English and English only

The English language seems to have returned with a bang. One can see a marked difference in countries towards the language, from across different parts of the world.

English and English only

English and English only [Illustration by Shinod AP]

In the third week of June, the government of West Bengal announced that it has decided to reintroduce English as the language of instruction from Class I, in the state government-run schools.

It is a big turnaround for a state that had banished English during the primary school years in 1983, and reintroduced English from Class III, following the Pabitra Kumar Commission report in 1998.

The decision to give English its position of primacy has created enormous enthusiasm among the parents and students.

Around the same time, a report in Sky.com pointed to a similar development halfway across the world. A growing number of immigrant families in the US are now waking up to English as they realise the extent to which the language dominates the world of business, technology and indeed any activity.

And so they are making a conscious effort to learn the language in order to keep up with their children’s education so that they are able to provide them the assistance they require as they grow.

Whether at the level of families or at the level of governments, the thinking seems to be similar.

The wheel is turning full circle. For, in the last 50 years, there has been a reaction against the English language in favour of the national idioms in countries across the world. To them a national language meant a sense of national identity.

But things seem to have changed a great deal between then and now, especially in the era of globalisation. English, always seen as a ‘universal’ language has totally dominated the areas of tele-communication, media, technology and business. English has become the language of science, air traffic control, computers, and most of all the Internet.

No wonder countries – and parents – are sitting up and taking note of the fact that if children and nations need better avenues of growth, they need to learn English.

Universities all over the world have begun a range of courses to meet the growing demands of learning English. And the examples of countries going English are many.

Bangladesh – that had banished the ‘foreign’ language – soon after it gained independence in 1971, comes readily to mind. Recently, the Bangladesh Cricket Board asked its players to learn English in order to build a rapport with their Australian coach Trevor Chappell!

Gauging the importance of English, Singapore, which aims to be an IT hub in the globalised world, has also decided that its citizens must learn the Queen’s English. For, Singaporean, which is an attractive mixture of Malay, Chinese and English, is not understood outside the country.

The trends are very clear for now. Developing countries and immigrants to the developed countries are thinking along pragmatic lines: if they want to be ahead in the race for opportunities, employment and a sunny future, they must start thinking in English.

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