You are on page 1of 8

AttitudetowardsEnglishinIndiansocietytoday

1.Introduction
In my trips to India I had the chance to meet many people that, even if in very different contexts,
showed a very positive attitude towards English. Firstly, I notice that in both Northern India and
Maharashtra, where Hindi is widely spoken, even when I addressed people in Hindi often they
replied to me inEnglish.OfcourseIconsideredthefactthatmyHindiwasnotthatgood,andIalso
know that many Indians speak English with westerners to make a good impression or to make the
conversation easier to the foreigner. But inmanyotheroccasionsInoticedthatsomepeopletended
to speak English even among each others. Simplifying alot,myintuitionwasthatvillagersusually
spoke their mother tongue, middleclass people coming from mediumbig cities tended to switch
code between Hindi and English, and upperclasses people definitely spoke English. If two plus
twoalwaysequalsfour,speakingEnglishinindiamustbeastatussymbol.
It is from this first thought that my study starts. In preparing it many sources have been of great
importance: manly books and essays, among which Vaish (2008), Montaut (2004) and Adami
(2012) were the most useful You Tube Youtube videos and newspaper articles, whose references
areavailableinthededicatedsectionofthispaperandeventuallymypersonalexperience.
The purpose of this paper, thus, is to describe the status of English in India and especially the
attitudestowardsthislanguagetoday.
Firstly, a historical outline will clear how the English language had been introduced by theBritish
administrators in India how it became a tool of power why, even after Independence, the new
nationwasnotabletogetridofitsuseandthefollowingneedofaneffectivelanguageformula.
Secondly, a description of the Three Language Formula policy anditsactualapplicationnowadays
will be provided. After having highlighted some shortcomings of the above policy, I will give a
glimpse on the presence of English in Indian education and in particular on the proliferation of
Englishmediumschools.
The last chapters will focus on the economic, political, and social reasons which lead English to
gainmoreandmorepowerinIndiansociety.
Finally, after a brief conclusion, an appendix with two interviews will show the opinions of a
highclassmanandamiddleclassmaninthisregard.

2.Ahistoricaloutline

The beginnings of the British Colonization in India are usually considered to start around the 16th
century with the arrival of the East India Company. The company rose to account for half of the
world'strade,particularlytradeinbasiccommoditiesthatincludedcotton,silk,salt,teaandopium.
In this context the first Indians to speak English were the socalled peons, that is to say the
interpreters which acted as intermediaries between the British businessmen of the East India
Company and the Indian agents, whose collaboration became official in 1600 by a Royal Charter
issuedbyElizabethI.
Over the years Britishers saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India and the
transformation of their business venture into a ruling enterprise. By the end of the 18th century
British rule had been consolidated and it was being extended from the east coasts up to Delhi
throughtheGangesvalley,andovermostofSouthernIndiaterritories.
In this period of time a civilizing belief that England should help backward peoples towards
greater refinement led to the enrollment of a discrete numbers of Indians in the British
administrationandtoaparticularinterestintheireducation.
The massive expansion of the English language took place especially between the end of the 18th
and the first half of the 19th century with the establishment of English schools. As a result, the
education process sought to achieve, as articulated byThomasMacaulay,thegrowthofaclassthat
wasIndianinbloodandcolor,butEnglishintastes,inopinions,inmoralsandintellect.
Hence, it is clear how according to the British colonizers, Westernstyle education was a meansto
improvethequalityoflifeoftheindividual,replacinglocalbeliefswithBritishconcepts.
Western values had a strong impact on Indian culture, but this also gave input to the rise of an
Indian Nationalist Movement. Indeed, the first proindependence groups were formed by the
educated indian Indian lite who spoke English, had adopted a western lifestyle and was able to
communicateinaneffectivepoliticallanguage.
After Independence, in 1947, the biggest problem was the definition and consolidation of both
nation and national identity. The first step was to promote a common Indian language among the
population: Hindi was the most spread language, at least in the North of the Country. In 1950 the
Constitution established Hindi as national language, and English asofficiallanguageuntil1965.In
these 15 years Hindi should take over the role of official language from English. As 1965
approached, in Tamil Nadu, nonHindi speakers gathered in linguistic riots aiming to promote and
maintain the use of English in India. In 1968,duetothisopposition,Nehru,thenPrimeMinisterof
India,declaredHindiandEnglishcoofficiallanguages.

Creating a sense of identity andbelongingthroughacommonlanguagewasatoughchallengefora


youngnationandneededaneffectivelanguagepolicy.

3.TheThreeLanguageFormula
In order to remove linguisticinequalitiesamonglanguagesandtheirspeakers,in1956theAllIndia
Council for Education establishedtheThreeLanguageFormulapolicy(whichisusuallyconsidered
to come into effect in 1968). According to TLF all schoolgoing children will have their mother
tongue or first languageasmediumofinstructionuntilgrade5amodernIndianlanguage(orHindi
for nonHindi speakers) and English are introduced in secondary school (Grades 610) university
coursesaremainlyimpartedinEnglish.
Though the aim of this Language in Education policy were to promote multilingualism and
equality, it has was not applied perfectly everywhere yet. For instance, the teaching of Hindi is
mandatory in every state of India except in Tamil Nadu, Tripura and the Kairakal region of
Pondicherry. In the same way, the state of Bihar refused the teaching of English and the state of
WestBengalthatofHindi.ItisalsonoteworthythatinmanystatesofnorthernIndiawhereHindiis
spoken Sanskrit is systematically chosen instead of a modern language. Moreover, if the TLF
establishes the mother tongue as medium of instruction in primary school it is also true that non
regional standard, tribal and minority languages, though childrens first language, are not taken in
consideration.1
Though Vaish (2008) hasbeenavalidsourceforthedevelopmentofthisstudy,despitehisopinion,
in the following chapter it will beclearhowtheestablishmentoftheTLFisnotsufficienttoensure
theteachingofEnglishinanegalitarianmanneralloverthesubcontinent.

4.EnglishinEducation
Over the years, the role of the English language in the lives of people in India changed
significantly. If until some time ago English education was an exclusive privilege of the lite,
nowadays English medium schoolsareapparentlyaccessiblebyalllevelsofsocietywhichequateit
with good education. But, if as in other parts of the world the English taught should be that of
British Standard English, the quality of teaching changes, especially from rural to urban areas and
fromasocialrealitytoanother.

See Vaish, Viniti, 2008, Biliteracy and Globalization English Language Education in India, Clevedon: Multilingual

Matters,pp.1516.

In a BBC article published on November27th2012byZareerMasanientitledEnglishorHinglish


which will India choose?2, the authors states that his familys maid in Bombay used to spend a
third of her month salary tosendherchildtoasocalled ConventSchoolrunbyCatholicpriests.
When he visited the schoolhediscoveredthatmostpupilscouldhardlyunderstandtheirmediumof
instructionandthatthelanguagetheyclaimedtospeakwashardtoidentifyasEnglish.
The problem is twofold: firstly, many children who do not belong to upper class families do not
speak English at home and, secondly, schools usually do not provide necessary basis on which
students can learn communicative English. For these reasons students are usually bound to attend
outside school courses, many of which are of dubiousquality.Ontheotherhand, aswehaveseen,
parents push for an Englishmedium education but in many casesareilliterateorprovidedofalow
levelofeducationandarenotabletodistinguishahighlevelofEnglisheducationfromalowone.

3.AttitudetowardsEnglish
Learning through a language which is not ones mother tongue could result quite difficult and
many would argue that in India this obsession for English is leading to a poorly educated
population. *Pillalamarri Neverthless nevertheless, it is undeniable that English has always been
acceptedasthekeytoupwardsocialandeconomicmobility.
As a result, even in the ratherunhealthysituationofthestateeducationinIndia,howeverbadlyrun
Englishmedium schools are widely chosen for having better facilities and people who can afford
the socalled Conventschoolsdoubtlessoptforthese.Thissituationisnotnewasitisattestedsince
19th century when the difficulties to find a respectable occupation led the higher classes to study
the English language in the hope it proved a qualification or a recommendation for
employment.*Allen 1854 and many healthy Indians, even if Hindus, used to prefer missionary
schoolstogovernmentschools.3
As Bailey (1996) states attitudes toward a foreign language are the most important predictors of
learners success4 and though insomecontextthereisstilladeepresentmentagainstEnglish,seen
2

SeeMasani,Zareer,2012,EnglishorHinglishwhichwillIndiachoose?Availableat

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine20500312.

See Chamberlain, W. I., 1910, Educational Problems in India, in The Journal of Race Development, Vol. 1, No.1,

p.119.
4

Bailey, Richard Weld, 1996, Attitudes towards English: the Future of English in SouthAsia,inBaumgardner, Robert

Jackson(ed.)SouthAsianEnglish:Structure,Use,andUsers,UrbanaandChicagoIL:UniversityofIllinoisPress,p.40.

as the principal tool used by the British rulers, the use of this language in India is not declining at
all. This is not because it serves as a Lingua Franca, at least not at grassroots grassroot level,and
neither as a symbol of egalitarianism, for the reasonswhichhavebeenmentionedsofar:Englishis
anactualsymbolofpowerandprestige.
A study conducted by Vaish5 in government schools like RSKV (Rajkiya Sarvodaya Kanya
Vidyalayas) shows how students not only associate English with wealth and higher education but
also with an attractive and successful personality. They try their best to improve their proficiency
and especially their communicative skills which, they perfectly know, are necessaryforapplyinga
goodjob.

4.Conclusion
Widely used by the Indias lite, bureaucracy and business, English has been and still remains the
most powerful languageinIndia.Despitemanyeffortsandlanguagepolicies,anegalitarianlevelof
English teaching has not been reached yet. ThevastmajorityofIndiansdonotunderstandorspeak
English and though this language is seen as a vehicle of economic growth, his its reckless use in
everyfieldoflifeoftendeniestheaverageIndiantogettheopportunitiesthatanonEnglishspeaker
inanothercountrywouldhaveaccessto.
Many families try to remedy this problem bysendingtheirchildrentoEnglishmediumschoolsbut
many of these are of dubious quality. Only children of relatively affluent families have access to
highqualityprivateschoolsandcanaspiretoabrighterfuturethanthatoftheirlessluckymates.
Though on one hand many will argue that education in a foreign language can be a waste of time
and resources6 on the other hand the attitudes toward English will hardly change, especially in a
countrylikeIndia.

SeeSeeVaish,Viniti,2008,BiliteracyandGlobalizationEnglishLanguageEducationinIndia,Clevedon:Multilingual
Matters,pp.7690.

6
SeePillalamarri,Akhilesh,12Jul2014,WhyIndiaMustMoveBeyondEnglish,TheDiplomat.

Appendix:Interviews
Interviewno.1,SameerGupta.34yearold.Company'sowner.

Whatkindofschooldidyouattend?
IattendedaprivateschoolcalledModernVasantModernVasantVihar.
WasitanEnglishmediumschool?
Yes,allsubjectsweretaughtinEnglish.
WhydidyourparentschooseforyouanEnglishmediumschool?
Well,wespeakEnglishinmyhouse.Anywayeducationstandardishigher.Plusmyparentswentto
all English schools as well. They have always had higher level of education and have mostly kids
fromgoodfamilies.
Whatdoyoumeanwithgoodfamilies?
Schools with English language vary, aspeopletodayputtheirkidsinschoolwherepeoplearefrom
similar background, for example business families choose different schools to high level
governmentofficials.
Didyoustudyabroadtoo?
Yes, I studied at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, USA. Four years for
undergraduationinBusinessEconomyandFinance.
Haveyougotapostgraduation?
No, I am supposed to go to Columbia University for a Master of Science in Construction
Managementbutcan'ttakethetimeoffwalkwork.
DoyouspeakandreadHindi?
We had one subject through school till grade 10 which was Hindi. It's a requirement byschoolsin
India. I'm not very good at reading it. It takes me forever to read a sentence, I've always read in
EnglishIguess.NeverHindi.UnlessIhaveto...butthenIgetitreadtomebymystaff!
Doyoueverswitchtoitwhiletalking?
Well, I don't usually but a lot of people do as they come from homes where they primarily speak
Hindiathome.Mostofmyfamilydoesn'tthough.
WhytospeakEnglishratherthanHindioranotherIndianlanguage?
Well, it depends on what you're used to. My family was a very big family even when the British
were ruling India.SotheprimarylanguagewasEnglish.MostoftheirEducationwasinschoolsrun
by the British. Plus English is the only common language we have through India. As when Igoto
thesouthernpartIcan'tcommunicateinanyotherlanguage.

Do you think that speaking English may elevate the perception people have of your social
status?
Well, I don't think of it like that. Butdoeschangethewayyouperceivesomeone.SoIguessyes,it
doeselevateit.Butitdoessosubconsciouslyandnotintentionally.
Don't you think it's weird that speaking a language which is not nativeofyourownnation
doesthiskindofeffectonpeople?
Well, it is actually the native language as it's the only common language have we. India was
originally different kingdoms with different languages (). Before the British there was no India.
Technically. Plus I would assume that people who speak English have got a better form of
education.
Beforeyousaidthatyouarenotgoodinreadinghindiandletyourstaffreaditforyou...
Myofficestaff,myhousestaffcanalsoreadEnglish.
DoesyouhousestaffunderstandEnglish?
Yes, most of them, but only a little. Some areprettygood.PlusalldriversneedtoknowEnglishas
thesignsareinEnglish.
Aretheyfromlowcastlowercaste?
All vary. Sweapers Sweepers are from the lowest. But I have people who are Brahmins also. But
the cast caste system really holds in the lower class the ones with the most constricted financial
means.Notsomuchintheupperandmiddle.
Sotheydidnothaveagoodeducation...
No,someofthemdon'thaveanyformofeducation.

Interviewno.2.SaadBinAkhlaq.SoftwareDeveloper.
Whatisyourmothertongue?
Hindi.
Whatlanguagedoyouspeakathome,withyourfamily?
Well,it'snotcompletelyHindi...it'smoreofamixamongHindi,UrduandEnglish.
WhatkindofSchooldidyouattendandwhere?
Well, I went to Abu Dhabhi Abu Dhabi at the age of four, there I attended an Indian school and
back in India I attended a missionary convent school. Then I went to Delhi to prepare for
engineering competitive exams. After engineering I took another competitive exam for master
degree.I qualified that my rank was 650 among other 54000 candidates, then I went to BHU for
masterdegree.

WeretheyallEnglishmediumSchools?
Yes.
WhochooseanEnglishmediumschoolforyouandwhy?
Myparents.MosthigherstudiesareinEnglish.
DoyouthinkspeakingEnglishelevatestheperceptionthatpeoplehaveofone'ssocialstatus?
Well for example if you go to a restaurant in India like a place which is high end. There even the
waiters would speak English and even if you reply in hindi they would still speak in English. I
meannoonesaysdirectlyonyourface,butyoudogetstares.Likeyouareuneducated.
What do people mean in India when theysaythatsomeonewhodoesn'tspeakEnglishis"not
educated"?
The thing is that most people in cities in India go to Englishmedium schools And and thestudent
who are not good at studies are also not good at English so that is one of the reasons for this
perception.Butoneshouldn'tjustjudge.Ithinkifyoudon'tknowgoodEnglishthenspeakhindi.