ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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English Language Education in India: How Aspirations for Social Mobility Shape Pedagogy

While English is not the official language of India, it has become the language of the ruling elite. Fluency in English is extremely sought after and brings with it the potential for social mobility to the underprivileged sections of society. But is an English-medium education the solution? */ */

The Road to English

Students of English from the economically weaker sections in private schools in Delhi now go through an extended phase of muteness and incomprehensibility before they finally pick up the language, almost by osmosis. The US education system, which promotes bilingualism as opposed to diglossia here, has some lessons for India if the attempt is to make English learning more easy, enjoyable, and useful.

'Once Were Languages'

India has a large number of non-English languages and dialects that are still thriving. However, these languages exist in a sector strongly associated with poverty, and with a failure of access to the open-ended world of modernity. But as India's poor enter a more empowered space they will sacrifice any languages that only expressed an era of poverty and helplessness. And, in exchange, people will be able to talk to each other as equals for the first time.

Translation, Colonialism and Rise of English

The introduction of English has been seen as "an embattled response to historical and political pressures: to tensions between the English parliament and the East India Company, between parliament and the missionaries, between the East India Company and the native elite classes". Extending this argument, the author suggests that the specific resolution of these tensions through the introduction of English education is enabled discursively by the colonial practice of translation. European translations of Indian texts prepared for a western audience provided to the 'educated' Indian a whole range of Orientalist images. Even when the anglicised Indian spoke a language other than English, he would have preferred, because of the symbolic power attached to English, to gain access to his own past through the translations and histories circulated through colonial discourse. English education also familiarised the Indian with ways of seeing, techniques of translation, or modes of representation that came to be accepted as 'natural'.
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