History of the English Language in India


23 Mar 2015 14 Dec 2017

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This study aims at studying the language needs of under graduates students, revealing the discrepancies of different participants with respect to actual English language skills and target language skills and then suggest corrections in curriculum, wherever required. The study is conducted at Sant Gadge Baba University; Amravati, on students studying in under-graduate courses.This chapter presents information on the background and purpose of the study. Next, research questions are presented. Finally, definitions of some basic terms used in this study are presented.

Background to the Study

Global English

World English is broadly categorised into three varieties: English as a Native Language (ENL), English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Accordingly, there are three geographical divisions of English speaking nations viz., ENL territories, ESL territories and EFL territories (Braj B. Kachru in Koul N. Omkar (eds.) 1992: 2 -3, cited in Hasan Kamrul Md,2004).1

ENL territories - In countries like the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, English is the first or often the only language of communication among the people. In ENL territories people use the mother tongue variety of English.

ESL territories- In ESL situations English plays a vital role and is used to perform a variety of official, educational, and other roles. For ESL speakers, although English is not their native language but it is an important language in their professional and social lives. Like India, English is used as a second language in almost all the former British colonies (Singapore, Nigeria, South Africa etc.) Often the person's second language becomes the first functional language in adulthood in such cases. In ESL countries English is generally given importance in the educational framework of the nation and taught in schools and colleges.

EFL territories - In some countries English neither enjoys the status of native language nor second language. It is treated as foreign language and its use is restricted to occupational and educational purposes. In countries like China and Japan, English is taught and learnt mainly for reasons of trade and business and it does not play any role in social interactions.

A historical sketch of ELT in India:

Pre-colonial period

Vasco da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India also paved way for the introduction of English in the sub-continent in 1498.However, it was only in the 18th century, when the Mughal Empire was on the decline and the English East India Company had secured a foothold in India that India's tryst with the English language began. During this period, English was the language of communication of the elite people and was not the lingua franca of the people.

Colonial period

With the consolidation of the activities of the East India Company in eighteenth century, began the efforts of teaching English in the South Asian subcontinent. As far back as 1759, Christian missionaries entered India and the 1787 despatch welcomed the efforts of Rev. Swartz to establish schools for the teaching of English. Another significant effort was the publication of the first book, 'The Tutor', to teach English to the non-Europeans by author John Miller in 1797. This book was published in Serampore in Bengal. Thus the socio- historical stage for the role of English in education was set by the end of the 18th century.

T.B. Macaulay, in the Minutes of 1835, for the first time, formally introduced the teaching of English in the South Asian subcontinent. In his Minutes he mentioned the importance and usefulness of the education that would be given to the natives through the medium of English. There were primarily two objectives of such education. The first was to create through this education a class of natives who, despite their blood and colour, would be English in culture and be able to "interpret" between the rulers and the subjects:"…a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern - a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect" (quoted in Macaulay 1835, quoted in Thirumalai, 2003)2. The second was to create a "demand" for the European institutions. Although both the objectives were designed to serve the interest of the Masters, not of the subjects, but it provided the framework of formal English education to India which to a large extent is followed even today..

Thus by the middle of the nineteenth century the aims and objectives of teaching English were very clearly laid out For the remaining period of colonial rule there were a few landmarks in the development of English such as:

  • The establishment of universities in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai in 1857 and in Dhaka in 1920
  • Selective education and training in administration, imparted through English, the Indian University Act (1904)
  • The Resolution on Educational Policy (1913).

For the entire period of British rule four broad developments with regard to English education took place:

  • 1600 -1800: During the early years the variety of English used was imitative and formal. It was the language of the rulers and the elite class.
  • 1850 -1947: During the later years more varieties (from very high to very low) appeared. Indian intellectuals and freedom fighters effectively used English as tool to for political awakening and resurgence.

Interaction with vernacular languages: As the use of English penetrated the different sections of the educated Indians, a new variety of English emerged. This variety of English had a very distinct Indian flavour and a number of words of vernacular origin were absorbed in English, e.g., Brahmin. Coolie, jungle, and so on.

Methodology: Language studies were based on literature and grammar and the means of studies was the grammar-translation method. The spoken component of the language was not practised. The emphasis was given on correctness and complete sentence construction.

English also played a critical role in India's struggle for independence as it became the language of political awakening and resurgence. Even Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), although a strong advocator of use of national language, used English language effectively to put forth his message to the British Government .

Post colonial period

Post independence, the perception of English as having an alien power base changed. Kachru notes that "English now has national and international functions that are both distinct and complementary. English has thus acquired a new power base and a new elitism" (Kachru 1986, p. 12 as cited in Baldridge, 2002).3 For most part of the twentieth century, it remained a language used by a select few. English primarily remained the language of law and administration.

The Present State

Twentieth century witnessed great advancements in science and technology and this enabled many new ways of sharing information and doing business. India's international commercial activities led to the need for acquiring proficiency in English as an international language. Now, English was not just the language of the administrators and policy makers but also became the language of the business and professional class.

In India, the English speaking population is only about 3-4%, but with India's massive population, India is among the top three countries in the world with the highest number of English speakers. In terms of numbers of English speakers, the Indian subcontinent ranks third in the world, after the USA and UK. Most English speakers in India are second language speakers, in 1971, it was estimated that the rate of bilingualism in India was 13% and 99% of English speakers are second-language speakers (Mahapatra 1990: 7 cited in Hohenthal , 2003).4 Spolsky points out that English is the most widely spoken second language, followed by Hindi. English is more useful as a "lingua franca"; the usefulness of Hindi as a lingua franca is regionally limited (Spolsky 1978: 42 cited in Hohenthal , 2003)5. The small segment of the English speaking population controls domains that have professional prestige (Kachru 1986a: 8 cited in Hohenthal , 2003)). It is this small segment of Indian population that heads India's economic, industrial, professional, political, and social progress. Most interactions in the above spheres of life take place in English.

In the linguistically plural settings of India, English often acts as the link -language among people of different dialect. For many educated Indians English is virtually the first language. Thus in the present context English is playing a vital role in bringing together people from different regional languages for a closer exchange of social, educational and administrative network of India . It provides a linguistic tool for the administrative cohesiveness of a country (Kachru 1986a: 8).

English is used in both public and personal domains and its functions "extend far beyond those normally associated with an outside language, including the instrumental, the regulative, the interpersonal and the innovative, self-expressive function" (Hohenthal citing Kachru 1986a: 37, 2003))6. As pointed out before, the role of English is not replacive: it overlaps with local languages in certain domains (Kandiah citing Sridhar, 1985;Shridhar and Shridhar, 1986; 1991: 273)7.

English language in Indian Education System

English is taught as a second language at every stage of education in all states of India and has been accepted as the main medium of instruction in higher education. English is also the state language of two states in eastern India, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

In India, English has become an integral part of the curriculum almost at all levels of education. However there are various social, political and cultural factors that affect the position of English in different boards, universities and other institutions. Even the curriculum offered and evaluation tools employed are very diverse across the country. The model of English offered to the learners lacks uniformity and it is this question that continues to challenge the policy makers and education planners. While most States accord English the position of second language, some others treat is as the third language; the regional language and the national language getting precedence.

as in other linguistically and culturally pluralistic societies, the position of English is determined by various political, cultural and social considerations. Kachru (1986b:20 cited in Hohenthal , 2003)8 sees primarily three questions which continue to be discussed. The first question concerns the position of English in early and in higher education. The second question is concerned with the roles of the regional language, Hindi and English. The third question deals with the model of English presented to Indian learners, and how that presentation can be made uniformly and effectively. The Government of India has primarily been concerned with the first two questions, which are directly related to language planning at both the national and state levels. There are, as yet, no acceptable answers to any of these questions (Kachru 1986b:20 cited in Hohenthal , 2003).9

1.2 Language Teaching Context at Amravati University

Established on 1st May, 1983, this University geographically covers the western Vidarbha belt (i.e., five districts - Amravati, Akola, Yavatmal, Buldhana and Washim) of Maharashtra State. The University, in its small span of two and a half decades, has contributed in many ways for economic, social and cultural upliftment of the society by offering quality education. The Motto of this University is - "Education for Salvation of Soul''

The University is recognised under Section 12(B) of UGC  Act.

The University is also an associate member of Association of Commonwealth Universities, London (U.K.)

The University has 10 faculties which includes Arts, Commerce, Sciences, Medicine, Ayurved, Education, Social Science, Law, Home Science, Engineering & Technology.

The University has facilities to offer post-graduate & advanced education in Computer, Biotechnology, Business Management, Law & degree courses in Chemical-Technology.

SGB,Amravati University University has been one of the foundation universities undergoing

expansion and developments in the recent years. Although the University does not have an English Department to date, English courses are offered both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in colleges affiliated to the University.

All undergraduate programs offered by SGBAU are of three years except Engineering (B.E.)


Evaluation tools used in order to assess the students' performance are generally written exams stated to cover the course objectives moderately rather than fully. That is because listening and speaking skills are not evaluated although practiced during the classes. The exam is generally conducted once, at the end of the academic session. The nature of the written examination paper is largely theoretical.

Thus, the results of this study will be an aid to the Curriculum Development Unit of English Board of Studiesof Amravati University (SGBAU)in deciding on the needs of the students and improving the already existing program to better meet the needs of those students.

1.3 Purpose of the Study?

English has penetrated all functions and all sections of society. It is a universally accepted tool for communication. It is no longer restricted to the English or Americans as a means for communication. Even within India, with its diversity of languages, English has emerged as the accepted language of communication cross culturally. It has even overtaken Hindi, which is officially the national language, as far communication among people of different native languages is concerned. Although, from time to time, various political lobbies have raised the issue of prohibiting the use of English language, however, they have so far been unsuccessful. This is primarily the result of the accommodating quality of English . Moreover, most of the world communicates in English and if India has to be a part of the Global scenario, English language can be a major bridge.

Looking at English language courses in sub metroplises, the fact that glaringly stands out is that little has been done to understand the special learning needs of students here and even lesser attention has been paid to prepare them to function effectively in their workplaces and academic environment. Students hailing from townships and rural areas suffer from geographic as well as cultural disadvantages. Their distance from the metros does not bring the exposure and environment which is naturally a part of the cosmopolitan work culture. Culturally as well, most students belong to families where native language is the means of communication and even in academic institutions the medium of instruction is primarily the local dialect. The prime purpose of this study was to understand the special needs of students who belong to non-metropolitan areas and then attempt to suggest how they can be optimally trained to perform academic and professional functions efficiently.

Each of the skills which may be required, reading, writing, listening and speaking may be of different value in terms of their use in a specific field. This study has been able to assess the students only in reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Due to a large and scattered sample, the researcher was constrained not to test the listening and speaking skills of the respondents.

This study aims at collecting data about the ESP needs of undergraduate students in 2008-2009 Academic Year. By comparing the results of students in each skill and the desired competence level of the items, this study, also aims at examining whether or not there is a need for improvement in those skills.

Rodgers (1969 as cited in Hutchinson and Waters,1987) in Nese Ekici,2003 expresses that developments in educational psychology has contributed to the rise of ESP by emphasising the central importance of the learners and their attitudes to learning. Learners have different needs and interests, which has an important influence on their motivation to learn and therefore on the effectiveness of their learning. To get an idea about students' English language skills and to see whether there was any discrepancy between their actual language skills and desired skills constituted an important dimension of the study. The foci of this study were both the target needs and learning needs for the English curriculum which is implemented during the undergraduate program. This needs assessment study will be useful in improving the already existing curriculum or designing a new needs-based curriculum and choosing more appropriate curricular elements for the undergraduate students at Amravati University

Necessity for syllabus development

A planned approach to the teaching-learning process can go a long way it making a course effective and relevant. However, as it is seen as something very complicated , many a times the content of the text books available for the course take the place of the syllabus. There are very strong grounds to support the need for a systematic syllabus development process, the most important of them are:

First, right from the onset of the course the teacher understands the ultimate objective of the course as a result of the planned process. This gives an opportunity to the teacher to interrelate and integrate all the elements. This in turn ensures better chances for the syllabus meeting its learning objectives. Secondly, a planned approach enables better selection of teaching materials and aids. The class delivery is better planned and oriented towards the end result. Finally, this syllabus development process leads to improvement of language education. The teacher plans, structures, selects, organises the teaching content in accordance with the learning objectives. Both the learner and the teacher are well aware of the outcome desired and both work in coordination to achieve the common goal.

The syllabus theory has not found wide application in ELT practice yet and has often been ignored by applied linguists. However, the application of this theory could be very beneficial for the whole ELT process improvement. This research is an attempt to bring in the application of syllabus development process for SGBAU's language courses.

1.3.1 Research Questions

The purpose of the study was to conduct a needs assessment revealing the language skills of Undergraduate students.

The following are the research questions this study sought to address:

  1. What is the present language proficiency level of students of under-graduate courses?
  2. Is the present curriculum able to meet the language needs of the students?
  3. Are their gaps between the desired and actual performance of the students ?
  4. Is there a difference in the language competency of students across different streams- Arts, Commerce and Science?
  5. Is there a difference in the language competency of students from first year of their undergraduate course to the third and final year?
  6. Does a co-relation exist between the students' medium of instruction in school and present performance?
  7. Are there any specified learning outcomes of the language courses offered by SGBAU?
  8. Is a post-course analysis done to match the desired and achieved proficiency levels?
  9. Is there any mechanism in place to ensure uniformity of delivery across all colleges under SGBAU?
  10. What is the present process for syllabus designing?

(More questions to be added)

1.4 Significance of the Study

A needs assessment study is usually carried out for different purposes states Richards, 2001(cited in Ekici Nese, 2003). Understanding the learners problems, assessing whether the present syllabus adequately addresses those problems of the learner, identifying what skills the learners need in order to perform a specific role, analysing if a change in approach and strategy is required and identifying the gap, if any, in what the students are able to do and what they need to be able to do are the main reasons for needs assessments to be conducted.

Identifying what the under- graduate students are able to do and what they need to be able to do is the main concern of this study. Smith (1989, cited in Ekici Nese, 2003) 12 mentions the concept of "severity of needs". As all needs are not of equal importance, severity or importance of the need is used as a main criterion for prioritizing the needs, Smith, 1989 (cited in Ekici Nese, 2003). There are some needs which are of great necessity and thus require foremost attention. This study also aims at prioritizing such needs. The findings of the needs assessment in this study will be made use of in order to recommend changes in the existing curriculum in case such a need is identified according to the data collected from the students. Based on the democratic philosophy, information is gathered about the learning most desired by those groups and the gap between the desired performance from the students and what they are actually doing will reflect the discrepancy philosophy. Hopefully, suggestions regarding the appropriate curriculum for undergraduate programs will be put forward.

1.5 Terms Frequently Used

Clarification of the terms which will frequently be used and constitute the backbone of the study is essential. To prevent misunderstanding or misinterpretation, some of the terms have been explained here.

Need: Need is the difference between what a learner can presently do in a language and what he or she should be able to do.

Needs Assessment: A needs assessment is a systematic set of procedures undertaken for the purpose of setting priorities and making decisions about program or organizational improvement and allocation of resources. It is a systematic process for documenting relevant needs (Reviere, 1996).

ESP (English for Specific Purposes): It is an approach to language learning, which is based on learner need. The foundations of all ESP are the simple question: Why does this learner need to learn a foreign language? (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987).

Target Needs: Target needs refer to what the learner needs to do in the target situation (work domain) (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987).

Learning Needs: They refer to what the learner needs to do in order to learn. They show how the learner learns the language items. It refers to the skills that he or she uses (Hutchinson and Waters, 1987).

ENL: English as a Native Language

ESL: English as a Second Language

EFL: English as a Foreign Language



(more terms shall be added if needed)


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