and middle class society fluent in English. India has a great advantage in having had the British as our last colonisers, as opposed to the Spanish, Dutch or Portuguese in having bequeathed a language that was to become the `Lingua Franca'; the true international language of the modern world. 

The importance of English as a vital requirement for a majority of the jobs available in today's market is plainly evident by a glance at the `employment' pages of any newspaper. 

Even the villager in the bus was aware of this fact as was evident in his plans to educate his daughter.
The policies of the present Government makes English education a vital and indispensable tool for the development plans it has for the country. However, there exists a small but highly vocal segment of society that openly expresses its reservations and in some cases opposes the dissemination of English in our educational system altogether. This is especially true in the States of Karnataka, Maharashtra and some of the northern states in our vast country.

The rationalisation, motives and logic behind this school of thought is elusive at best, and seems devoid of farsighted reflection on the impact that the neglect of this essential medium would have. 

English is the language medium of computers, finance and commerce, trade, communications, industry, law, medicine, diplomacy, and virtually every facet of human activity imaginable. To be ignorant of English is to be effectively ignorant of the world. 

With regard to language policy, misguided nationalism reveals an underlying fear and loathing borne of ignorance. True nationalism would recognise that present policies towards the language tend to downplay its importance to the detriment of the country.

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