Love for English on the wane?  

| Updated: December 25, 2019 20:19:49

Love for English on the wane?   

Today English language is equated with technology that needs to be adopted for accessing global knowledge and creative opportunities and capturing business and organisational leadership.

English is the medium of more than 50 per cent content on the Internet which has reached at least 50 per cent Bangladeshis by this time. Experience of colonial rule by Englishmen and rise of English-speaking America after the World War II, followed by Bangladeshis' external orientation after independence might have defined their linguistic culture. Growth of English schools is one indicator of demand for English.

On global standards, however, Bangladesh's English proficiency is considered "very low". The country has been placed at 71st position in English Proficiency Index (EPI) covering 100 non-English-speaking countries. In the latest (9th) index, Bangladesh has scored 48.11points as against 48.72 in the 8th edition.

In the EPI prepared by Switzerland-based Education First, Bangladesh's proficiency band means one can 'introduce oneself simply (name, age, country of origin), understand simple signs and give basic directions to a foreign visitor'.

In the moderate category, countries like China can participate in meetings in one's area of expertise, understand song lyrics, and write professional emails on familiar subjects. Singapore, which is in the "very high" proficiency bracket, can use nuanced and appropriate language in social situations, read advanced texts with ease and negotiate a contract with a native English speaker.

Among Asian nations, Singapore stands overall at 5th position, the Philippines at 20th, Malaysia at 26th, India at 34th, South Korea at 37, China at 40th, Vietnam at 52nd, Japan at 53rd and Pakistan at 54th position. Eight of the top 10 are European countries - the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Luxemburg, and Germany - which once showed reluctance to learning English.

English proficiency in Asia declined slightly, observed the EPI report released recently. Dubbed 'workshop of the world', Asia will require "better English" for a transition from manufacturing to knowledge-driven growth.

More than a billion people speak English as a first or second language, and hundreds of millions more as a third or fourth, says the report, which insists that English and innovation go hand in hand. It also confirms correlations between English and various measures of investment in research and development.

English language still has great prospects for people in Bangladesh depending not only on past legacy but also in view of needs of students, researchers, businesspeople and non-resident Bangladeshis who are often bound to speak good English. However, Bangladesh's poor English proficiency at present owes to the deficiency in quality education as well as general unwillingness to learn a foreign language.

In the post-independent Bangladesh, a reader from a district town wrote to a Bangla newspaper that the English departments at Dhaka University and other universities and colleges should be closed since Bangla language won a state. An English professor then said, "The gentleman may not know that the world is slightly bigger than his district town."

The EPI offers a ray of hope as adults in their 20s reportedly have better English skills. An increasing number of Bangladeshi families are trying to provide their children English-based education including foreign education although the vast majority are not part of any good quality education.

A warning issued in the report is more relevant for Bangladesh. "The divide between those who speak English and those who do not, and the jobs that require English and those that do not, will only grow larger, rendering companies less flexible and individuals less mobile."


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