The Passport called English Medium!!!

Hindi Medium for the uninitiated is a Hindi film that hit the screens last week sans the trappings of the typical Bollywood fare but which holds a mirror to the society with a strong social message. Without any of the leading “Star Khans” but with just Irfan Khan as the lead star, I am not sure how far the film will reach eventually. After 3 Idiots if there was one Hindi film which leaves you thinking as you left the cinema hall about your kid’s education this must be it. In the film, the lead couple go to unimaginable lengths just to secure admission in one of the Top English medium schools in the city.  Because in the lines of the mother, “If the child goes to a Govt. school, she can’t learn anything. If anybody talks to her in English, she will not be able to fit in the society. Hence she will be lonely and will get depressed.”  The extremes the couple stretch themselves to secure that admission in a top English medium school like even trying to transform themselves to poor people to take advantage of BPL quota as per RTE act may sound preposterous.  But the message – that “English medium” is a mandatory passport for one’s flight to success in life is not lost on anyone.

Not just this one, but there were other films like Chetan Bhagat’s novel turned film – One Half Girlfriend and Sridevi’s super hit – English Vinglish dwelling on the theme of the need to master English to get recognized/get ahead in life. Ironically this is not some typical Bollywood fantasy but stark reality of India being mirrored in films.  At workplaces today, one’s command over spoken English is considered essential to rise up the corporate elevator whether you like it or not. There are very few careers I can think of today where one can still succeed without mastering the English language. Probably politics (where being oblivious to the English language can become your calling card) or some creative fields could be those. Otherwise even in medical field the reality is, you feel comfortable of a surgeon’s ability if he is able to explain the diagnosis and treatment course of your patient in eloquent English!!! Narayana Murthy of Infosys once controversially observed in the context of IITs that with Indian politicians “rooting against English”, the task of getting good English speaking students at IITs gets more difficult and that affected their quality .  He was being practical and honest. In urban India the caste system based on Manuvaad is gradually on the wane. But in its place there is a new caste system based on “Medium of Instruction” – English medium being forward caste and any other being backward!!!

However this is not the case in many other successful countries. In Germany you don’t need to master English to head an organization. In Japan, though knowledge of English is an asset particularly in an Export driven economy like theirs, lack of flair in English has never been a liability.  Same is the case with China.  It’s another matter that they probably now realise that if they had imbibed the English language they could have ruled the global commerce not just in Mfg. but even in services!

But then India is not a homogenous state with one culture, one lingo like Japan or Germany. We are “United States of India” where our culture, language, food habits,…,.. keep changing every 500 kms. We sort of got stuck in the middle where we couldn’t have Hindi or for that matter any other Indian language as a universal Pan Indian language due to our cultural diversity. At the same time English being a language imported due to the colonial rule couldn’t achieve the universal reach across the board. Result – we have a language divide. If we have to get out of this situation, it’s too late or virtually impossible to go back to a Japan or Germany universal Indian language model.  So it looks like adopting English language universally in India is only the practical option left with us to go forward from here.

“Universally” is the key. It was the very articulate Shashi Tharoor who once said, “Denial of opportunity to learn English to our children would be tantamount to destroying their future” and I agree. It’s unanimously accepted that India’s command over English has been one of the key attributes to our success in Software business worldwide. So why not we build on our strengths and leverage the same? That is certainly not by keeping English a privilege of few and sowing the seeds for another conflict. Instead a way forward could be to make ‘All” schools in India – English medium schools and phase in English as the universal medium of instruction from a particular year in the very near future. This is not to shortchange our own native languages which still needs to be taught in the same schools but need not be the “Medium of instruction”. We could expect politics to play and outrage factories running on full capacities over this move.  But then have we seen wards of politicians who get educated from Non English medium schools?  By the way in our neighbouring Pakistan in 2013, I heard that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province took a call to switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years!!! This could be a significant reform in the field of education that would ensure English not just being a passport to economic, social and educational advancement universally but a ‘Visa on Arrival” for growth, the likes of Donald Trump notwithstanding!!

This reform may not be “the” only cure for all the ills in our education system but would be a good place to start.

Postscript: While on this, just after the ascent of Mr. Chandrasekharan as the Tata supremo, a picture of him and his 2 brothers has been doing the WhatsApp rounds. It talks of the fact that the 3 brothers are actually are from Tamil medium schools from a village in Tamil Nadu and that today they were head honchos. The message being, one doesn’t need to be necessarily from English medium schools to get to the top. Well, not sure even if Natarajan Chandrasekharan will accept that premise today and forward that to his WhatsApp groups!!!

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Wen tym & Tech t’frmd E’lish 😊

All languages undergo transformation over time. But it must be only the Queen’s language which has gone through such a huge upheaval of sorts. Makeover of languages happens with changes in grammatical usage, sometimes spellings, addition of new words,.. (Like we keep hearing of new words which enter the lexicon every year – “Selfie” being one such overused word these days!!!) However it must be only English which apart from going through all this also has been metamorphosed due to technology!

Technology can be disruptive. At times the disruptions are by default but most of the times they are by design. I can’t fathom if the disruptions in English language due to technology have been deliberate or they just happened. And I don’t think any other language has been so vulnerable to technology as English. With the advent of computer first and then mobile devices, the face and shape of English have gone through a transformation. Today when you receive a communication either through e mail or through short text, it is possible to guess the age group or the generation to which the sender belongs!!! It can be as polarizing!

The initial days of the mobile phone were quite normal. Then debuted the new tool of communication called SMS (Short messaging service) after which English language has never been the same again. What initially started as a means of super-fast communication using abbreviations and acronyms soon became the norm of the language. And it became so uncool if you are part of the old school typing full words and sentences and doing the mandatory spell check before hitting the “Send” button. I remember pieces appearing in newspapers/magazines,.. that time explaining to the uninitiated the so called “SMS lingo”. In Mid-Day newspaper there was a daily box called “SMS lingo for the day”!!!sms

I mentioned in my opening remarks that English as a language is so vulnerable to technology that the contrived form which came popular while sending the so called short messages soon started pervading into the normal communication as well. So today you will find the acronyms, short forms and abbreviated type of communication being used in normal long e mails, notes, wherever. Even business communication has not been left behind. Is there a day where you spend at work without using “ASAP”, “FYI”, “NBD”,.. ??? One disclaimer like this “Sent from my mobile; please excuse the brevity, spelling and punctuation” is enough to sort of take care of any problems the other side might have! I now wonder what would have happened to the now almost extinct stenography if SMS lingo had made an advent much earlier!!! I also wonder if the “Spell check” tool will soon become superfluous. Because the “Spell Checker” will ink the whole page red. Even now as I write this its almost getting there.

While one has been reconciling to this new reality and had almost concluded that things can’t get worse than this, came the next attack – “The Advent of smileys” 🙂 🙂 🙂 Again what started as a harmless way of expressing joy using 🙂 or sorrow 😦 soon developed into a full language of “Emoticons”. So much so today it is difficult to find any reasonable length of communication without an emoticon. Here again the rupture of the language come through technology. With people spending more time with their smart phones than anything else these days, it has become easier to just input a suitable emoticon from a whole bunch of smileys available today than typing even few abbreviated words.

Ergo I was not surprised when I read this article (read here) some time back which said SMS lingo has now begun creeping into the answer sheets, assignments and even record books! And that, teachers were alarmed to see this. It may be a good idea for the teachers today to keep themselves abreast with the new Lingua Franca! And internet does help. Like Google Translate which helps to translate languages, there is this http://transl8it.com/ . Just type in SMS, text message, emoticon, smiley, slang, chat room/net lingo or abbreviations and “transL8it” will convert it to plain English to understand!!!

With the assault of SMS lingo and smileys on the English language, I can imagine what the future holds for the Queen’s English. The day is not far off when my whole blog post will be with SMS lingo and smileys galore. Nd dis xchnge ment 2 b a jok may jus bcom real’ty!!!

 Boyfriend & Girlfriend on Whatsapp:

Boy:kesi ho…??

Girl: 😊

Boy: missing me..?

Girl: 😜

Boy: yar meri tabiyat khrab hai

Girl: 😱

Boy: aaj kaisa din guzra…??

Girl: 😉

Boy: busy ho…??

Girl: umhm ..

Boy: Koi paas hai…??

Girl: na 😍

Boy: To kuch likh bhi, apne Baap ki shaklein kyu send kar rahi hai….

Girl: 😢😡

Boy: I heard u failed in English?

Girl: Who TELLED you? It is unpossible.. I sawed d result ystrdy… I Passed away 😂

Boy:😁🔫 meri maa tu smiley hi use kar..