Opinion | English language teaching in India: How to decolonise the global lingua franca

·4-min read

English, and to be specific, British English is the language of our colonizers, a colonial legacy and a lingering symbol of neo-colonialism. However, as we have, over the 70 years since Independence, taken up the project to decolonize, we have also sought to globalise.

Following the 1991 economic liberalization of India, upward economic mobility was enabled by the gradual progress towards a rapidly growing free-market economy. One of the most significant enablers of upward socio-economic mobility was the widespread usage of English as the medium of instruction and the medium of assessment in educational institutions.

However, today we stand at an important juncture in the history of English language education in India as along with decolonizing, de-globalizing is also being sought.

As cited by Nancy Hornberger and Viniti Vaish (2009) in the article Multilingual language policy and school linguistic practice: globalization and English€language teaching in India, Singapore and South Africa,Phillipson (1992), the sociolinguist, extends Ritzer's term 'McDonaldization' or globalisation to the spread of global English. This he thinks of as linguistic imperialism that culturally impoverishes the third world by eroding its linguistic ecology.

However, we need to make an important distinction between decolonization and de-globalization, between being Eurocentric and Pluralism-centric. It is easy to diminish the nuances and not discern the fact that the pursuit to enrich our Indian-ness should not suppress the very value of inclusive pluralism that is at the foundation of our cultural richness.

A fundamental part of our pluralism is the cultural practice of linguistic diversity which has influenced education policymakers to incorporate the vernacular and the regional in the mainstream and the national. We must refrain from the collective amnesia that makes us ignorant of the fact that internal diversity within a language and adapting the language according to the needs of real-world situations is essential for the survival of a language.

The goal of language usage is communicative intelligibility. As long as the goal of communicative intelligibility is retained, the enterprise of decolonising needs to be wary of taking a simplistic approach and forgoing the global lingua franca as an integral component of education.

Instead, it is imperative to recognise the variety of 'Englishes' that have developed across various geographical regions of the world and how different nations have co-opted English, the global lingua franca, to maximise the opportunities presented by the vernacularization of English.

The conceptualization of 'Englishes' can be traced back to Braj Kachru's (1986, 1990, 1996, 2005, 2008) seminal work which challenged the marginalized status of 'World Englishes'. As cited in Todd Ruecker's article (2011) Challenging The Native And Nonnative English Speaker Hierarchy In ELT: New Directions From Race Theory,the journal Kachru founded, World Englishes, has consistently advocated for the importance of World Englishes.

For instance, Sridhar and Sridhar's (1986) early piece challenged the use of native speaker models and assumptions of English learners always being immersed in environments where English is the dominant language. More recently, Kachru (2005) labeled the beliefs surrounding native speaker superiority as "myths" which may be compared to "loaded weapons" (pp. 16€"18).

An innovative approach that has been developed over the years in English Language Teaching is the 'English as Lingua Franca' or 'English as International Language' model for teaching in postcolonial and multicultural nations.

Andy Kirkpatrick and Roland Sussex write in the introduction of the book English as an International Language in Asia: Implications for Language Education, "In the multilingual settings of Asia, code-mixing between English and local languages becomes a natural and creative strategy and identity marker for multilingual users of English. These multilingual users of English also routinely use English as a lingua franca (ELF) when they communicate with fellow multilinguals across the region."

On the contrary, as pointed out by Kingsley Bolton, "since the 1980s, a pluricentric and pluralistic approach to the Englishes or English languages of the world has become so well-established that this now constitutes something of an orthodoxy in contemporary English language studies and sociolinguistics. So much so, perhaps, that various linguists have begun to question or at least problematise various aspects of the world Englishes approach to English language studies and applied linguistics."

In spite of this argument, I think that the inclusive idea of diverse 'Englishes' needs to be kept in mind before formulating any policy on language education in India.

To enrich our Indian-ness, we need not devalue the English language. Instead, we need to recognise that a particular language does not imply a monolithic identity. A language can be co-opted by various social identities to minimise stratification and 'Indian English' has done exactly that magic. We need not mimic and imitate British English or American English and must continually develop languages as an enabling and uniting tool to expand our perspectives and horizons.

'Indian English' retains our uniqueness as a multicultural community as well as acts as the window to realise the impossible dreams that globalisation has made possible.

The writer is an author of two books 'Indian Feminine Fury' and 'Unapologetically Mad'. She is a postgraduate student of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at the University of St Andrews, Scotland and has studied English literature at the University of Delhi.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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