14 May 2012

English language and ease of understanding

Back in the 1960s when I was a school boy I used to read newspapers such as THE HINDU, THE INDIAN EXPRESS and the eveninger MAIL with interest. One main reason for this was the simple and at the same time, impeccable language used in these. (I used to get immersed in cricket news covered by J H Fingleton about county cricket which featured Indian players such as Raman Subba Row).

Of course I also liked reading newspapers and magazines such as Swadesha Mithran (Tamil), Kalai Kadhir (I have never found any Tamil language Science and Technology magazine comparable to this excellent magazine), Dharma Yug (Hindi) etc.
Kalai Kadhir

Dharma Yug
As years go by, it is logical that languages undergo metamorphosis, which fact is very evident if we compare how a language gets used in different periods of time. When I was a school boy, idiomatic English was very much in use. But it is outdated now. When simple straightforward words and phrases are available, there is actually no need to use idiom filled phrases any time.

This morning’s editorial in THE HINDU reinforced my view that standard of English in the newspaper is never like it used be many years back.

As an example, I have listed a few sentences from the editorial and rewritten them in a simpler manner in brackets as follows:

• After a prolonged period of weak initiatives in higher education that stunted enrolment in the university system, India now has the opportunity to speed up remedial action during the Twelfth Plan.

(After several years of lethargy in taking initiatives in higher education leading to stunted enrolment in the unieversity system, India’s Twelfth Plan paves the way for speedy remedial action).

• Evidently, even if the target is achieved, the absolute number of young Indians able to get a recognised higher education degree will remain well below the level a knowledge economy needs.

(Evidently, even if the target is acheived, actual number of young Indians who will graduate with higher education degrees will be far below what knowledge economy needs).

• It is imperative that the Centre makes access, quality improvement and affordability the basic tenets of policy.

(It is imperative the Centre considers affordability, access and quality improvement in higher education as basic tenets in policy making).

• The idea of opening up the physical infrastructure of universities and colleges to start whole new batches of degrees and diplomas late in the evening has been the low hanging fruit in the area of wider access for many years.

I don’t really understant what the above sentence means.

I think that the basic objective of any language medium is to use language which is non-idiomatic, situationally and contextually relevant and simple enough for the reader to  understand. For example, I don't think that `Warm greetings' would be very pleasant in a city like Chennai where the weather is already very warm.

In our digital day to day living in which time controls us instead of the other way round, our language should be economic wherever possible. For example, isn't  "She took two minutes to run the distance"  more economical and easier than "She took a couple of minutes to run the distance"?  Linguistic economics can help us to conserve energy.

Contrary to popular belief, fluency in English (or any other language), is determined by clarity of expression and not by speed.

We can come across numerous youngsters who turn  away from reading English mainly because the material is not user friendly for the above mentioned reasons.  I think that our textbook publishers and multimedia developers should understand this basic fact.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.