Writer’s note: speaking in English does not make anyone more intelligent or “cool”. In my opinion, English is not even the most beautiful of languages. The language serves the objective of being the most democratic language globally, facilitating communication, conversation and consumption of ideas and world views. This article is not a justification for people who believe “west is the best” or that speaking in English adds any sort of superiority.
I have attended English medium schools and colleges. That does not necessarily mean that everyone around me was speaking in English. It is a question of choice, really. Schools come up with all sorts of punishments to make sure students speak in English on campus to ensure fluency and confidence (my school did too) but students always find loopholes. Therefore, let’s do away with the notion that everyone who studied in English medium schools speaks English fluently.
There was a lot of stress at home to be good with languages. My parents put equal importance on English, Bengali and Hindi (later French and Spanish). I must admit that I would find Bengali quite tough as a kid, even though it is my mother tongue, but, once someone makes you fall in love with a language, you embrace it wholeheartedly. My father was instrumental in doing that. My mother whipped my English into shape. Every language deserves the same respect and love and to believe that one is better than the other is foolhardy.
Why is English important, you ask? Look at the crazy world we live in. The degree of connectivity and intrusiveness is mind boggling. Are we not hungrily consuming news from around the world at all times? Have we not created a constant demand for new information, updates and gossip? Think about it: The laptop or mobile device you are reading this piece on, where did you first read about it? Did you not compare reviews of similar products online? Are you not constantly looking for new updates and launches?
Like you, everyone is behaving in the same manner. Do we then not need one language for the whole world to communicate in?
More than education, it is a question of interest. I was interested in being grammatically strong, having perfect diction and always wanted to be the guy who never mispronounced a word. I read (still do) voraciously and, as a student, had the nerdy habit of spending some time every day with the Oxford dictionary. Yes, I had my overwhelming share of tests, projects, assignments, practicals, internals, externals and what nots, but like I said, it is a question of interest. No, I did not take up Science for my Plus 2 and neither did my parents force me to become an Engineer. Yes, I am fortunate to have parents who believed in me and allowed the freedom to do whatever I want to in life, but, I have also seen enough people fight for their dreams. We are quite casual about the fact that a tenth grader does not know what she/he wants to do in life. What are you selecting Science-Commerce-Humanities on the basis of? I have met people who have finished their MBAs and PhDs and then decided to become artists or journalists. You wasted chunks of your lives that are never coming back. It is prudent to be informed, to have dreams and work on them. I had a dream in my eighth grade. My parents helped me make my academic decisions accordingly.
Stills from AIB’s Honest Engineering Campus Placements
Engineers don’t have to be bad in English. Engineers also don’t have to be engineers if they don’t want to be one. When I watched the recent AIB rant about engineers struggling with the language (and their lives), I realised that this is nothing but a country wide meme. In school, we refuse to spend time thinking about our careers. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is never taken more seriously than an essay topic. We choose streams for our Plus 2 based on what our friends decide to pick so that we can all stick together. From that moment itself, we become a part of the herd. You join the same coaching classes your friends do, you are crippled by the realization of your mediocrity and the fear of being left behind, and all you want to do is, somehow, get your name ranked in one of those numerous college lists so that you don’t have to worry about a career anymore. Once you get into an engineering college, life’s mostly auto-piloting through exams, five-point-somethings and campus interviews. You could have been amazing doing something else but it is easier to just be a part of the national average.
Yes, economics plays a crucial role here. For a large section of our population, getting a job is about earning money. Phrases like “job satisfaction” and “dream job” are unnecessary ideas you don’t waste time on. And I understand that. But for the evolved ones, who are supposedly toiling every day in engineering colleges – making up songs about it, watching viral videos about it, making meme pages about it – it comes across a lazy excuse. Our parents have evolved too. However rigid they might be, there is scope for conversation. Talk to them. Tell them you are unhappy. Tell them you have a plan. But, if you have been too lazy to come up with a plan for yourself, how do you expect them to find faith in you when you decide to walk the path less trodden?
We, who have studied in those “fancy schools” you hate on, had holistic education. We had more than enough co-curricular activities to seriously explore every talent and acumen. We were trained to not just be academically strong but also have other interests and, possibly, career pursuits. That is why parents want their children to study at such schools. Are they expensive? Yes. Are some of them corrupt? Unfortunately, yes. But that does not mean we have the right to generalise.
A still from Hindi Medium
Yes, I speak English fluently. Don’t expect me to be apologetic about that. You aspire to be as fluent too. The accidental poster boy for Hate-On-The-English-Speaking, Irrfan Khan (thanks to Hindi Medium), also astutely keeps a foot on the Hollywood boat. So, don’t bring in your twisted cocktail of nationalism-patriotism-desh bhakti. “Angrez chale gaye, inn ko chhod gaye” is less of a witty comeback and more of a grapes-are-sour situation these days.