Have we made a monster out of the English language in India ?

Time and again, I get requests from young college students and working professionals to help me improve their chances of getting through personal interviews, written tests, group discussions and a few related things for entering management colleges or even getting technical jobs. These candidates feel that they are stuck somewhere in their endeavor to progress in their careers and also at times in their lives. Some of them feel that they have hit a wall, and further progress is impossible unless they bring in a change in their “personalities” ! Ok , whatever that means- when I drill down into this problem, I realize that most of the people are asking me to improve their communication abilities in English !

This problem has now “outgrown” to such an extent that in India we have started defining personality development as “English speaking“ ! To me Personality & Personality development is far, far beyond just speaking good English. It means a number of things really beyond the limitations of any language. But our craze for English has even changed our thinking !

However, we seem to have resigned to the fact that someone speaking good English is someone of the managerial calibre, and a more capable person. That is certainly because the kind of importance that we have given to English and have put it on a High Pedestal. Corporates are conducting GD’s & PIs only in English and they eliminate the weaker English speakers at the GD stage itself. Management institutes are doing the same. My question- why have we to link competence with capabilities in English ? In the many countries I traveled in Middle East and Europe- all developed and more prosperous than India- all the selections and interviews are done in the national language of the country- say Arabic , French, Italian , etc. Do Chinese rate their own students and employees on basis of their English skills ? All these countries could well do it in English as well, but they have their own priorities . I am not saying that we need to conduct GDs and interviews in Hindi or a local language, but our outlook towards the amount of importance that we give to English has to change. Don’t you agree that after selecting a person after conducting an interview in English, we always communicate with him or her in Hindi or a local language in the office ? So why make such a big issue about English in the first place?

The importance of English in India is restricted to a small section of our business and social operations and endeavors. Business of billions of rupees is transacted in Hindi and local languages. MBAs selected on basis of their English prowess in most cases end up discussing business with distributors, dealers, stake holders and customers in Hindi ! It is within the metros that English has a say. When you go to a small town or even smaller cities like Indore, Jaipur, Raipur, Kakinada, Kottayam, Patna or Bhubhaneshwar, you may risk losing business if you insist in talking in English ! Even in the multi billion dollar middle east / Gulf market, if you speak a high level of English, it is likely that the Arabs could get frustrated dealing with you and you could lose some big orders ! We are recognised the world over because of our maths , science ,and technical skills – so let us be proud of the same . Why are we paranoid about English?

The passages that we normally encounter in CAT or any MBA entrance exams in reading comprehension are such that ever the best of English speakers and MA’s in English cannot get the answers right. The words in English vocabulary testing that we normally encounter in such entrance exams are such that most of them are never used even in business dealings, forget day to day life.

So why are we giving so much importance to English the way we are currently doing, to shortlist candidates or eliminate them from jobs, MBA entrance exams etc? . As you travel in the Indian hinterland we see a lesser and lesser usage of English. Rural markets which are huge, are being addressed in Hindi and local language advertising. Do you think our stock exchanges, our commodity markets , our trade in various products – goes on in English ? Even then we want our MBA marketing graduates to excel in English ! When you get down to the basics of business, English is really not in sight. It is just a small fraction of our educated elite speak in English .When just a fraction of our 125 crore population speaks proper English, and which is the source of intelligent and talented people, why then do we want to create an obstacle of a language that can actually impediment the growth and success of these people ? …just because in offices we want to make presentations and reviews in English?

Also, why don’t we make it compulsory to speak, Spanish, German, French and Italian, if we want internationalization and excel in business ? It is high time, we looked at our own languages from a business perspective and unshackle the highly overrated “English speaking” ability/ skills expected of our young people. This way we open up the doors for highly talented students from the Hindi and vernacular mediums. The best of doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists and writer in India have studied in the vernacular medium. Had they been subjected to English language proficiency tests, they probably could have been eliminated from their field of study. Thankfully, they were not and they made it big. Their course content was far beyond the limitations of ANY language. I think we are making a big fuss about English- that is being done where in courses there isn’t really a very high level of intellectual content required like MBA/MMS etc.- and these courses need more of style & “gas” than the grey matter and real fundamental understanding of any complex phenomenon. Sorry about this comment. Why don’t you select a heart surgeon for an MS or a ENT course basis his English, but why you can risk to apply that parameter for a someone going to study Marketing for selling face whitening creams? It is the depth of knowledge requirement- if you have to study something elementary and yet make a 2 year course out of it and want to charge Rs 7 lakhs as fees, then you need to have such embellishments . You need to sort out the creamy layer to pay your fees, and market research shows those who can afford it are basically those who went to English speaking / English medium schools . Well, it’s business after all.

Can’t business be taught in Hindi or any other language? For centuries we have been doing business in our local languages. The few stalwart business communities even today do not speak ‘good English” ! Did the Marwari community do business because for years just because they did an MBA or was good in English ? So today why we are creating an obstacle for our young people? Talented vernacular students have been forced to take a back seat because of this new issue and average students speaking good English have been made into “smart guys” with so called “good personalities”. The matter is serious and the governments should take appropriate steps on this. Don’t forget that we Indians speak normally upto 3 languages fluently and understand 1 or 2 more. Why do we underestimate our own potential and check ourselves for a language that was not our own? Why are we blindly following the requirements of US/ UK/ Australian and other universities? If they had reading comprehension of high level English passages , why are we just copying that ? Why don’t we have our own standards and languages for testing candidates? Why don’t we check out English, Hindi and Marathi/Gujarati/ Tamil etc. as well?

The repercussion of the “English Speaking” phenomenon has serious implications. Vernacular medium schools in metros are slowly shutting down. Even the poorer section of society wants their children to study in English medium schools. The outcomes of these are going to be evident over the next 20 years, when we will have adults who are neither good in their own mother tongue and just average in English. Unless we make our vernacular medium schools as “dual medium” with a lot of emphasis on English right from the start, we will actually end up closing these schools. Another fall out of the phenomenon is the rush to so called international schools following the curriculum of other countries and ignoring Indian languages in the endeavor to be more westernized/ global.

I think we have made English into a very commercial proposition and actually made it into a monster. I think its high time to allow other languages to be considered for selection processes into management colleges and other places. Why should the interviews and GD’s not permit say Hindi or a local language to be used for entrance level testing. Example: Hindi/ Gujarati/ English should be the official options for GCs & PIs in selections for management institutions in Gujarat , and similar arrangements in other states. ……..after all, 95% of the time, all these graduates are going to speak in Hindi and other languages only after they start working ! Another solution could be also testing one’s prowess in Hindi and one regional language of the candidates choice during the entrance, and that could set things in a right perspective in a major way.

If the so called management institutions do not fall in line, we must allow new institutions to come up which will value local languages and Hindi, and conduct entrance tests in these languages. You will notice that there is a huge “business potential” is starting such institutions offering MBA & related course for those strong in Hindi & local languages and that could be the next craze. Are you aware that in Mumbai itself there are so many minority institutes from Gujarat or South India that prefer selecting students of their own communities or their mother tongues/ languages. So why these institutions should create the drama of English testing while selecting the students ? They may as well conduct the interviews in the Indian languages and Hindi as well ( or in their own lingo )!

C’mon- lets be practical. I am not being anti- English, anti –establishment or anti-“phoren”. English is an important language for us to learn and progress ( and we have benefited due to English ) , but it should not be a barrier to all the talented Indians who are spread far and wide in the country. Does a young man from Durg in MP who has studied in a Hindi medium school and who is very intelligent not have the right to study business in a good business school ? After all, what would have been the condition of our country today had we decided to select our prime minister on grounds that he should be a good English speaker ? Let’s focus on delivery, not a language. Let’s start changing- we have a long way to go, and we are amongst the largest populations in the world, and we could be dictating terms in centuries come. For all you know, international students will one day land up in India to study and we will test them for their Hindi skills. That is if we have adequate self esteem and a long term vision. Great personalities are built on so many different things like these, English is just one part of the process. Let’s give it the right amount of importance it deserves, but not any more than it deserves.

Dinesh Bandiwadekar
Director- Persona Academy


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