I read today that a certain state in India has built and runs a large number of government English medium schools. As is the norm these days, social media has exploded in a storm of political mockery and nationalistic outrage at the fact that that state chose English as the medium of instruction, and not the local or the presumptive national language, Hindi.

I have a different opinion. My approach to language is practical and not emotional. I don’t consider any language to be holy or sacred. I don’t even consider the mother tongue to be a must-learn language or some kind of default divine requirement. I learn languages that are or will be most necessary, useful and relevant to me, my situation in life and my future. I might also learn languages that interest me for some reason, like the abundance of its rich literature or its music. Accordingly, if I had children, I would send them to schools which teach these languages. Of course, I would need to be prepared to face the consequences of my decision in the future. And I would also need to keep in mind that it will not be me, but my child who will be facing those consequences. Therefore, for my children, I would be extra careful in picking the school.

At the current time, I think English is the language that one needs to be most proficient in. It opens a lot of doors, especially on the international stage. I would put my child in an English-medium school simply because it is the most practical language to learn. I would not object to him or her learning Hindi or the local language or any other language that he or she chooses. If at some point of time, he or she does not want to pursue English and wants to switch to some other language, I wouldn’t object to that either. In fact, I would be happiest if they choose to learn other foreign languages. Translators make a lot of money!

I have no emotional attachment to English nor do I think it’s an especially great language, even though I think and write in it. It’s just that knowing good English prepares you to go abroad, specifically to the US, UK or Australia. If German or Dutch or Swahili becomes the lingua-franca of the world tomorrow, I would be the first to bail out of English and switch to that, if necessary. I consider it my duty to prepare my child for the possibility of going abroad and give him or her a better chance and edge for when the time comes.

Knowing Hindi is useful because it works almost everywhere in India. Learning the local language makes one more effective in daily life. For me, those are the only factors that matter. Hence, I am a bit put off by the criticism and outrage on social media about the schools being English-medium. Language is a critical mode of communication and as such, one needs to learn the language that helps one communicate most effectively and usefully. But it is really nothing more.

I am against attaching some kind of emotional, mystical or sanctified value to language. All languages are beautiful simply because they carry out the crucial function of helping to connect people to each other. That is why we need to learn languages, the more the better, because it enables connectivity between human beings, and not because there is something culturally noble or pious about any of them. None of the languages spoken around the world have been personally handed down by the Gods or ancient Kings. Much as some of us would like to think so.

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Agreed. English is a global language and while most mock it in India, it’s their biggest Achilles heel. Most politicians rub the beauty of the mother tongue on to their hapless voters’ faces but none of their kids have seen or let alone, studied in the vernacular medium.

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