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'Starting English early not best way to learn English well'

'Starting English early not best way to learn English well'

By Jaison Wilson

New Delhi, July 23 (UNI) "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart", Nelson Mandela said once.

Languages are not just communication tools. They carry knowledge, experience and a soul that is in each person who speaks that language. When a language is not being used, it’s a loss for not just a group of people but for the entire humanity, says renowned literary critic and language activist Ganesh Devy.

"There is a multiplicity of language practices around the globe. When it comes to India, there are multitudes of issues in the multilingual country. Between 1961 and 2011, more than 200 languages died in the country, adds Devy.

In an interview with UNI, Prof Devy said that there were 1600 mother tongues in the country in 1961 but within a span of five decades, the number was reduced to 1300.

"It is a disturbing statistics of dying mother tongues in a 50-year-span," he laments.

"We need a policy on the recognised multilingual language zones, rather than the common language formulas. So, school institutions should not be 'located' institutions, otherwise in India we will have created a graveyard of languages" Prof Devy said.

For instance, Gonds, a tribe spread over Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, speak 'Gondi' language. Though it is widely used in these regions by them, it is included in the ‘vulnerable’ category in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

While discussing about the shrinking language diversity in Bihar and Jharkhand, a recent conference on Multilingualism in India under British Council and Cambridge University observed that the emergence of Hindi as a prime communicative language has been found to decrease in domains of mother tongue usage, complex diglossia faced by students who speak tribal languages as mother tongue. It is also learned that the language is a bridge between a child's consciousness and the phenomenal world.

While emphasising the importance of mother tongues, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages Professor Ianthi Maria Tsimpli said, in a research done with children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Delhi, children outperformed by a huge margin in Meta Maths when taught in Hindi rather than in English. Bilingual children have better cognitive functions but less vocabulary. It’s a trade-off, she said.

Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education issues are not just tribal language issues -- these are a pan Indian phenomenon.

“Home language is not always the state language, and starting English early is not the best or only way to learn English well,” opined Founder Director, Language and Learning Foundation Dhir Jhingran in the conference.

However, education leadership in India needs to move beyond the definition of multilingualism as additive or subtractive monolingualism and take a hard look at the socioeconomic political drivers, state controls and schools that are its implementing agents.

Multilingual heteroglossic education programmes must be developed to support multiple languages and literacies, allowing for their functional interrelationships and complementarities to thrive.


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