English seems to be a common language among most western countries and several eastern countries. Mastering it makes travel and business easier and sometimes even improves the society’s perception of you, but why is it kept on such a pedestal? Is English really that great?
When, on average, a language is dying every two weeks.. why is English so strong? Why is English so sought after? What sets it apart from the others? It isn’t particularly easy to learn or speak. The only thing I can think of is that it goes back to the time when Britain ruled seemingly everything. And it’s a perk that the English alphabet is shared with several other Latin based languages like Spanish, French, Italian, etc.
Citizens of majority English speaking countries often know only English. I’ve seen this time and time again in the US when several people have asked me why I’d bother learning Tamil or Hindi. What’s the point. It’s the language of only one state, there’s no purpose.
But within each language lies its history. It’s traditions. It’s culture. Learning a language is imperative to seeing outside of your society and catching a glimpse of another. That’s why it’s so upsetting to see languages dying. Even when I taught in Kerala, I was so distraught to see students being punished for speaking their native language while so many of them couldn’t properly read Malayalam. Native languages should be treasured and preserved. Knowing English is not a measurement of knowledge or value of a person. It’s just another skill like being good at painting or calculus.
A couple of things that especially trouble me about the English language are that we don’t differentiate between relatives. In Hindi you know clearly if an uncle is paternal or maternal, age hierarchy, etc. “I’m going to grandma’s house,” is met with more questions whereas “Miri dadi ka ghar jaa rahi hoon” clearly shows to whose house you’ll be going (sorry for any grammatical errors).
Another thing is knowing who is included when you say “we”. Imagine standing in a group of people and you say “We are going to school.” Who is we? Am I included? Are those 3 included? Those 4? Everyone but me? All of us? In Tamil there is a clear line between namma (including you) and naanga (not including you). “Namma palliku porom,” or “Naanga palliku porom.”
I always feel so awful when I see someone upset that they aren’t mastering English quite like they want to be, or when someone teases another for not knowing English well. English is no mark of intelligence or of worth. It’s just a language, and kind of a lame one at that.