The English language in India is a complicated business. And I don’t just mean that sometimes you might see signs advertising the availability of Single Bad Rooms and Double Bad Rooms at a hotel, or the location of the local English Wine and Bear Shop. Or that, when speaking Hindi, if you find yourself at a loss for the correct word, throw the English one in there and you are usually good to go. English has traditionally been a language of power in India, used in government and business by the relatively small percentage of the population that has had the opportunity to learn it fluently (Note: in a country of over a billion people, a relatively small percentage is still a significant amount of people). I have repeatedly been told of the elitism associated with the English language – a divide between the English speakers and the non-English speakers in India.
My current project is to develop English curriculum and teacher training for Digantar’s alternative schools. At a recent teacher workshop I conducted, we discussed reasons for learning English as a second language. The alternative school teachers pointed to benefits including access to information in an increasingly globalized world, the ability to engage in cultural exchanges with people from different countries and learn from different perspectives. They also expressed the desire to make English accessible to more people in order to close the gap between English and non-English speakers. Despite the strong emphasis on learning English in primary schools in India, there remains a lack of resources and training necessary to make it a reality. It is not uncommon for teachers expected to teach English to not actually know English themselves. This creates a special challenge for teacher preparation and training, and something I am constantly thinking about as I prepare curriculum materials and resources.