Learn English in a day or two thousand

A few weeks ago, Outlook India had a cover story about English-teaching centres that are sprouting faster than pimples on a teenage boy’s face. You didn’t need to read the story to have noticed the number of ads that promise to teach English in two days or a week or two weeks. They’re everywhere and they promise to take over the world. Something like that.

If anyone is promising to teach you English in two days or a week, they’d better have some super-duper alien technology available to them. Because, their methods of teaching, however brilliant, won’t make you a native English speaker anytime soon. Will you learn some English? Absolutely, there’s no denying that. (Exhibit A: Kapil Dev and Rapidex English speaking course, no disrespect intended.) There’s also no denying that you will not be able to start conversing in English if you’re not someone who is comfortable in the language.

It takes a while to learn a language, any language. If you are gifted or just plain language-smart, then you may take much less time than us ordinary peoples, but for most people it just takes time. If learning English were (was?) so easy, then each and every one of us would remember not to split infinitives. (Like there’s anything called a “split infinitive”.)

So how do you learn English? By reading a lot, by listening to others speak, by watching TV shows or movies, by speaking, and by writing. Of course, all this takes time, which quite frankly is a bit of a pain, if you’re into shortcuts.

Because English-speaking candidates are sorely needed in jobs in the IT/etc. sector, it’s tough for qualified, non-English speakers to get those jobs. Even for students who study in non-English-medium schools, the learning curve when they enter English-medium institutions is steep. Imagine being in a place where everyone understands the language and you don’t and you have to learn the language and subjects in that language. Not exactly a peace of cake.

The way to go would be to introduce English in schools (everywhere, not just in the cities), when kids are young, so that they can pick up the language. At least they’ll have a platform to build on for the future. English isn’t our language but we’ve adopted it and it’s one of the reasons that India’s IT sector prospered. For a huge section of people, however, English remains a door-closer, not a door-opener.

It’s time we change that.

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