English and marginalisation

By Ram Ashish Giri
The children, their parents and teachers selected to take part in the ReMaLIC project in the four target countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Senegal and Sudan – all expressed the view that English is indispensable for education, employment and better lives. They affirmed its key role in their social mobility and survival in the globalised and interconnected world. For them, English in their respective societies plays a number of crucial roles. English is one of the de facto languages of communication in formal and academic settings and a prerequisite for education and professional jobs. It is seen as a source of self-improvement and as a means of career success domestically as well as globally.

Participants in the target countries consider English superior to other local languages, however, its use in basic level education is limited. The data does not conclusively demonstrate its role in marginalisation, however, not having adequate English was seen as a barrier and a source of failure for many ordinary people. For example, English was used as a control mechanism to play a gate-keeping role in access to higher education and key social positions. English in these countries was perceived to be prestigious but it created additional problems for low socioeconomic status students who often had limited access to English.

Teachers interviewed for the project supported the views of the children and parents that English plays a significant role in the lives of individuals, and it enhances their access to resources and learning. As the excerpt below demonstrates, they also believe that for a successful life, a functional knowledge of English is extremely important:

We gave a class for the examinees on why they should learn English, speak English always. They understand the importance. 80% information nowadays are in English. As English is the international language, without knowing English we can’t communicate with foreign countries. Good job or good salary is not possible without it (BD-T01).

Attitudes towards English
Students’ attitude towards English has been largely positive. They expressed the view that English would help them have a better life and increase their opportunities for better education and employment domestically as well as internationally. They also suggested, as the excerpt below shows, that the language facilitates communication with those who speak English:

Suppose, I don’t understand an English word, I can’t pronounce or write it. If I pronounce it or write it then, I can find out with google search. Now if I don’t understand the thing or it is difficult to understand then I will not be able to understand it in this case. Secondly, suppose a foreigner comes to visit Bangladesh. They want to talk to us. We need to communicate with him in English. No matter wherever you go, whether is it a senior employee or a relative , it is a pity if someone asks you something in English and you can’t answer it or in the case of technology: mobile, computer, laptop whatever you say, now everything is in English, and if I don’t know English, I can’t use them, and if I can’t use those, you won’t get a good job (NP-S03).

English and technology are closely connected. The functional knowledge of English is important because most digital devices today use English as their language. English has become the language of technology. Most participants expressed the view that functional knowledge of English is essential for the sake of using technology. Not knowing English at all can hamper using technology:

The language of computers is English –and I’m not good at English — so it’ll be difficult for me to use technology [because] if you want to use the device and you don’t know English you won’t be able to write the words like “book” because the keyboard is in English (SD-R-S02).

I was using my sister’s phone and I pressed something by mistake and there was a message in English that I didn’t understand. I was scared I’ll ruin her phone so I waited until she comes back. It was then that I wished if I knew English then maybe I could’ve understood the message and fixed my mistake before my sister comes (BD-P04).

I think that English has become essential in the acquisition of knowledge today. New technologies are very important to keep up with the world today. English is a useful tool to facilitate the appropriation of technologies, especially those related to education. It is better to master English than not to master it (SN-P04).

Inability in the English language is viewed as a barrier to having life opportunities. For example, not having a functional literacy in English puts people in a disadvantageous position, even jeopardises their chances of getting a job.

The main barrier for a decent life is [not knowing the] English language (SN -P04).

Anyone who knows about technology and English language, he will make progress in life. Thus, we won’t be marginalized and depressed (SD -P03).

English language is very important to us not only for children. I applied for a job in some company as private driver but I could not get the job because of my knowledge of English (SD- P03).

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