India: A Non-Native English speaking country or not?

PtrikhaStarred Page By Ptrikha, 28th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

While English is not the designated mother tongue of the majority of Indians, the way it is being taught at schools since childhood and its widespread use makes one think if this does not make India a native English speaking country?

India:Really an alien to the category of Non-native English speaking countries?

India has hundreds of languages and dialects like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Dogri, Assamese and many many more. So, generally, when we speak of native English speaking countries, India is excluded and we have countries such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand(perhaps I am missing a few).
However, English is taught from Kindergarten (or Nursery as called in many Indian schools). Moreover, most of the official work, and communication between people from different parts of the country is predominantly in English. So, does not that makes a case for India being categorized as a native English speaking country?
It is not as if there are no Business or work in local languages, or in Hindi, which is the most widely used language in India(no personal bias here, just stats!).
Perhaps, we can delve into points for and against the argument.

India a English speaking native:Why not?

England might have granted freedom to India in 1947, but apart from the Rail and Road Infrastructure, and a number of Institutions and laws(some still prevail till date leading to grave injustices), they left behind a legacy of English education. Indians did not leave this legacy. Instead, many of the kids especially in urban areas are taught English since their childhood. It is the case that many of us are better at writing in English than in our mother tongues like Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi etc. Compare this with Russia, China or Japan, and the case is widely different.
There have had been initiatives to make Hindi the National official language of India, but due to certain differences, this could not be implemented. Also, from practical perspective, it is better to stick to English because:

  • English has served well as a unifying factor among communities and ethnicity across India.
  • Great command over English has helped India being competitive at a global level in the fields of Information technology, Healthcare, Pharma, Automobile Manufacturing, Literature, Online writing/blogging as well as a lot of other fields.
  • English has helped many Indians over the years to migrate to countries like Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia over the years and lead a better life there, as well as provide great remittances back home.


  • Now, the last reason might sound too selfish to some of the Wikinut fellas here, but it is a frank truth. Moreover, English has been very much Indianized with phrases and words like "Autorickshaw-wallah", "Tea-Shi", "Sir", "Madam", "Babudom" being frequently and commonly used.
    If a language is so well entrenched in a country's education system and in some ways in our psyche, why isn't India categorized as a Native English speaking country?

    Arguments against India as native English speaking country

    Those arguing against the argument given above might also want to emphasize on some very valid points:

  • Formal English education covers most of the urban schools only and even many of the Government and Government aided schools are not good at English education. Most of the Indians are better at grasping topics in their local languages or mother tongue.
  • Emphasis on English has been a hindrance to many not so well versed with the language in many fields. Further importance to English may even hit them harder.
  • In spite of being taught English since childhood, many Indians carry a lot of mother tongue influence in the way they speak English till their adulthood.
  • Even Hindi is taught even in Non-Hindi speaking states as a second language, so why not promote Hindi instead of English?


  • Moreover, whether we accept it or not, English was an import of the British rule or "Raj". Hence, it might never be able to impart the same flavor to our culture as the existing languages we have been speaking for a much longer time.
    Yes, English has been Indianized a lot, but still it lacks the punch as compared to the local languages.

    To sum it all up

    Whether or not one agrees with the debate I have written about, English language does have a special place in India and its future plans to join the ranks of the more developed countries. Any alternative will take years to replicate and could even be fraught with dangers. So, as of now, sticking with English looks the best way forward.

    Just spicing up with a video regarding influence of English Language in Indian life:

    Excited about writing, Join Wikinut and get Paid!

    Tags

    English, English Language, English Speaking, India And English, Indian English, Influence Of English

    Meet the author

    author avatar Ptrikha
    Ptrikha is an IT professional, with a great appetite for writing on a variety of topics ranging from Business, Economics, Politics, Sports, Technology, and much more. He has written over 100 Articles

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    Comments

    author avatar Retired
    28th Aug 2014 (#)

    I have worked a lot in the past with Indian students who needed help with "polishing" their English - I must have about a dozen PhDs to my name by now! One thing that strikes me is that the English written by Indians today is similar to that of British people 70 or more years ago. I think what has happened is that when the British left India the task of teaching English fell to their pupils, who duly passed on their skills to later generations. The result was that English became frozen as that taught by the original teachers and took little account of changes in the language's "home" countries since 1947.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Yes, we still use words used in the colonial times as well, and we are also told at times to work on "Accent Neutralization". Yet, in terms of written English, Indians are quite great.

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    author avatar cnwriter..carolina
    28th Aug 2014 (#)

    a very interesting article for which many thanks..

    Reply to this comment

    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks cnwriter.

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    author avatar Peter B. Giblett
    28th Aug 2014 (#)

    Sir, the thing about the Indian sub-continent (and I am not simply talking of the one country, but the surrounding nations) is that it includes the both the best and worst usage of the English language. I am married into an Indian family (albeit via Africa) and the majority of then have excellent diction, but when it comes to writing they use the language incorrectly. I count India as an English speaking nation, even if all the billion of its population are not proficient at it. In time that will change.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks for sharing your views Peter. In fact, many of the schools in urban areas now give greater importance to phonetics, and as compared to the times when we were in schools, our kids are learning to speak much better English.

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    author avatar Phyl Campbell
    28th Aug 2014 (#)

    As an ESL teacher, I would concur with many of these statements above. When Indians come to me to polish -- as John put it so well -- they follow a lot of rules Americans simply don't follow. They may technically be correct, but they will not be understood, kind of like Siri or the automated telephone operator. And because they have been speaking and writing English so long, they have developed many habits which are harder to break than someone learning a foreign language as an adult. Of course, I find the grammar of many Americans beyond appalling, as you well know. And in the South, the jokes are constant. I have adapted different dialects depending on the people I am speaking with -- which my students find hilarious. Fitting in and adapting are the name of the game in being understood in English -- and our youth and technology are constantly changing the vocabulary on all of us!!
    That said, your points are excellent. Some people are better at expressing themselves than others, and language is almost secondary to education and confidence. If America is considered an English speaking country, melting pot that we are, than India should be, too. English speaking status alone does not and will not qualify every citizen to write online like you do, but if you want such status, you should have it.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Wow! You have shared some brilliant insights. I know that many of our ingrained habits while speaking English are more difficult to change, since we have been speaking and writing English since our kindergarten days. Yet now exposure to Internet, writing and blogging sites offers so many more avenues to Indian students and even executives to develop their skills. And yours truly is surely making a reasonably good use of one such resource:"Wikinut" :)

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    author avatar Phyl Campbell
    28th Aug 2014 (#)

    By the way, the "debate" image is absolutely fabulous. I really like it.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks for liking the topic heading Phyl !

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    author avatar yugasini
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks for posting, have a nice day.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks yugasini

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    author avatar Snerfu
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    It is tedious making comparisons say of a crow to an eagle or sparrow. English you could say yes, is universal even to Hindi speakers. However, the crow does not stop to be thankful for its wings, does it? It stops to raise a debate over why there are wings all over the place -- eagles, sparrow, mynahs, cranes and Mercury.

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    author avatar Snerfu
    29th Aug 2014 (#)

    Your article shows a distinct perspective of an average Indian -- his worries and anxieties of being understood and being properly represented in a world dominated by English language. Remember, in Europe, they have their native tongue like we have Hindi and they do not feel threatened though we do hear occasional dissent.
    You do not have to be a sparrow or an eagle to fly. You can fly if you are a crow too.
    Great article Ptrikha, write more like this.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    30th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thanks snerfu, at times, we can feel an identity crisis too between being English speaking or Hind/Marathi/Tamil etc speaking person, unlike say Russians or Chinese!

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    author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
    30th Aug 2014 (#)

    Thought provoking Ptrikha. I started school learning the local language - Malayalam. I started learning English when I was 12 years old. I am thankful that I did as the world opened up for me - otherwise, I would have remained a frog in the well.

    Regarding Hindi being "imposed" across India, I feel it is plain injustice. It will mean Hindi speaking people getting an unfair advantage while others have to catch up with them. Though many will talk of patriotism, will they learn a South Indian language too for that matter in the name of national integration? I am fluent in the Indonesian language because I stayed in Indonesia for five years and had I been born in North India, Hindi would be a cake walk for me. In terms of speaking English, people adapt and English is the prime language spoken between people of different countries - the basics are understood in almost all cities of the world. I have heard unskilled workers from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar communicating in that language in Singapore.

    We all have accents and the French are fastidious in getting it right but not the welcoming English speaking people. It adds such variety. Occasionally when foreigners approach me asking for directions, I can mostly make out which country they are from as American, British and Australians have their unique accent and even the area they come from.

    Even within India people, at least the educated, communicate in English like I do as my conversational Hindi is basic though I am proficient in Malayalam and Tamil.

    I feel English has served India well and I can understand how we have benefited when I see those from other countries like China, Indonesia, struggle to communicate with strangers in English. I feel language is an emotional issue and the matter with politicians is that the rich and powerful among them, as most are, send their children to Britain, America, even to Swiss elite boarding schools while talking non-stop about embracing local languages - but are they not born hypocrites? I do wonder sometimes in which language leaders of Germany, Spain, France, China, Russia communicate when on one to one, two eyes only, meetings? siva

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    30th Aug 2014 (#)

    Some very nice and frank views Siva. Raking up emotions around languages is something I never like. If English is a great national integrator in India, why replace it? Yes, accents can vary but the English Language acts as a great bridge not only within India, but outside also.

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    author avatar GV Rama Rao
    7th Oct 2014 (#)

    Today India has the largest number of people speaking English. One professor of Cambridge said in the years to come English as spoken in India will be the standard. Numbers do matter. The English speaking middle class of India is more than the population of the USA. Queen's English is passe now and the Americanese is ruling the roost right now. Very soon it will have to give way to Indian and perhaps Chinese English.
    Secondly, in India the level and type of English written and spoken depends upon the schools and colleges attended.
    Lastly, numerous Indian writers are making a name for themselves in English literature now. Any idea of removing English or reducing its use in India is a step in the wrong direction.

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    author avatar Ptrikha
    8th Oct 2014 (#)

    I totally agree. Also, one of my cousins who is quite elder to me and is a Professor of English in a University told me that there is also an officially recognized "Indian English".

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    author avatar Diaa Attia
    2nd Apr 2015 (#)

    Thank you for this great article,, I would like to take the chance for inviting English tutors and students who are looking forward to speak English like a native to view this wonderful website that offers English Skype classes http://preply.com/en/skype/english-native-speakers I am currently taking English classes there and the quality presented is Excellent and satisfying

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