English is not the first language for most Indians. It is, however, a global language and one of the official languages of India, and has accordingly been made compulsory in most schools. Unfortunately, English is taught more as a subject than as a language, thereby limiting students’ exposure to spoken English.
Reasons for Poor Standard of English in Schools
Teachers in India are underpaid, with the result that the most motivated and qualified individuals seek better-paying careers. This being the case, many who take up teaching as a profession may not be passionate enough about the language to make effective teachers and inspire students.
Since English is not the first language for most Indians, many teachers are not as comfortable with English as they should be. This leads to them teaching English as a subject, like science or history, rather than as a language whose nuances are to be appreciated and not memorized. The reading habit, which is fundamental and vital for learning English, is not given importance or encouragement.
Grammar is taught to students who are unable to assimilate all the rules, as they don’t possess a decent grasp of the language. What most fail to understand is that grammar is a tool used to decipher English after one is fairly comfortable speaking it. Expecting children to learn to speak fluent English through grammar lessons and brief, abridged prose in prescribed textbooks is not realistic. Regular reading and classroom discussions are the most effective methods to teach English.
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Preference for the Regional Language Hinders Spoken English
Regionalism is growing rapidly throughout India. With most states aggressively emphasizing their native language, English is slowly being relegated to a corner seat. Politicians often use such powerful regional sentiments to gain popularity and target English medium schools which do not make the regional language compulsory for its students. This may eventually cause a huge setback for the country because English is now a global language that finds a foothold in almost every country in the world.
In several schools, teachers prefer to teach in their regional language as they and the students are more comfortable with their native tongue. Since fluency is achieved only with practice, this defeats the purpose. And while most of the more prestigious private schools engage qualified tutors, those who are unable to afford high tuition fees and are obliged to study in government-run schools suffer this handicap.
At the school level, this might not be seen as a serious disadvantage, but when these students seek higher education or jobs, the lack of fluency in English is displayed with appalling obviousness. At that point, the students are faced with one of two choices: compromise and settle for a lowly paid job or learn English from scratch.
Uninspiring Selection of Prose and Poorly Structured Syllabuses
At the school level, the prescribed texts for English are often not properly structured. Lessons comprise mostly of extracts from famous works. Unfortunately, little or no background detail is given about the work from which the extract was taken, making it impossible for the student to appreciate the storyline or the dialogues of the characters.
When students fail to find anything that would allow them to connect with the prose they are required to study, they not surprisingly lose interest. This miscalculation in selecting appropriate syllabuses for students is one that is repeated over and over again and is often the cause of a student developing an unconscious dislike of the language.
Fluency in English is Essential
Fluency in English is mandatory for those who wish to seek their careers in another country. And as an increasing number of Indians prefer to find jobs elsewhere, communication skills, especially in English, is absolutely necessary. However, in order to achieve fluency in the language, improvements in the education system and finding a balance between English education and regional sentiments, are important and necessary steps.