A few days ago, I was asked to be a Moderator on the new National Education Policy. The debate was conducted by the Atomic Energy Junior College in Tarapore. Much of the debate was on the three language formula and also the using of the mother tongue as a means of communication in the crucial initial years.
Most, felt there would be chaos and confusion!
It may come as a surprise to many, as some of our leaders clamour for national and regional languages, that both the US and also the UK have no national language. In fact, until the 19th century, the English language was not seen as a unifying force in the UK, as majorities in Ireland, Scotland and Wales did not speak it and many of their various kings also struggled with its usage.
But English slowly became the primary language through usage rather than coercion.
Slowly people realized that to be able to communicate as they left home and hearth and picked up better jobs in cities and outside the country, they needed to communicate, which meant knowing the language everybody was speaking in.
It was demand that forced the issue and English became UK’s used language.
A few decades ago, while visiting Spain, I was at a loss because I did not know Spanish. I remember ever so clearly getting lost in Valencia and not knowing how to travel back to my hotel. I asked a passerby, directions by repeating the name of the hotel. Soon a crowd gathered and it was like a tornado of words descending on me, and not a word did I understand.
With all the directions I was given I was still lost.
And that is what will happen to us when we don’t master the most spoken language!
One of the reasons we are respected the world over till now, is because of our excellent knowledge of English. Time and time again, I have been appreciated for the command over the language and very frequently asked if I’d studied outside India. “No!” I reply with pride, “All my education was in my own country!”
Germany which has never been happy with England now teaches English as a first language in their schools.
Not only is language about communication, but also about imbibing words to explain the latest technological ideas, inventions or findings. It’s time we stopped using language as a political tool, and think of it only as an essential requirement, like food.
Every day is a revolutionary day, with a new idea and a new word, and the language that carries the burden of communicating these advancements is English.
Let us understand what the world says, when it explains its latest discoveries and inventions to us, instead of asking each other in the near future, “What is the world saying?”
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