27 April 2009

Indians can't write proper English

That is the conclusion that Helium.com, a popular content distribution site, has arrived at.

Earlier, Indians constituted a sizeable portion of Helium publishers and they were contributing a large number of articles to their database. But the quality of English in these articles was atrocious, so much so that Indian articles were found to be bringing down the overall quality of the articles in the Helium database. Finally, Helium had to crack the whip and ban new Indian publishers from its site.

Here is a thread in another similar site that discusses this contentious issue:

Helium.com has banned India

The banning of Indian writers from Helium raises many interesting questions.

So far India has been vociferously touted as a vast English-speaking country rivaling even the US and the UK. The main exponents of this theory have been our software barons, be they Nandan Nilakani of Infosys or Ramadurai of TCS, and also our English newspapers, who are battling falling circulation as they face stiff competition from Hindi newspapers which are witnessing a surge in their readership, thanks to rising literacy rates in the Hindi belt. The hollowness of the claims of these champions of English has been exposed by this Helium episode.

The truth is, only 2% Indians know a smattering of English. Of these an even smaller percent knows how to write English properly. But since India is a populous country even this fractional percentage adds up to lakhs of people, if not millions. But given the size of our population, even these millions are like drops in the ocean.

I think we must now get over our fetish about English and recongnize that English is not one of our languages and we cannot excel in it without super human efforts. The question is should we be making this superhuman effort, or should we spend our energies more productively in other areas? Learning English entails forcing our tiny tots from an early age to learn a foreign language from teachers who themselves have imperfect knowledge of English, with the result that the English that these children pick up is imperfect, too.

More seriously, this forced education in English deprives children of a happy childhood and even a proper education. All education experts have said in one voice that early education should be in the mother-tongue, because it not only facilitates understanding of difficult subjects but also makes education a pleasurable and comfortable activity for children. When they find their teachers speaking the same language that their mothers speak at home, they feel at home in school. Today, because of many schools use English as the medium of instruction, many children hate school and even bright students fare poorly in many subjects. Many English-medium elite schools reportedly fine their children for speaking Hindi or their mother tongue.

By switching to education in the mother tongue, children's innate creativity can be unleashed and they can save a lot of the time spent in learning a foreign language. They can even straight away jump into learning other subjects using a language which they have already picked up perfectly before they are five years old. This can save them several years of time spent in learning English, and if this saved time is gainfully applied to the study of other subjects, the children can learn much more than they currently do from school.

That does not mean we should neglect English. English has its advantage because of its international status. We should teach English in our schools as a second language using professional ESL (English as Second Language) teaching methods. This way, much fewer teachers would be needed to teach English than are needed when English is used as a medium of education in schools. These ESL teachers can be trained to teach English as a second language properly. This will increase the quality of teaching of English and our students will pick up much better English than they do currently at school, and in a much lesser time.

Many non-English speaking countries, such as China, are following this sensible strategy. They will soon overtake us in command over English, if we do not wake up from our complacency.

There are many English-teaching techniques such as the Callan Method which can prepare students in English up to the level of Cambridge Exam in one fourth the time taken by other traditional ESL teaching methods. The Callan Method surprisingly does not even need an English-knowing teacher. The students themselves can teach each other English using their study material which is available even in Hindi.

Such techniques obviate the need to have English as the medium of education in primary and higher-level education. Having English as a medium of education is wasteful of student as well as teacher time and also of considerable teaching resources, in addition to being a very bad educational strategy. Education is best given in the child's mother tongue.

Using techniques like the Callan method, students studying in their mother-tongue can pick up enough command over English to be able to meet the English needs of global businesses, whether they be Indian corporates or multi-national companies. At the same time they can have a pleasant childhood and school life by studying in their own mother tongues.


हिन्दी ब्लॉग टिप्सः तीन कॉलम वाली टेम्पलेट