During my entire school education, the medium of teaching was the vernacular lingo. The English as a subject came in the 5th Standard. However, I started bunking the class, as I could not comprehend the language & was feeling extremely uncomfortable. One day, my class teacher noticed my absence and discovered me eating ice cream at the shop next to the school. She complained to the Principal who summoned my father the next day. The Principal, in my father’s presence, made me stand in a ‘toe-touch’ posture for about 30 minutes and then left me with a stern warning.
Somehow, on that ‘fateful’ day, I resolved to give my best shot to the English language. As a result, I kept scoring good grades in the subject until my 12th standard. Two good habits that I developed during those years, thanks to my father, were reading English newspapers and using the dictionary. However, since the language used at home or at school or in social circle or in friend circle was vernacular, I did not learn the spoken or written English that effectively.
After clearing my 12th exams, I took the admission in a graduate course in Microbiology at the local college. Again, the Principal who knew my father insisted that since my schooling was in the vernacular language, it would be beneficial for me to get the admission in the class that would have the vernacular language as medium of instruction. As the luck would have it, I then shifted to a new college, where the medium of instruction was English. This college was about 50 miles from my hometown and so I put up in the hostel. Luckily, my batch mates were from other states of India and they spoke & wrote English better than me.
During the first semester, it was not that hard as it was more about the basic sciences, which I had partly learned in the 12th standard. The real problem started from the second semester with the new disciplines. I could not make head or tail of what I was receiving from the Professors. I somehow survived and managed to get through the second semester.
Came the third semester and I was in great difficulty. At one point of time, I even thought of quitting the course. Then friends supported both emotionally and academically. I then decided to tackle the issue head-on. I was fortunate enough to have a batch-mate, who willingly agreed to aid me in my quest of learning English, as a medium of communication. The process that he mandated was simple, but followed rigorously.
I had to read the old English newspapers almost daily, while at the hostel, and take out 10 words or phrases that I did not understand. Then I had to check the dictionary and write down the meaning of each such word or phrase in my notebook. Afterwards, I had to make the sentences using these words or phrases, and my friend would check all that I have done. My habit of consulting the dictionary turned very handy in this process. Having checked my work, my friend would then ask me to speak some of the sentences and help in correcting the pronunciations. To make sure that I learn correct English, he would likewise explain the grammar and the context.
Slowly and steadily, confidence replaced the anxiety. I started reading available English magazines, which further helped me understand the use of English as a medium of communication. This process, backed by my batch-mate, went on for about 18-20 months and I started getting a sense of command over the English terminology. I even began mingling more & better and did not feel shy of speaking English even if it was faulty.
I cleared my graduation with good scores and after about 15 months, joined India’s one of the finest management institutes for post-graduation in management. Here, the environment was far more cosmopolitan as the classmates were from different (educational, social, ethical, and economical) backgrounds and from different parts of the country. Some were from metros, some from cities and some from towns.
The confidence gained in using the English language during graduation years, was a major support during the post-graduation. Whether it was talking, writing, typewriting, or presenting, I was relatively at ease. Overall, the stint at the management institute was comfortable, as I did not have any difficulty in grasping and learning. Still, what I did not realize that learning a language, any language, is a continuous process and I was still in the ‘class room’.
I stepped into the professional world after my post-graduation. In my first company, the verbal communication was generally in the vernacular and national language. Nevertheless, I started appreciating the contextual use of English because I had to correspond within the company as well as with the external parties, including vendors, law officers, and recruitment agencies. I also had to deal with the consultants hired by the company for specific purposes. These consultants spoke predominantly in English and so I learned a bit of ‘professional’ way of speaking and writing English. Interestingly, a British firm acquired the company and hence the emphasis on English became almost absolute.
Subsequent to my first company, I have worked with two more companies and have continued to learn English. One more method that I have used extensively for learning English is regularly catching the English news channels. With the growing appreciation of the language, I have over a period, developed a habit of reading books on varied topics. Books not only teach language, but also help in developing the patience and concentration.
In my last corporate assignment, my immediate superior was too choosy about the correct & the contextual use of English. That was again an interesting learning period, wherein I discovered a few more nuances of the English lingo.
The more I learn about English, there seems more for the discovery. I have fortunately remained loyal to the lexicon & vocab. What was an allergy in the 5th standard has turned a liking over a period. Even today, I make mistakes, but then the online support is available at the arm’s length. My most significant learning has been to practice English based on the context with right words or phrases and correct grammar.
Though I scanned this article two times before submitting for publication, there could be an error. The error could be either incorrect grammar or inappropriate sentence structure or improper punctuation marks or unnecessary use of passive / active voice.
As I write, speak, and listen more in English, I am becoming more curious as well as enlightened about its depth & breadth. Language is the most effective medium through which we all express and connect ourselves. Therefore if the “knowledge is power”, then “knowing English is a super-power”.
Some of Gandhi’s most unambiguously expressed views were on English medium education that the British induced in India. He was not against the English language and its noble literature, but he was against education in English in India at the cost of vernaculars. He believed that this form of education was a systematic psychological assault.
Gandhi was contextually right.
Today, while vernaculars have their legitimate importance, not being able to speak or write good English, which is one of the most widely spoken and understood language globally, is surely a weakness, if not a dishonor. This applies especially to those who have a worldview and who dream of developing acquaintances, friendships, relationships, and businesses across the borders & seas.
We are also contextually correct.