Why mother tongue for development

Posted by Joga Virk
August 27, 2017

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Why Indian Languages are Essential for India’s Development? Joga Singh Virk

Language permeates each sphere of human activity. The decisions on language policy and practices, therefore, have historical consequences for any country. In India, this field, so vital to a country’s life and development, is being driven by myths and all international expert opinion, international practices, and Indian constitutional provisions are being completely ignored. This write up brings out important facts and figures which are essential to be taken notice of for a correct approach to language issues.

  1. For the past ten years, eight of the top ten countries in teaching of Science and Mathematics at school level have been the ones where medium of instruction is not English. In 2012, the countries teaching in English ranked 3rd(Singapore), 10th(Canada), 14th (Ireland), 16th (Australia), 18th (New Zealand), and 28th (USA) among the top 50 countries. These countries too do not teach exclusively in English at school level. For instance, there are French medium schools in Canada, Irish medium in Ireland, Dyirbal in Australia. Maori in New Zealand and several languages medium ones in the USA.
  2. Only a few of the top 50 universities in Asia are the ones where English is the language of instruction and none of the Indian universities is among them;
  3. In the 17thcentury (when barely any Indian knew English), the Indian share in world GDP was 22 (twenty two) per cent. It has now come down to around 2.5 per cent. Indian share in world trade too is coming down. It was 1.78 per cent in 1950 and hovers around 1.5 (one and a half) per cent now; Despite so much emphasis on English language, India ranks 150th in terms of per capita exports.
  4. The international expert opinion and practice overwhelmingly support the view that education, particularly at the school level, can be imparted successfully only through the mother tongue medium, and;
  5. The following words from the field of Medical Science and their Hindi equivalents make it clear that our languages do possess vocabulary for each field of knowledge or it can be obtained with a very little effort:

Haem – रक्त; Haemacyte – रक्त-कोशिका; Haemagogue – रक्त-प्रेरक; Haemal – रक्तीय; Haemalopia – रक्तीय-नेत्र; Haemngiectasis – रक्तवाहिनी-पासार; Haemangioma – रक्त-मस्सा; Haemarthrosis – रक्तजोड़-विकार; Haematemesis – रक्त-वामन; Haematin – लौहरकतीय; Haematinic – रक्तवर्धक; Haematinuria – रक्तमूत्र; Haematocele – रक्त-ग्रन्थि/सूजन; Haematocolpos – रक्त-मासधर्मरोध; Haematogenesis – रक्त-उत्पादन; Haematoid – रक्तरूप; Haematology – रक्त-विज्ञान; Haematolysis – रक्त-ह्रास; Haematoma – रक्त-ग्रन्थि। 

As these examples illustrate, the complete vocabulary of each language is constructed out of some limited basic elements, called roots (as is Haem in these cases) and affixes. And there is no marked difference among languages with regard to these basic elements. Thus, all languages are equal in terms of their lexical capacity. If anyone still has doubt about the capacity of Indian languages, the following experience of a science teacher should suffice to take out the doubt.

Science and mother tongue medium – an eye opening message from a science teacher Varun Kumar: “I teach Physics and Mathematics. I have attended your lectures and have been teaching Physics to children through lecturing in Punjabi. I have seen very good results among children by this. By teaching science through mother tongue, I myself have started feeling like being a true being. Thank you very much. I teach Physics as a tutor in a government school in Ludhiana and teach Mathematics to M.Sc. students at my coaching centre. The children who came to me were from government schools and because of not knowing English well. they used to consider themselves as incompetent. But I attended one of your lectures few years back at the school in Pakhoval village and since then my method of teaching have changed. I tell the children that English is not the only means to be a scientist; we can rather learn each science of the world without English. My students can tell a lot in Punjabi about any aspect of Physics and am in joy that I am producing learned scientists and learned doctors. My students won’t be the persons who are engaged in the rat race of speaking English. I teach Main Topology and Field Theory too in Punjabi and you would be glad to know that my M.Sc. students have continuously topped in the Punjab University for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, because only those students are able to understand Topology who learn it in Punjabi. Joga ji, I have also taught Physics to Convent students. Truly, I have never seen children in such a bad shape. What are they to know about Physics, these English medium students don’t know even English better than us;  I myself, though, have studied through Punjabi medium till 10th standard. I will become a true companion of you in your fight. I will devote my life to teach and make understand each science in Punjabi. Joga ji, my soul shivers when I see children going in an English medium school bus. I knew something was being wrong, but I discovered the right direction from your lecture when I listened to you in the Pakhovaal village school. Joga ji, you will surely be successful in your goal, because you are teaching people how to be real humans. By giving them their mother tongue, you are saving them from living orphaned lives. My sentiments also go to these Convent and English medium school children. Joga ji! Let us save them too!”


The poor international ranking of Indian educational institutions, the constant fall of Indian share in world trade, the expert opinion on language issues and the contemporary international linguistic scene and practices provide irrefutable evidence that India has suffered great losses by handing over mother tongue domains to English language. One significant reason for India’s lagging behind countries such as South Korea, Japan and China, etc. is the intrusion of English language in Indian education and other important domains.

It is true that in the present globalized world, foreign language skills are an essential ability. But even here, the experience and research show that a student imparted education through mother tongue and studying foreign language as a subject learns the foreign language better than the one imparted education through that foreign language from the beginning. The following statement from a UNESCO book (Improvement in the Quality of Mother Tongue – Based Literacy and Learning, published in 2008, pp. 12) is very much relevant here: ‘What seems to be standing in our way is a set of myths about language and learning, and these myths must be revealed as such to open people’s eyes. One such myth is that the best way to learn a foreign language is to use it as a medium of instruction. (In fact, it is often more effective to learn additional languages as subjects of study.) Another is that to learn a foreign language you must start as early as possible. (Starting early might help learners to have a nice accent, but otherwise, the advantage goes to learners who have a well developed first language.) A third is that the home language gets in the way of learning a foreign language. (Building a strong foundation in the first language results in a better learning of additional languages.) Clearly, these myths are more false than true, yet they guide the way policymakers tend to think about how speakers of other languages must learn dominant or official languages.’ 

Some more key factors about language matters are also essential to be considered: 1) In modern times, the life and development of a language depends on its being the medium of instruction. A language can sustain itself only if it is used in various domains of human life; The way English is occupying the educational and other language domains, the life of even scheduled Indian mother tongues is under a severe threat; 2) The English medium instruction is producing a generation which has no appreciable mastery either over their mother tongues or over English and neither it can connect intimately with their own culture, tradition, history and people. It is not wrong to call these children as English children because by the time they complete their schooling their competence in English is more than their mother tongues, it is meager though in English too; 3. A successful delivery of any kind of service is not possible without the language of the people it is meant for; 4) The Indian constitution (an epitome of wisdom of the freedom movement) gives a right to every Indian citizen to receive education and services in the mother tongue (see article 347 and 350A); 5. Almost all of the countries start teaching foreign language after the age of ten. The foreign language skill of their children is not less than Indian children. Also, most of these countries are ahead of us in education and development as well; 6. Recently, there have been reports that European banks are not recruiting British citizens because they know only English and Britain is suffering trade losses to the tune of 48 billion pounds for not knowing languages other than English.

These facts amply demonstrate that Indian people need to deeply reflect upon the present linguistic situation in India, so that a correct language policy could be put in place. We Indians are already very late in this and India has suffered great developmental losses due to this. The developmental losses of far greater proportion are bound to happen if the present policies are continued.

My booklet titled ‘International Opinion on Language Issues: Mother Tongue is the Key to Education, Knowledge, Science and English Learning’ provides detailed information on the findings of worldwide research and expert opinion on language matters and the current international linguistic scene. This document is available in Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Maithili, Dogri, Nepali, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, Kosali and English at the web site http://punjabiuniversity.academia.edu/JogaSingh/papers . 

Contact: jogasinghvirk@yahoo.co.in  +91-9915709582

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