English as a Life Skill - an opportunity
English is taught around the world
The recently launched Presidential initiative termed "English as a
Life Skill" brings in to focus the eminence this international language
has gained in the modern world.
Global economic realities are such that all our fervent efforts to
forge a prosperous future may flounder if we are unable to connect with
other nations meaningfully. As a means of communication its position is
so vital that no nation can ignore the English language and hope to be a
part of the larger global family today.
While several other languages such as Mandarin and Hindustani may
claim an equally large user base, they don't come even close to the
universality of English in vital areas such as international commerce,
law and communication.
As much as it has become part and parcel of daily life in almost
every corner of the world, in the process, it seems English has ceased
to be the language of any particular country. There are too many people
using this language today for one to claim exclusive rights of ownership
or authenticity now.
Presently almost every racial group in the world speaks English, to
some degree. Whether it is a commentator at a game of Cricket in the
steaming Calcutta Stadium or a developer launching of a multi-million
project in Dubai or a party official describing an impressive opening
ceremony at the Chinese Olympics, they will invariably choose English
when the intended audience is global.
The accent and the choice of words of the different commentators at
these events would be so diverse as to sound almost like another
language. Sometimes these differences are so marked that it is now
recognized by scholars that there are different versions of the language
such as the British, American, Indian, Caribbean, Singaporean, to name
only a few.
However, while the differences between these versions are growing,
the larger language thrives, accommodating and encouraging this dynamic
diversity. This delightful adaptability is perhaps one of the reasons,
which has made English an almost universal feature of human
Of course, like good Wine needs no bush, English needs no promoters.
Each person may decide the necessity and the degree of the language
knowledge he requires. A given society may even decide to close its
doors on English without the slightest impact on the universal progress
of the language. But the effect of such a decision on that society, as
we so dearly found out, may be severe.
It is a pity that English came to us as the language of a conqueror.
In time those who were collaborating closely with the British rulers
then, learnt their language, and realised its usefulness as a definition
It mattered not that they lacked the pith and substance of the
conquerors that in the first place made the English what they were. The
users and abusers of the conquerors language by an imitative native
elite were bound to create a backlash, which our subsequent leaders
obviously lacked the wisdom to resist.
This great language towers above both, the mindless abuse of its
privileged knowledge by one set of puerile natives, as well as the
visceral reaction to this by the other set. It seems clear now that both
groups failed to appreciate the true meaning as well as the potential of
what was essentially a foreign phenomenon to them.
If the efficacy of a language can be judged from the variety and
range of ideas it has given birth to, the English language has an
unsurpassable record. From the theory of gravity to flying, from the
telephone to fast foods, from software development such as the windows
application to an incredible range of medical advances, from banking
concepts to accounting principles and to an incredible output in
literature, we owe a very heavy debt to human minds working in this
The much spoken of Parliamentary system is a uniquely English
creation. That elected representatives debate public policies openly at
one forum and their implementation is given to a government answerable
to the parliament and the people, is an idea, which would have startled
other less confident civilizations.
That in parliament sat a group of representatives called the
opposition whose basic function was to oppose government policies was an
idea that was met with incredulity by people whose concept of government
was based on the rule by autocratic monarchs and their secretive courts.
In every country with a predominantly English culture, from the
United States to New Zealand, this instinctive inclination towards a
democratic way of life is a discerning feature. Even their most
trenchant critics will not deny that, relatively, these countries are
bastions of democratic values and individual freedom. It is to be
expected that any system run by humans would have faults and weaknesses.
But in a democratic system these problems are addressed openly. They
can take particular pride in the creation of an independent judiciary
and a vibrant media, which highlight and attempt to address problems.
These institutions perform their vital functions comfortable in the
knowledge that they enjoy the support of a well-informed public sharing
a core value system. The English-speaking countries are also blessed
with public service systems, which are efficient and more or less free
of corruption. All the predominantly English-speaking countries in the
world are within the first 20 least corrupt countries.
The United States, the melting pot of every race in the world, fares
the worse, at a still respectable 20 in the ranking by the Transparency
International. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are
all within the first 12. In Asia, the highest rankings are enjoyed by
Singapore (4) and Hong Kong (14), which are again countries that have
English as their primary official language.
When it comes to prosperity all these English-speaking countries are
in the leading ranks.
Measured in terms of per capita income citizens of these countries
enjoy some of the best living standards in the world.
It is obvious that the English language has not failed its speakers.
In almost every sphere of human activity they are among the best in the
We too can perhaps aspire for a greater quality of life if only we
make the commitment.
This initiative of the President has given some of us an opportunity
to learn English. Let us take full advantage of it.