The Role of English in India

In this stimulating and thought-provoking debate, it was generally agreed by the panel that the role of English in the future of India’s social and economic development is both necessary and desirable.

There is a need for an ongoing shift of English as an elitist language, towards a more universal access for all. In this way, the people themselves can choose to pursue English.

However, there were certain caveats to this:  

one danger of pushing through the English language agenda is that of lack of infrastructure in place. A lack of teachers coupled with unregulated quality of teaching practice will not bring about the desired results of incresed numbers of proficent speakers of English.

Furthermore, if increased amounts of time are given to English studies in class, and these classes are ‘ineffective’, then the learner will not only suffer from a lack of English, but this will be at the expense of other important subjects.

Very salient points. So what are the solutions?

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14 thoughts on “The Role of English in India

  1. Prof Shefali Bakshi

    Languages cannot be labeled as 1st, 2nd and 3rd, as we would be building bridges between these languages. Moreover, to learn a 2nd or 3rd language would we not need to follow the same process as we learn our MT, right from our childhood? If I could give my Learner a similar kind of environment as he/she got while learning his/her MT, then I would succeed in teaching the 2nd/3rd language. Of Course, that’s my view.

  2. CuriousWriter

    How does one teach English? For that matter, how does one teach any language? To know a language and to use it like a native speaker, culture plays an important role. Language is cultural. The more I teach, the more I realise this.
    Why does one language have more words for a thing than the other? The Icelandic dialects have over 2000 words for snow. This is because of a geographically evolved culture that pushed them to communicate. The physical environment of a language lets the language thrive. The culture of the people probes the language to be used and experimented with. Constant usage freezes a structure. This structure in turn becomes the culture of the language.
    So, if the teachers of English want to teach the language, they cannot isolate the culture from it.
    Why is there such a need to learn English now more than any other time in history? Are the real speakers of English letting go of their culture? Or is English becoming a language ( the first of its kind) without culture?
    What is the culture of the English Language?

    1. Roy

      You have raised a very significant question. What is the culture of the English language? Does English represent a single culture today? In the context of globalized English, the language does not stand for any individual culture. The present sociolinguistic reality is that the medium of English is nativised to carry the message of different cultures. It is important to raise the learners’ awareness of the different pragmatics of the variety of Englishes around the world. but that does not mean teaching culture. English today can not be stigmatized as representing the christian or Judaic culture today.

  3. Prof Shefali Bakshi

    The deliberations of 19th Nov,09 “Third Policy Dialogue” gave me an insight into: What our students need today so that they can be employed successfully tomorrow? Due to the rising benchmarks for employability, the need of English is growing day by day. One does not need native like proficiency, but can do with communication skills (Code-mixing), at least at the middle-level of employment. There is scope for mastering the language as one climbs the ladder. There is always the MT to take care of the culture part. Learning English does not mean giving up one’s own MT or Hindi for that matter.

  4. niqueluz Post author


    On whether English becoming a language ( the first of its kind) without culture, I refer to the comment below.

    According to one speaker, “English is an operating system, much like ‘Windows’”.

  5. Nishant

    Dear Prof Bakshi,
    Second or third language acquisition may not necessarily take place in the same manner as the acquisition of our MT takes place. Acquisition of MT takes place within a critical period depending upon the stimulus provided. Second or third language acquisition may run parallel within this period. Once the critical period is over I do not think we learn languages the same way we acquire our MT.
    What do you think?

  6. Manish Sabharwal

    English is like an operating system because a) a computer operating system allows inter-operability between source code (plumbing) and applications (what non-IT people using computers see) without forcing them to give up their roots, b) It allows people who need to work together to agree on common standards. Also Britain and America have the same language but very different cultures

    1. Stephen

      Manish, maybe if I can stretch the metaphor still further… Perhaps English is like the MS operating system because once it reigned supreme and was controlled at the centre. Nowadays there are other operating systems, which essentially speak the same language but offer the user different ways of operating. Another development is that now users are creating their own apps and sharing them with the wider world.

      If you take the view that Windows represents the traditional US/UK version of English, the metaphor echoes David Graddol’s conclusions that new Englishes, or operating systems, are now threatening this version of English.

  7. Prof Shefali Bakshi

    Nishant, perhaps u r right, but we try different ways of developing the language among our learners. Let’s face it English is a window for a prosperous future for our learners. All opportunities arising in the path of our learners need English. While conducting ELT workshops, there is only one grave problem that is faced by nearly all the teachers and that is the poor spoken form of their learners. It is becoz the Learner does not have an environment of English around him and he will be lucky if his teacher also speaks the language. There is a great need to train our teachers first be it of any subject and then only they can pass it on to their students. All our metropolitan cities have overcome this problem at least unless they are politically motivated otherwise. But there is an educated and thoughtful class like us, who want to encourage and work towards spreading the English Language among we Indians. We are like crusaders.

  8. Peter Fiedeldij Dop

    I am a senior (73) student at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands following the course India Unity amidst diversity. My research thesis is: Speaking English Units All Indians. In this discussion by you honorables I find confirmation and reservations all justified in my opinion. In our schools English has become the second language. For the Dutch in business, in international politics, in communication, in the media English is the one language. We still learn and speak our MT. The interest for our own culture and history is enjoying a revival. Because of globalisation people want to know their own roots. All comments on my thesis are most welcome. Please feel invited to be critical and feel free to share your experience and knowledge.

  9. Phani Mohan

    Role of English reading in Enrichment cannot be denied, also regional Lingua is a necessity for wider reach in to the grass roots of India. Learning Lingua is an art and passion which needs to be cherished !


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