Can’t Speak In English? You’re Obviously Not Intelligent

Posted by Hardik Lashkari in Society
September 11, 2017

 “And a chartered accountant was again judged on the basis of English instead of being judged on the basis of his control over accounting figures and finance…”

“I can speak and write reasonably good English. I am proficient in communicating in my native language. Will society accept me? I hope there isn’t any section in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) due to which I can be sentenced to ‘hang till death’ for not speaking English fluently…”

Is English just a language? No – we have also made it a measure of our intelligence. We have attached an intangible status symbol to the English language. Our parents also insist on communication in English because a syndrome called ‘our sons/daughters look so cool and educated when they speak English’ has affected one and all.

I know one of my friends’ friend who cleared the chartered accountancy examination in his first attempt. He possesses an extensive knowledge of accounting, taxation and auditing. But, he was rejected in several interviews because he wasn’t ‘fluent’ in English. Really? Are we judging the domain’s professionals on the basis of a language?

Yeah, I know that the times have changed and even professionals are required to interact within the organisation and outside it (with stakeholders, government, and other statutory bodies). But, has India’s economy really reached a level where all the parties mentioned above are ‘proficient’ in English? And if it isn’t the case – why can’t we compromise on decent English communication skills, if the person concerned is the best in the business when it comes to analytical, technical knowledge and expertise?

In many European countries, and other countries around the world, it is a norm for people to speak in one’s native language, even if they are proficient in English. Greeks, Brazilians, and people in Arabic countries prefer to use their native languages for communication, even if they are fluent in English. On the other hand, in India, even if people are proficient in English but prefer to communicate in their native tongues, they are considered to be illiterate and it is assumed that they have no knowledge of English.

A few days ago, Aatish Taseer, a British journalist, made a thought-provoking point in his article, “How English Ruined Indian Literature” wherein he mentioned that in India, English isn’t just a language. It’s also a ‘class’ and is considered to be the ‘language of the elite’ in the world’s biggest democracy.

You may find articles by Indian writers where they use advanced vocabulary to show-off their command over a language. But in the process, they fail to understand that people read articles to grasp them quickly. Using high-end vocabulary doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘rich’ command over a language. After all, a writer’s command over a language can also be evident from how they use simple words to convey their feelings.

I do not intend to say that we should demote English and promote another language instead. Being acquainted with English does give us certain advantages. Also, in a country where more than 700 languages are spoken and where Hindi isn’t spoken in all regions, English acts as a unifying factor. But here, the language should be promoted only if it facilitates communication. Proficiency in English must not be made ‘compulsory’ because then, it stratifies society.

Amidst the race for showing-off our proficiency in English, have we forgotten that some of us may not be coming from English-medium institutions? Even if there are people who have been educated in English-medium institutions, they may not speak English as fluently as others. Yes, the competition is intense – but it is important to help these people as well. Even if you can’t help them, you shouldn’t mock them.

We should also understand that speaking fluent English isn’t a sign of being a great orator. For instance, Narendra Modi is a great political orator, and he has spoken in Hindi in international meets and forums abroad.

Can we understand that if people don’t speak fluent English, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent? Can we stop judging experts and professionals on the basis of their fluency in English, and instead judge them on basis of their knowledge?

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