Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trust your Language, says Hywel Coleman

This is for those who think they can't climb the social ladder without the knowlege of English language

Ask any upwardly-mobile Indian what he dreams for his child and the answer would be, “Education in an English medium school.” Many parents think that education in English will ensure better job prospects for their children, and thus offer economic stability and social status. However, Hywel Coleman, who has edited the book, Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language, published by the British Council, says the findings indicate that studying the English language does not necessarily lead to development and progress.
Coleman, who was in Pune recently for a tête-à-tête over this compilation of 16 papers on the English language, says the dream of achieving success by learning English is not guided by reality. Hence the words ‘dreams’ and ‘realities’ in the title. Fifteen countries — six in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and nine in Africa (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawai, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) — were surveyed for this 386-page book.
Coleman, a Life Fellow of the University of Leeds, who is based in Indonesia, says that development cannot confine itself to economic progress. Health, education, and access to water and electricity should also be included in it. In this context, one wonders about the role and effectiveness of English in villages. “How can English help in reducing infant or maternal mortality rate? Wouldn’t mid-wives communicate more effectively with the would-be mothers in the local language instead of English?” he questions.
He admits that the English language plays a role in the economic development of a country, but it’s a limited one. He supports his argument by giving the example of booming economies of Japan, China and Korea, “where it’s not easy to find people who speak English.” Jamaicans, adds Coleman, speak only in English, but has anyone ever discussed the impact of their economy at the global level?
When told that speaking in fluent English is a prerequisite for securing jobs in India, Coleman replies that such advertisements work as an automatic filter for the recruitment agencies. “People who are not confident of their English-speaking abilities feel that the job isn’t for them.” Coleman points out that diffident English speakers — be it teachers or children — restrict their powers of expression and comprehension.
He adds that children who know the answers, but are afraid of speaking incorrect English don’t raise their hands in the class. If the children learn in their mother tongue or the local language, they would progress much better in schools.
He concludes on the note that the local languages and dialects have much to offer, and people should be proud of speaking in them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you close your mind against learning English.

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