English Does Not Decide Your Worth In Life
What's a language? It's a means of human communication. A catalyst that ensures you understand what I say and vice-versa. So that's it, right? You'd think that's pretty much the role a language should play in real life. But what if it's much more than that? What if knowing/not knowing a language places you in a particular stratum of society? What if your proficiency in a language determines your value as a person? Would you be okay if your fluency in a language decides your desirability and reflects upon your upbringing? Sounds unfair right? But that's precisely what's happening in the present-day Indian society with respect to the English language. And that's why I strongly felt the need to write this article. To bring home the point that English does not decide your worth in life, it's just a language.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND THE INDIAN CONTEXT
English, as we all know is a global language. It's the lingua franca which means a language that's spoken as a common means of communication even by people whose first/native languages aren't English.
Thanks to the British rule (earlier) and to globalisation (more recently), English has percolated in the Indian society, becoming THE preferred language of millennials across the country. And just like that, the greeting of an entire generation gradually changed from Namaste to a "Hey, what's up!"
Now that isn't the problem. Learning a new language is a good thing. It opens up new opportunities, avenues and helps you communicate effectively to a wider group of people.
ENGLISH CREATING A RIFT BETWEEN PEOPLE
Problems arise when people well-versed in English start exhibiting a superiority complex, looking down upon people who don't know the language. When the skill, talent, education of a person takes a backseat and what remains in the forefront is his/her inability to speak English, that's when you know that the language isn't uniting but creating a rift between people.
Today the Indian society is divided into 2 sections thanks to the barrier created by the English language - the elitist "classy" and the uncool "gawaar". For those who don't know Hindi, the term gawaar means an ignorant, uncouth, uneducated villager.
The former section feels ashamed to speak their native language. It considers itself "the business class of society"- a breed made from a superior DNA that's probably approved by the Queen of Britain.
On the other hand, the latter section desperately tries to fit in by attempting to learn English. This group is made to feel unaccepted and inadequate by the elite class. They're treated like a bunch of "second class citizens" for speaking their native language.
WHY DO WE INDIANS GIVE SUCH IMPORTANCE TO A LANGUAGE?
We Indians by default are programmed to do one thing - blindly ape the west. And we do a bloody good job of it. We're easily impressed by anything and everything that originates from the west even if it doesn't make sense. Let me give you a few examples:
- We adopted their fast food culture and are now flirting with various uninvited guests like diabetes, cancer, depression, heart attacks and obesity.
- We mindlessly emulated their ALS Ice Bucket Challenge while most parts of India were facing water scarcity and drought-like conditions.
- Engaging in the dangerous Kiki challenge gave the Millenials and Gen-next a kick despite knowing about the heavy traffic situation in India where vehicles could run you down.
- We aped their drinking and pub culture and today a majority of the Indian youth is obsessed with alcohol & drugs instead of doing something constructive in life.
- We, like the westerners, started popping pills at the slightest discomfort despite our country being home to the oldest medicinal science of Ayurveda.
As a result, their dress code has to be our dress code, their music has to be our music, their food has to be our food, their festivals have to be our festivals. Infact, we've even started giving them competition in the divorce rates.
This lack of confidence in our own culture is also reflected in the negligence of the native languages and our unhealthy obsession with the English language. We feel ashamed to speak our mother tongue and take pride in speaking English.
Ignoring the basic etiquette of conversing with a person in a language which he/she understands, we unnecessarily flaunt our flawless English speaking skills even if the other person is speaking in his/her native language.
We've made the English language the sole criterion to judge a person's education, intelligence, desirability and even their financial status!
You could be a failure with zero talent but if you're living in India and you know English, you're covered in all spheres of life. It's because of this slave mentality/colonial hangover of ours that we give undue importance to a mere language.
IMPACT OF UNHEALTHY OBSESSION WITH ENGLISH IN INDIAN SOCIETY
Indian society gives paramount importance to the English language. So much so, that knowing the language implies acceptance in society. As a result, people who can't speak the language live in constant fear of rejection, isolation and humiliation.
Let me share a few instances with you that highlight the negative impact of this obsession with the English language.
I was watching this interview of Harbhajan Singh (ex-Indian cricket team player) recently and what he said left everybody firstly surprised, and eventually in splits.
He said that his primary focus was obviously, to bowl well, pick up wickets and give a match-winning performance for India. But for him, more than the pressure to perform for the nation was the stress to speak English in the post-match ceremony once he was adjudged the "Man of the Match" and had to speak to the presenter.
Just the thought of speaking English made him nervous as he feared people would mock him for his poor language skills and grammatical errors.
The incident may seem amusing now since he went on to learn the language. But to actually be mentally burdened by the pressure to speak a language despite being good at what you do isn't funny. Such pressure results in low self-esteem in a person. It makes them feel inadequate when there's absolutely no reason why they should feel so.
If you have to live life with the fear of rejection despite being good at your job, then that's a sorry state to be in, as a society.
Another instance that highlights the negative impact of language obsession in India is when parents have to get their child admitted to a school for the first time.
Common sense would say that the school managements simply interview the kid, talk to the parents and then take a call on the kid's admission.
But premier English-medium schools interview the parents and screen them as well. They test the ability of the parents to speak and comprehend the English language. The kid's admission literally depends on whether the parents can speak fluent English and have impressive educational qualifications.
Now, why should a kid's chances of getting a quality education depend on whether the parents can speak fluent English?
If the school's that good, then it's teachers should have the confidence to teach the language to the kid. Why should parents live with the guilt of their child being denied admission just because they didn't appear classy enough to the school management?
This is simply unfair to the parents who are already working their asses off so that they can afford a good education for their kid.
The current education set up is creating a "classist" atmosphere in which parents who aren't well-versed in English can't even think of a bright future for their kids despite arranging the financial resources required for it.
Dating apps are a big hit in India and why wouldn't they be? With 34% of the total population falling in the age group of 15-24, youngsters, high on hormones, are swiping profiles left and right.
An interesting observation here is that a majority of the dating profiles on these apps state "speaking fluent English" and "typing grammatically correct sentences" as basic qualities that you are expected to have, failing which the opposite gender finds you worthless and isn't interested in you.
Youngsters are literally suffering from low self-confidence and depression because of this compulsion to be good at the language. They're stressed that they won't seem attractive to the opposite sex if they can't communicate in English.
Matrimonial ads in newspapers are no different. English speaking classy people from both genders are in demand and stand a better chance at finding a good match. This unhealthy obsession with English in every walk of life is creating a section in the society that's stressed, insecure, underconfident and depressed.
Unfortunately, we are living in times where even the desirability of an individual is determined by his/her English language skills.
No wonder crash courses that promise to teach people English in a few days are selling like hotcakes. After all, nothing succeeds like the business of milking people's insecurities. The makeup and cosmetic industries are functioning and thriving on the same principle by creating the notion that "only fair skin is beautiful". And Indians are following this misguided notion as well with absolute enthusiasm.
ENGLISH IS NOT A MEASURE OF EDUCATION OR INTELLIGENCE
People in India believe in the myth that knowing the English language is the only sign of being intelligent or educated. But the truth is far away from it.
What we need to understand is that learning a language is merely a part of one's education but not an education in itself. You can read/write your native language and still be educated.
Infact, a research carried out by UNESCO shows that children who begin their education in their mother tongue make a better start, continue to do better and seamlessly transition into learning a new language than the children who immediately start by learning English. It's a proven fact across the world that children learn most effectively in their mother tongues.
We need to look beyond this misconception that English is the solution to everything. Yes, knowing the language may give you access to better job opportunities but it won't necessarily make you a better human being or solve society's problems.
Morality and humanity are, and will always be language-independent.
If an engineer, sportsman, businessman, shopkeeper, politician, actor or any person belonging to any field for that matter, can communicate in his native language and is good at his job, then he's intelligent. Their education revolves around knowing the tricks of their respective trades. Knowing English is not a measure of their education or intelligence.
TRUE EDUCATION MAKES YOU HUMBLE
You'll often see people passing derisive comments on an individual, mocking him for his supposed "improper English". Be it social media trolling or real-life humiliation, people leave no stone unturned in bullying a person who's committed a grammatical mistake while speaking/writing English.
We, as people, need to be more empathetic towards one another instead of trying to pull each other down. We're human beings at the end of the day, not crabs in a bucket.
Knowing a language is a skill. So if you're better than somebody else at that skill, then be humble about it and learn to patiently correct them and teach them about the language. Don't harass or bully them. Remember that humans created language, language didn't create humans. Patience and humility are the hallmarks of true education.
CONCLUSION - ENGLISH DOES NOT DECIDE YOUR WORTH IN LIFE
Knowing a language makes you skilled. It doesn't necessarily make you successful. I've come across umpteen instances where people, not exactly well-versed in English, are far more successful in their fields than their English-speaking counterparts.
Clearly, English isn't a substitute for either talent or hard work. English does not define you or decide your worth in life. It's merely a language.
Take pride in your native language. Speak it unabashedly and unapologetically. Your roots and culture are your strength. They form the backbone of your personality. Never be hesitant or ashamed in flaunting your true self to the world.
Language doesn't determine our intelligence. Language gives us the ability to communicate our intelligence to others by talking, reading or writing our thoughts, views and opinions.
So go ahead and express yourself in the language you're comfortable in. Because at the end of the day what matters is the quality of your thought and not the medium in which you express it!
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