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English – The language of progress?


India is losing business due to loyalty to English Language. We can’t do business with the French or Germans, Spanish or the Arabs. Swahili and Bantu, the Chinese and Japanese are out of bounds to us.

Mr. Feisal Ali (feisal.ali@gmail.com) contributed photograhs (sic) - Khwaja Mohammed Azam, a member of the Indian National Congress based in Ludhiana; friend of Jawaharlal Nehru; picture taken in 1947 when Nehru visited Ludhiana and stayed at my Khwaja Mohammed Azam's residence. (Pic courtesy - oldindianphotos.blogspot.com.). Click for larger picture.

Mr. Feisal Ali (feisal.ali@gmail.com) contributed photograhs (sic) – Khwaja Mohammed Azam, a member of the Indian National Congress based in Ludhiana; friend of Jawaharlal Nehru; picture taken in 1947 when Nehru visited Ludhiana and stayed at Khwaja Mohammed Azam’s residence. (Pic courtesy – oldindianphotos.blogspot.com.). Click for larger picture.

On 15th August 1947, when Nehru made his ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech, he made a choice for India favoring English.

Status quo is not choice

At that time, an Indian economy in tatters and technologically stagnant, it was necessary choice.

To stay with the choice, 70 years later, is an expensive choice based on legacy and ease.

For instance, India’s recent success with the software industry, has been hobbled due to over-reliance on English language.

In the last 60 years, the issue of English language has acquired a tone of chauvinism, a smell of regionalism and parochialism. Over the last 24 months, 2ndlook has been making out a case against English language. Not on chauvinistic appeal but rooted in economic logic, on political advantage, on long-term benefit. To move forward, not on legacy, but by choice.

It was rather good to see this post linked below, which echoed the 2ndlook logic partly. Where this post missed out was how India software success also failed due to English language!

All the same, knowledge of English is probably an over-rated virtue. As the crisis over the Commonwealth Games has demonstrated, it cannot act as a guarantor of execution ability, efficiency or even honesty. Increasingly, it is becoming an alibi for the lack of enablers within the Indian system for talent to rise, irrespective of linguistic provenance and patronage. India makes much of the fact that its English-speaking population base has been turned to profitable use in the vast information technology (IT) and back office industry. In many ways, IT defines the dynamic new India. But surely independent India’s genius must go beyond leveraging a colonial heritage. (via Kanika Datta: The language of progress).

The Elite is using tax-payer money to create passports for their families to 'escape' to the English-speaking West.  |  Jerry Holbert cartoon on Monday, February 9, 2009; image source & courtesy - townhall.com

The Elite is using tax-payer money to create passports for their families to ‘escape’ to the English-speaking West. | Jerry Holbert cartoon on Monday, February 9, 2009; image source & courtesy – townhall.com

What is India missing out on …

India’s biggest economic success in the last 20 years has been the maturing of the software industry. That has also been its biggest failure.

Between 70%-80% of Indian software business comes from two countries – USA and UK. English speaking countries – both of them. Total software business to these two countries is about US$35-40 billion – out of total Indian software exports of US$50 billion. UK alone contributes nearly 60% of total EU software business to India.

India is losing business opportunities due to India’s loyalty to The Great British Gift To India – English Language. We can’t do business with the French or Germans, Spanish or the Arabic speaking world. The Chinese and Japanese are out of bounds to us – as are the Swahili and the Bantu.

English - The language of progress? Cartoon published in Times Of India on 14th December 1958 - Fifty years earlier. Cartoon by RK Laxman; republished in 2008.

English – The language of progress? Cartoon published in Times Of India on 14th December 1958 – Fifty years earlier. Cartoon by RK Laxman; republished in 2008.

In the past few years …

Like an earlier post pointed out, the lack of language skills has stopped Indians from exploiting the Japanese opportunity. This includes the software business. Same story in Europe also – major opportunities overlooked and ignored. RBI in the meanwhile has been complaining how India’s own IT players have been pretty useless in building a software platform for financial inclusion of India’s poor in the formal economic sector.

This is also true of other business opportunities also. Our ‘success’ with English blinds us to the bigger and larger opportunities that stare at us. And the first thing that we need to do is to diversify our language basket. But with our bankruptcy of ideas on restructuring Indian education system or the vested interest banging begging bowls in front of the Indian tax payer!

India missed out on Japanese investments, technology and business – due to a well-cultivated tunnel vision about English language (amongst many other things). Indian loyalty to English language exceeds the loyalty of the British themselves to their language – and we refuse to see how this affects us.

Is it due to the apparent Indian decision to tie its future to the sinking ship of the Anglo Saxon Bloc?

The Indian 'elephant' bows to English language, legacy and red-tape.  |  Cartoon by David Simonds; courtesy - guardian.co.uk, Sunday 25 July 2010 00.06 BST.

The Indian ‘elephant’ bows to English language, legacy and red-tape. | Cartoon by David Simonds; courtesy – guardian.co.uk, Sunday 25 July 2010 00.06 BST.

What India needs …

India should set up 7 specialized universities. One for Chinese and Japanese studies. Another university needs to focus on Franco-German language skills. A third must devote itself to creating a centre of excellence in Swahili and Bantu. A fourth must address the Spanish and Portuguese language markets. The fifth must address the SE Asian languages of Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. A sixth university must address the Russian and Slavic languages. Last and definitely, not the least, the seventh university must create a core of qualified and skilled people using Persian and Arabic languages.

This is, of course, apart from Indian language universities.

  1. Jindal
    October 2, 2010 at 1:12 am

    Of particular note should be the rapid use of the English language as a medium of instruction, not just in the traditional Anglophone universities, but within Europe and beyond. In the 1950 the Netherlands became the first non-English speaking country to teach in that language. Today it can boast 1,300 programmes. Germany, likewise, now offers 500 degrees in English, and in Denmark all courses are offered in English. Even France has found that by opening up courses in the English language it has increased its flow of foreign students. But perhaps the greatest revolution can be found within China, for not only are Chinese students learning English as a second language, with the primary aim of using it to gain entry to study abroad, but over three hundred institutions in China itself are offering courses taught in English. It is further suggested that the emergence of the country as a superpower in the twenty-first Century, not least in the field of Education, will have a profound effect and change on the way that the English language is used both in China itself as well as internationally.[35] In fact, recent research indicates that there are now more Chinese learning English than Americans. [Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-29718?l=english%5D

    A quick fix to your polemic: In the last 60 years, [thanks to the Thackerays,] the issue of Marathi language has acquired a tone of chauvinism, a smell of regionalism and parochialism.

    The Chinese are picking up English fast and “they know how important it is to learn”: http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2010/10/01/china%E2%80%99s-english-learning-industry/ with a cheesy suggestion at the end — “In fact, Canada, where I’m from, has even made Chinese its third language!” which has a tinge of expansionist inclinations often expressed by the Hans: http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2010/09/24/china%E2%80%99s-pyrrhic-victory/

    Hillary Clinton, in a recent speech, said that the US and India have “a wide convergence of interests” and what those are can be examined here:
    http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/us_india_3.0.pdf — it may not be as telling but Ashley Tellis is also an Indian-American.

    I’ve been to Germany before — 3 out of 5 Germans speak English. They are no longer hung up on their heritage of suffering humiliation at the end of World War II. Why is English just colonial heritage when India’s genius is far from squeezing out the max from being the world’s largest English speaking country? In fact, my argument is that this would have already happened if India had gotten its act together on governance, and Indians had risen out of a post-colonialist mindset (which still doesn’t seem to have happened after 60+ years). IMO, if America eagerly wants to pass on the baton to India in the 21st century, only India can stop this from happening. All that is required is lack of genius.

    Anyway, all learning is good. Just that calculative learning is way better. Lastly, it’s ideas that matter more than enumerating the languages scattered at the Tower of Babel.

  2. JS
    November 5, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Jindal :
    Of particular note should be the rapid use of the English language as a medium of instruction, not just in the traditional Anglophone universities, but within Europe and beyond. In the 1950 the Netherlands became the first non-English speaking country to teach in that language. Today it can boast 1,300 programmes. Germany, likewise, now offers 500 degrees in English, and in Denmark all courses are offered in English. Even France has found that by opening up courses in the English language it has increased its flow of foreign students. But perhaps the greatest revolution can be found within China, for not only are Chinese students learning English as a second language, with the primary aim of using it to gain entry to study abroad, but over three hundred institutions in China itself are offering courses taught in English. It is further suggested that the emergence of the country as a superpower in the twenty-first Century, not least in the field of Education, will have a profound effect and change on the way that the English language is used both in China itself as well as internationally.[35] In fact, recent research indicates that there are now more Chinese learning English than Americans. [Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-29718?l=english%5D
    A quick fix to your polemic: In the last 60 years, [thanks to the Thackerays,] the issue of Marathi language has acquired a tone of chauvinism, a smell of regionalism and parochialism.
    The Chinese are picking up English fast and “they know how important it is to learn”: http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2010/10/01/china%E2%80%99s-english-learning-industry/ with a cheesy suggestion at the end — “In fact, Canada, where I’m from, has even made Chinese its third language!” which has a tinge of expansionist inclinations often expressed by the Hans: http://the-diplomat.com/china-power/2010/09/24/china%E2%80%99s-pyrrhic-victory/
    Hillary Clinton, in a recent speech, said that the US and India have “a wide convergence of interests” and what those are can be examined here:
    http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/us_india_3.0.pdf — it may not be as telling but Ashley Tellis is also an Indian-American.
    I’ve been to Germany before — 3 out of 5 Germans speak English. They are no longer hung up on their heritage of suffering humiliation at the end of World War II. Why is English just colonial heritage when India’s genius is far from squeezing out the max from being the world’s largest English speaking country? In fact, my argument is that this would have already happened if India had gotten its act together on governance, and Indians had risen out of a post-colonialist mindset (which still doesn’t seem to have happened after 60+ years). IMO, if America eagerly wants to pass on the baton to India in the 21st century, only India can stop this from happening. All that is required is lack of genius.
    Anyway, all learning is good. Just that calculative learning is way better. Lastly, it’s ideas that matter more than enumerating the languages scattered at the Tower of Babel.

    Stupid comment as always🙂

  3. April 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Interesting read, I’ve never understood why India feel it owes anything to the United Kingdom or Imperialism in general.

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