we can’t do away with English but …

I had the opportunity of listening to William Dalrymple when he had come to the Times Literature Festival, Bengaluru this year to promote his latest book – The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. From his account it appears that, unlike the Mughals, the British did not have to struggle either to expand their empire or manage their affairs in India. Many influential Indians, sometimes to settle scores with the local rivals or at other times for their own greed, were hand in glove with the East India Company giving them material support or providing them with crucial information.

Similar is the case with the English language. Even today, it does not have to struggle to solidify its foothold in India. It has practical reasons. Because of its English educated population, India was one of the first countries to take advantage of the BPO revolution. If you want in depth study or to know the latest development in any area of knowledge, knowing English has definite advantages. This blog itself is a case in pint. Because it is in English, my reader analysis shows that I am directly able to connect with unknown people form Japan to Scandinavia.

It is not only our grand mothers but also our politicians (thankfully) who know the importance of English language. Bowing to chauvinistic pressure, the stray politician occasionally makes feeble protests against English. However, his protest against English is not as vociferous as his protest against other Indian Languages like say, Hindi or Sanskrit. The language fanatic too does not mind the feeble protest of the politician. His own children may be studying in 100% English medium schools since they were toddlers.

My father in law, himself a Sanskrit scholar and a regular Odia columnist (in addition to being a post graduate in English Literature), recounts this personal anecdote. It was the 1940s and he was in High School. Whenever he was doing home work or practising lessons his grandmother would come frequently to his room to check what he was studying. If she saw that he was studying Sanskrit she would express her displeasure and go away. If she saw that he was studying English, she would give him a piece of sweet. Of course this did not discourage him from studying Sanskrit along with English.

In spite of all our lip services to protect and develop our respective mother tongues, we have a strange obsession with the English language. These days a student in a private or in a central government school studies upto class XII in the same school, or the same type of school. But in many state government schools this is not the case. For example in our school days when there were very few alternatives to sate government schools some of my classmates may have studied in four different types of school – First to third in a Lower Primary School, fourth to fifth in a Upper Primary School, sixth to seventh in a Middle English School, and eighth to eleventh in a High School.

I used to wonder why they were calling it the Middle English School because there was nothing English about the school. English was just one of the subjects among equally important five or six other subjects which were taught in Odia medium. And how can it be called the Middle English School without some sort of English School succeeding or preceding it?

There was another interesting thing. Schools that put up the name board in English used to write it as XYZ High School. But the schools that put up the board in Odia used to write it as ‘ XYZ Uchcha Ingrazi Vidyalaya’.

So there is no point in not accepting the fact that English is here to stay. For many in India it is a matter of earning daily bread. But the question is – along with mastering English, can we do something for the preservation and development of our native languages?

I am hopeful that we can. My father in law is a case in point. In many states it is mandatory to use the state language in connection with official work. At the same time, like the proverbial squirrel of Ramayana everyone can do his or her bit.

Both my children studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya. Odia was not a subject in any of the schools they studied. But, during summer vacations they were encouraged to learn reading and writing in Odia. We converse with one another in Odia. We don’t put any conscious effort to converse in Odia. We just find it natural to talk in our mother tongue and do it.

I find it odd when parents don’t talk to their children in their mother tongue. At the cost of inviting displeasure sometimes I tell them bluntly, “Look. Don’t worry about your children’s spoken English. After five or six years they will be the ones to correct your pronunciation. But if you don’t teach them your mother tongue, no one else will.”

By the way this lock down period is a good time to teach your children your native language, in case this is not a subject in their schools.

PS : This is the fifth post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.

All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.

22 thoughts on “we can’t do away with English but …

  1. I agree with you. The kids should be given a chance to stay connected to their roots. This can be done in different ways depending upon the situation. I am using this time to make my kid learn to read and write Hindi. Being in the US, they don’t get the exposure to even the spoken native language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have hit the nail on its head, the vernacular language must be given its due importance. It has become a fad to make our children speak in English even at home at the cost of the mother tongue. While in Bengaluru, I made it a point for my children to take Kannada as the second language even though they were in CBSE board of curriculum wherein they could have easily taken Hindi. Now they are fluent in speaking, reading and writing the language. A thought provoking post indeed!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am also a KV product and never learnt my mother tongue from school. My only education of the language was from my pre-school. We do speak in our mother tongue and I know to read it as well but it is simply so much more convenient for me to read and write in English. I wish I’d learnt my language in school. At least now they’ve made it mandatory to teach it for the primary section in the state’s KVs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I absolutely loved every single word that you have written. There’s nothing I cannot agree with.. at the same time I would like to add that our obsession with the English language has reached such discreet levels that we forget that a language is but only a means of communication. At the same time the dying cult of particularly vernacular languages is extremely disheartening. Point in case .. we belong to the hills and with no written script for our languages they are gradually fading away.
    I’ve made it a point to teach both garhwali and pahari to my children.
    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Totally agree with you.
    Parents must talk to their kids in regional language; kids must learn mother tongue.
    At least speak in the language, if learning writing skills is tough as parents stay out of India, say.
    Still, some parents put in great effort to make their kids learn. Truly appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While some parents think it is a status symbol to talk to their children in English, some repatriate parents do take efforts to teach their children the native tongue. Talking in English, where it is not required, should not be taken as status symbol.


  6. I so agree with what you say. English for some reason is also equated with intelligence in our country. Most of us are guilty of not learning or teaching our native languages and we must make a conscious effort to do so, else we may lose our identity and culture.

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  7. “If you don’t teach them your mother tongue, no one else will” Rightly said. English is commonly associated with the status of a person, which I presume is fake. If people understands that they will stop loving english. And there are a lot of studies supporting mother language in early learners, it strengthens their conceptual understanding.

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  8. Yes, English is necessary to connect with the world but forgetting or ignoring our native languages can never be appreciated…

    Very nice write up, enjoyed reading throughout, good to know about your grandpa.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I had this conversation a couple of years ago when the daughter’s kindergarten teacher asked me – ‘Which language you speak at home?’ I was stunned by her question, as it was personal and out of sudden. She wanted to tell me that my Lil one isn’t fluent in English, and mind it she was just in Jr. KG.
    I had a lengthy conversation with her, proving that English is important but understanding the mother tongue at this age is more crucial.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Language is a tool to propagate and perpetuate a culture, and each language is capable to cater to the needs of the culture it represents. If there are seven words for snow in a language, it indicates a wider occurrence of snow in that geographical area, and its impact on the lives on people. People dwelling in deserts are likely to have more words for heat and dust. English is a versatile and deeply rich language. Sanskrit is highly scientific in structure apart from being an innately lyrical language. Whatever the language, it calls for a certain dedication to master its nuances. Therefore, rather than despising a language for want of familiarity, one should learn to respect every spoken tongue. And a language should be used as a means of communication rather than scoring a point above others. There can be no beating English today, thanks to its extensive acceptance.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes it indeed is very odd to see that parents don’t talk to kids in their mother tongue and talk in English…. Although yes we have to learn English to be employable but that does not mean we do not learn our mother tongue or national language at all… I hope schools could pay importance to this!!

    Liked by 1 person

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