English language: the way forward

AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan can overcome the prevalent English-Urdu language dichotomy in its education system by adopting English as a subject at the beginner’s level, and later on, enforcing it as a medium of instruction from grade three onwards to inculcate a balanced culture of language skills. 
The educationists and linguistics expert, both local and foreigners, presented this idea during a policy dialogue held under the aegis of British Council on Thursday.
The participants on this occasion vetted various suggestions and ideas to promote proficiency in what they call the ‘second language’ of Pakistan. Though there was a broad consensus on identifying the absence of a spelt-out national language policy as a major issue to deal within Pakistan, yet the future of English was seen bright. While some experts termed English language as the cultural capital of Pakistan, others acknowledged it being at par with Urdu in terms of its linguistic status. Does Pakistan has a formal policy on its national language, was the probing theme of a panel discussion comprising various research scholars and the language practitioners. Not only they highlighted the fact of lack of national language policy in Pakistan, but the opinions expressed further emphasised the need for adopting a supporting strategy at all levels to ensure that English flourishes in the country as a second language.
Dr Tariq Rehman, a veteran teacher and an author on linguistics, categorically recommended a complete review of the education policy. He was of the view that without taking into account, the importance of local language or mother tongue, the issue of dealing with English as a second language could not be dealt with. “The way forward I see is to encourage initial learning in the respective local language at school entry level. Let English be taught as a subject instead of being the medium of instruction,” he suggested. Rehman maintained that he would not buy the ‘English for all’ slogan, saying it could only be supported at the college and university level. There is no need to be obsessed with the idea of enforcing English language as a medium of instruction right from the school entry level at the expense of children’s basic learning, he said.
Prof Chris Kennedy, a research scholar, agreed to Rehman’s idea, saying that the local language should take precedence over English when it comes to imparting basic knowledge to the school entrants. However, he cautioned that learning English at the primary level won’t guarantee a success afterwards for the students passing out from the universities.
John McGovern, another linguistics expert, told the audience that it would be easier for the students to learn in their mother tongue at the university level rather than learning in English.“The language policy should be based on these realities. We cannot operate in isolation without giving weightage to this fact. Both local and English language needs to be promoted through a balanced approach,” he remarked.
Earlier, in his keynote speech, Javed Jabbar, a media person and an intellectual, underscored the English language’s role as a binding force in Pakistan. He said that the English language had attained an equal status to that of Urdu in recent years. “In today’s Pakistan, we are surrounded by English language starting from advertising sign boards to the identification plates for the cars, making it a fact that it has eventually become a people’s language,” he remarked.
It was followed by another panel discussion exploring the impact of bilingualism on English language’s future in Pakistan. Bilal Tanveer, a novelist and a teacher, remarked that language of his emotions was Urdu while he had been expressing his intellect in English. “I live with this spilt. English is not the language of intimacy, and that’s exactly why I have written my book comprising of inner voices we need to find. My allegiance is to the ‘voice’ not to the English language,” he shared his perspective.

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