11% of Indians claim to speak English, should the rest, the majority feel inferior? NO

Saturday editions of Mint and Sunday editions of the newly designed Economic Times (ya, ya, I am talking about ET) are a treat to read. Mint carries very in depth articles on Saturdays and I love the ‘numbers oriented’ articles in Sunday ET. Yesterday the center page article in Mint “Angerzi Nation (English Nation)” (article no longer available on livemint.com) was about the non-English speaking population, termed as vernis in India.

Language has been a subject interest close to my heart, after all our portal Oneindia.in is about Indian languages. People (read it as VCs!) have always asked me – “Why will Indian languages do well on the internet? After all everyone wants to learn English and move away from languages (non-English) in India”. What they have to say is partially true but not completely true. Partially true because it is a fact if people can afford they want to learn English, not completely true because India is not going to be a 100% English speaking country anytime soon. If it does forget about Oneindia.in being in trouble, our politicians will be in deep trouble.

Teach English in India

Teach English in India. Image source

India’s society is a multi-culture, multi-caste, multi-lingual. It was, is and will continue that way. Period. We started Indian languages over a decade ago because there was a demand. Well educated software Engineers abroad (mainly the US) told me “We want to read in our language”. After all the print and TV are doing very well in languages compared to English.

The article highlights the reality of English in India. To mention few things,

  • English has always been an index of India’s social stratification.
  • 10.33% of the population claimed to speak English as a second or third language, which translates to 126 million in 2010.¬† (Source: English Next India 2010 – a report by David Graddol of British¬† Council)
  • There are two kinds of books – those nobody reads and Chetan Bhagat (cute statement).
  • English coaching classes (offline, on TV, online) are doing very well.
  • Penetration of English in India is not more than 10%
  • English is an economic driver. If street vendors know English they are known to earn more.
  • Famous columnist Shobhaa De termed the Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone as ‘verni’ – which indicates small town-ness – phew! Deepika is from Bangalore. If she is not ‘accepted’ as educated/trendy/classy not sure who is (just saw her movie Cocktail yesterday, she was bold and excellent as usual).
  • You can’t survive in the advertising industry if you are not bilingual.
  • Any country that begins to honor talent eventually rises above the language barrier (currently we in India are suffering from caste barrier – thanks to the politicians)
  • India is beginning to realize that cultural identity and the functionality of a language are separate things.
  • English speaking club in India controls 90% of the nation’s wealth and power. You can work your way into the club if you are not born in it.
  • The article ends beautifully – Real people cannot be judged by language.

India is complex because we have multiple languages, we can’t compare ourselves with China or European countries where it is easier to implement a ‘single language’. I have always argued over time India will become bilingual. According to me we have a multiple personality, I say this because we in Oneindia have seen the behavior, expectations and consuming habit of same reader on our English and language channels is very different. He switches the language hat very easily and seamlessly.

The aspirations of Indians all over (Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3) is on the rise. They want to be current on many topics, they want access to information/content. With mobile internet becoming a reality in India (4G coming in a big way by 2013) they all will need a lot of content and services in languages (including English).

I feel very proud at the various initiations we have taken at Oneindia to be catering to the needs of the majority of India, the non-English speaking community – other than news+entertainment we have launched a series of multi-lingual verticals which would be of interest to them – Automobiles, Lifestyle, Cricket, Gadgets, Personal Finance and Kamasutra.

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