Aspects of Teaching English Language in India

There are many languages in India. There recorded a total of 1652 mother tongues and over 190 recognised language varieties in the census of 1971 followed by languages with widespread currency [41 languages used for education, 58 taught as subjects and 87 used in media], Scheduled languages [Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujrati, Kannada, Malyalam, Oriya, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Assamese, Sanskrit] with Hindi at the top of the hierarchal order.

India's long history resulted in multilingual situation and the basic structure of the Indian languages is thus made up of Aryan and Dravidian families. English after its origins in the 5th century has prospered in the different ares and colonies of the world.Its forays outside Europe began with the foundation of the American colonies. Later in the 16th century during the Renaissance period.with the expansion of the British empire in the 19th century 'with its Sun never setting', its language i.e., English emerged as a world language. It came came to India as part of the colonial encounter between India and England in the second half of the 18th century.
English came to India with the English. Since the English had arrived here for the purpose of trade, in the beginning of 16 th century they focused their attention only on trade and they were not interested in encouraging  the teaching of English, .English teaching in India started by some missionaries who started schools where English was taught as one of the subjects. There was a reason why the English did not think of encouraging the teaching of English initially, was that they feared that they might lose their colonies in India as they lost in America. This can create a diversion so they focused their attention on trading and business. 

This fear was expressed by Randle Jackson, a [1] member of the House of Commons, Who said, "We lost our colonies in America by imparting our education there, we need not do so in India too." 
However, after the battle of Plassey in 1757, this situation began to change. The East India Company  became the rulers of India. Now traders came in the position of ruling. In order to have full command over the people and to make them understand their language or to govern they decide to open educational institutions. 

Two such institutions were started for this purpose. Calcutta Madorssa was started in 1781 and Benares Sanskrit College was founded in 1791. In those institutions the teaching of classical learning was provided, but there was also the provision for the teaching of English. In this way, the
teaching of English in India was begun by the British rulers after the battle of Plassey [1757]. 

The importance of English  in India went on increasing with the passage of time. A great demand for the spread of English education begun to be raised from the different parts of the country. To meet this demand Raja Ram Mohan Roy established the Hindu College in 1817. Soon, thereafter the
missionaries opened a number of schools and colleges in which the teaching of English was given utmost importance. Ironically, in 1823, one of our illustrious reformer Raja Rammohun Roy wrote a letter to Lord Amherst seeking replacement of Sanskrit and Arabic with English. The English were waiting for an opportunity, and within a decade, Thomas Macaulay found India suitable to implement English here. The letters of Macaulay's brother in law Charles Travelyne revealed that literature emerged a less abrasive means of controlling the colony. 

In 1835, Macaulay, in his famous minute, strongly recommend that the spread of western learning could only be possible through the medium of English language. Macaulay argued that, "English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit and Arabic. That the natives are desirous to be taught English and that it is possible to make natives of this country thorough good English scholars." [2]

As a consequences, on February 2, 1835, the most controversial Minute was submitted to the Governor General with an overt aim to create, " ... a class of people, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect ... and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledges to the great mass of the population." [Biswas and Agrawal 1986; 18] 

By 1837, the missionaries had begun to provide a significant part of the facilities for teaching English. English became the language of administration and judiciary in India even as the vernaculars continued to be used in several instances. Almost simultaneously subordinate level positions in the judicial and administrative institutions were thrown open to Indians by a government resolution. So the Indians got importance who were educated in English.

The Company's charter was renewed once More in 1853, under the pressure of government personnel to manage the widening domain of its, 'India activities' the company decided to open up its highest Civil Service appointments to Indians. Now Indians can appear in Civil Services Examination and  allowed them to appear for a competitive examination set up for this purpose.

A dispatch was sent to the court of directors by Sir Charles Wood on 9th July 1854. Anglicists like William White had no hesitation in equating spread of English with that of progress of the colonized. He declared, "As we link Calcutta with Bombay, and Bombay with Madras, and by roads, railway and telegraphs interlace province with province, we may in progress of time fuse India into unity, and the use and prevalence of our language may be the register of the progress of that unity." [White 1872]

Consequently, three universities at three different port towns – Bombay, Calcutta, Madras were established, which was followed by two more at Lahore and Allahabad. As a result, the first generation of English knowing 'baboos' and 'brown sahibs' with colonized mindsets were produced. 

The increase in the numbers of the centers imparting education in English intensified the importance of that language. But in our country that had become a colony under Queen Victoria, English was introduced in the universities established in 1858. Now the British could implement English language and literature here. In India they did not care for opinions of the natives, as they were rulers. As a defeated society, Indians did not have choices. We were compelled to swallow English without being given a chance to think about the issue. The concept of lingua franca was for the first time introduced in India during the colonial period. However, the Indian Education Commission (1882) expressed its dissatisfaction at the extensive use of English as the medium of education. 

The Indian Universities Commission (1902) also raised its voice against the neglect of regional languages. And force on using the regional languages. The Calcutta University Commission (1917-1919) tried to strike a balance [3] by observing that, "The educated classes in the various provinces of
India will wish to be bilingual, to use their mother tongue for those dear and intimate things which form part of life and to use English as a means of inter-communication necessary for the maintenance of the
unity of India, and of touch with other countries."

The commission recommended in favour of regional languages, "We are emphatically of the opinion that there is something unsound in a system of education which leaves a young man, at the conclusion of his course, unable to speak or write his own mother tongue fluently and correctly. It is thus beyond controversy that a systematic effort must henceforth be made to promote the serious study of the vernaculars in secondary schools, intermediates colleges and in the university." As a result of this recommendation, the medium of English was restricted only to the colleges and universities from
1920 onwards throughout the country. India got independence in 1947. Since then Commissions and Committees and the leaders of public opinion took a close look at the value and use of English and tried to strike a balance between gains and losses. 

There were many opinions and debates regarding use of languages.  People like C. Rajagopalachari favoured the continuance of English language, but there were persons who, under the influence of nationalism, advocated that English should go with the English as it had come with them. They argued that English being a [4] foreign language was responsible for the waste of student's time and energy. They declared that students could learn and express their ideas more easily in their mother tongue. English cannot be suitable to our environment and culture of India. People can`t comprehend or grasp it easily. Consequently, it was decided that regional languages should be developed and Hindi should replace English. 

Gandhiji had foreseen the consequences of the project of modernizing India through English, for it creates unbridgeable gulf between the English equipped and English unequipped. He said , "We are traitors to our mother by remainig under such system - a gulf has been created between the educated classs and the uneducated class".  

Again Gandhiji said on the 15th August 1947. He remarked in an interview to the BBC, in English, "Let the whole world know that I do not know English".  He had a clear cut position regarding the presence and place of english language and literature in the post-independence India. But irony is that, English was firmly established as an official language of administration and a preferred academic language of India in the 20 th century. It not only displaced Persian but also changed the existing language hierarchy. Gandhiji very overtly deplored the situation by saying, "Of all the superstions that affect India, none is so great as that a knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbiubing ideas of Liberty, and developing accuracy of thought." [ 1958-56].

The University Education Commission (1949) suggested, among other things, that English be replaced, as easily as practicable, by an Indian language as the medium of instruction of higher education. The
constitution of India, adopted in 26 january 1950 provided for English to continue as the official language of the country for a period of fifteen years to be replaced by Hindi at the end of that period. But sad thing is that Parliament later decided to allow English to continue as the associate official language of the Union till such time as Hindi began to be used for administrative purpose all over the country.This shows the popularity of English language.
During the fifties the three language formula was created. It gives due importance to the regional languages and tries to promote national integration and national identity through a national link language that serves as a ``Window of the World'. An Education Commission was set up in 1964 to resolve the question of medium. The commission discussed this question and proposed that mother tongue should be used upto the highest level of instruction, but English should be taught both as a subject and as a library language at higher [5] levels. 

After Hindi, English is the most commonly spoken or used language in India particularly in legal, financial, educational business and communicative systems. The Secondary Education Commission recommended introduction of English along with hindi at the end of junior basic stage, subject to the principle that no two languages should be introduced the same year. The University Grants Commission also stressed the promotion of learning of the English language as a positive instrument of knowledge. 

In 1968, the National Policy of Education specifically emphasised the study of English and other international languages to keep the pace with the development at the macro level. The Subsequent National Educational Policy proposals in 1986 and 1996 also accentuated the use of English for higher studies. One third of the Indian schools had English as the first language. Kachru in his survey [the population of which was a graduate faculty of English in the universities and colleges] found only 65.64 percent has occasional interaction with native speakers of English,11.79 percent had no interaction and 5.12 percent claimed to have daily interaction with native speakers of English. 

English represents the scientific knowledge, modernization and development.  As a result of the implementation of this proposal, mother tongue got precedence over English language and a state of stability has prevailed for two decades afterwards. On one hand, a search for an alternative is going on,  and some of the regional languages like Hindi, Tamil, Bangla have grown enough to carry out communicative requirements, on the other side, a process of indianization of the English language has already made its dent. 

According to Rajendra Chetty, "English is getting assimilated them in turn, thus shaping a special identity for Indian English" [2004-9]. The Indian sub continent in terms of members of speakers of English, ranks third in the world after the U.S.A and the U.K. David Crystal estimated 4% of the Indian population used English in 1994 and comes to about 35 million. According to Kachru, "English functions in the Indian social context to perform social roles relevant and appropriate to the social, educational and administrative network." 

It is clear that English in India bears peculiar ideology inscribed within its presentational codes.  It made the traditional upper most caste monopolize of learning and culture raise hue and cry against it. They were much worried about the standard of English, lack of facilities and what not. English  is recognized as the official language in the states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura. 

India is the third largest English book producing country after United States and the U.K. in the world and the largest number of books published in India is in English. Indian English writings have been now accepted as a part of Indian literary tradition, as Iyenger called it, "one of the voices that India speaks - it as the others". 

We are the second largest English-speaking nation in the world and we are the third largest English books publishing country with its different varieties within Indian English.  At the moment there are about 300 universities, excluding deemed universities, in our country and over 20,000 colleges and more than three lakh high schools where English is being taught either in the form of English medium or English as a major component where language or literature are taught. In short, much of what will happen to English we can only speculate about. 

Against the colonial and the post –independence policy regarding language or absence of it, M.K.Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ram Manohar Lohia or Munsi Premchand had their own views.The situation is drastically changed, whether one likes it or not, the fortune of English have undergone radical change. It has come to occupy a unique place in our society. But let us not oversight a fairly well grounded reality that native speakers of English are already outnumbered by second language and foreign language speakers, and will be more heavily outnumbered as time goes on.

1. P.D. Pathak-The Teaching of English in India.
2-Biswas,A. and Agrawal , S .P. -Development of Education in India, New Delhi , Vikas Publishibg House, 1986
3-Kachru, Braj. –The Indianization of English ; The English Language in India , Delhi , Oxford University Press, 1983
4. R.N. Ghosh-Indian Bilingualism and the teaching of English, CIEFL, Hyderabad.
5Chetty, Rajendra, Pier Paolo Piciucco [eds] Indians Abroad ; The Diaspora writes back ., Johannesburg, STE Publishers, 2004
6-Chaturvedi, A.K.-English Language Teaching in India, in Indian Book Chronicle, [ed. P.C.Mathur] Jaipur, [Rajasthan], October 2006,
7. R.P. Bhatnagar-Decolonizing English Teaching in India.
8. Jayshree Mohanraj-Spoken Conversational English, CIEFL, Hyderabad.


More by :  Prof. Dr. Ram Sharma

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Views: 3609      Comments: 6

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02-Apr-2023 07:34 AM

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17-Nov-2016 08:14 AM

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09-Sep-2015 06:38 AM

Comment I am perplexed by the double prefixing of your name as Prof as well as Dr. My understanding is that anybody who gets a Ph.D. or MBBS, or any other medical graduates prefix their names with Dr. They need not be professor. For all you know, a Ph. D. could be working as a teaching assistant. But Professorship is something that is achieved much after attaining Ph.D. and much more. Clearly it is a higher achievement to become a professor. Once the name is prefixed with Prof. that is a higher recognition and status, then why the Dr.? Isn''t it redundant? At least in Indian conditions, nobody can become a professor without being a doctorate. In my view, it is like writing, B.Sc., M.Sc. My doubt is only for the purpose of clarification, as 99% professors do not add this Dr. to their name, and they are all doctorates before becoming professors.

29-Jan-2015 13:11 PM

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17-Apr-2013 07:43 AM

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Niyati Dhimole
08-Nov-2012 15:08 PM

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