English in India
Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an excellent documentary on the privileged status of the English language in India (1).
Unlike China, India has no single homegrown national language of government. Hindi, the official unifying national tongue, is an artificial 20th century construct and remains largely unspoken.
Consequently, English has retained a powerful position in the civil service, upper judiciary, academia, national media and corporate business.
The presenter, Zareer Masani, described how India, which claims the world’s second largest English-speaking population (after the USA), has a true love/hate relationship with the language of the British Empire.
While chauvinists and Nationalists have tried to ban its use, dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) have united with privileged elites to adopt English as the language of a new meritocratic India. Enrolment at vernacular national schools has declined, while private English language schools thrive.
A Strange Alliance
The increasing popularity of private English-medium schools shows a coming together of two quite different social groups, and mirrors changes taking place in the Indian economy. Now, the elite and the dispossessed are using them as a means to empower their children.
For rich and poor alike, the acquisition of good English is an important issue. It is the passport to white collar jobs, and the lack of it will hold their children back in their chosen careers.
But, the results are mixed. Predictably, the English spoken by those attending the best schools is excellent and almost indistinguishable from that of educated native speakers. However, at the Anglican schools favoured by the aspiring poor, Hindi is mixed with English to produce Hinglish – a hybrid unintelligible to you and me.
Dreadful or Different
Of course, the claim of 125 million English-speakers in India is a distortion of the facts. So many speak Hinglish that a truer figure might be a fraction of that number, making India an also-ran in the English-speaking stakes.
Or does it? If we think of our huddled masses in Glasgow, Liverpool or Newcastle, perhaps we shouldn’t be too sniffy about those who speak different forms of English. After all, who amongst us speaks perfect English? I’m not even sure if I know what it is!
Raising the Standard
The truth is, of course, that you get what you pay for.
No matter where you are, if you want your child to have a good education, you make sure that they have highly-educated, professional teachers, who love teaching and are passionate about their pupils’ progress. And, for this to have any real impact, you must choose a school with small class sizes.
Great teachers and small classes cost money, so it is no surprise that the privileged elites opt for the excellence that comes from 1-to-1 classes with professional teachers, so that they get the greatest benefit.
Of course, this is what we offer at HELLO English. We are extremely well-qualified, professional English teachers and our reasonable rates and high success rates mean that it won’t cost you the Taj Mahal, either.
(1) Masani Z; ‘English or Hinglish – Which will India Choose?”; BBC Radio 4; 27/11/12 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20500312)