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Do They Speak English in India?

Do They Speak English in India

Key Takeaways

Official StatusEnglish is one of the 22 recognized languages in India’s Constitution and serves as an associate official language.
UsageCommonly used in business, education, law, and administration.
ProficiencyIndia has the second highest number of English speakers in the world, after the United States.
VariationsIndian English has its unique characteristics and variations.

The Historical Roots of English in India

India’s association with the English language began during the British colonial period, which spanned nearly 200 years. The British East India Company started its rule in India in the 1600s, and with that began the spread of the English language.

The Rise of English Education

In the early 19th century, figures like Lord Macaulay played crucial roles in introducing English education in India. The motive behind this was twofold:

  1. Create a class of Indians proficient in English to assist in administration.
  2. Spread western knowledge and science among Indians.
1835English was made the medium of instruction in schools and universities.
1857Universities in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras started offering courses in English.

As the decades passed, English became deeply rooted in Indian academia, bureaucracy, and governance.

English in Modern India

Post-independence in 1947, there was a strong sentiment to promote native languages. However, given the linguistic diversity of India, with its 22 recognized languages and hundreds of dialects, English remained a neutral, unifying medium of communication.

Where You’ll Find English

  1. Business and Commerce: The Indian corporate world frequently uses English. This is especially true in sectors like IT, where communication with global clients is common.
  2. Education: Many schools and universities teach in English, especially in urban areas. Competitive exams for professional courses and government jobs are also conducted in English.
  3. Media: English newspapers, magazines, and TV channels are popular across the country.
  4. Legal System: Indian law, being a legacy of the British system, continues to use English extensively.

Proficiency and Variations

India boasts a massive number of English speakers. However, the proficiency varies. While many Indians are fluent and articulate in English, others might know just the basics.

Indian English

Just as American and British English have their differences, so does Indian English. Here are some characteristics of Indian English:

  • Unique Words and Phrases: Phrases like “pass out” (to graduate), “prepone” (opposite of postpone), and “air-dash” (travel by air) are common.
  • Grammar: Indians might use “only” for emphasis, e.g., “I am coming only.”
  • Accents: Diverse regional accents, from Punjabi to Tamil, influence English pronunciation in different parts of India.
Common Indian English PhrasesMeaning
“Do the needful”Take the necessary action
“What is your good name?”What is your name?
“I will revert back”I will get back to you

Cultural Impact of English

The influence of English isn’t limited to official spheres. From cinema to literature, the imprint of the language is evident.

  • Bollywood: While Hindi is the primary language, English dialogues and song lyrics are common.
  • Literature: Renowned authors like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Vikram Seth have penned works in English, bringing Indian narratives to a global audience.

The Future of English in India

The importance of English in India is unlikely to diminish. As globalization increases, so does the role of English as a bridge to the wider world. That said, there’s a renewed emphasis on multilingualism, with many advocating for proficiency in regional languages alongside English.

In Conclusion

English in India is more than just a language inherited from colonial rulers; it’s a tool of unity, progress, and global connection. Whether you’re traveling, doing business, or simply engaging in cultural exchange, you’ll find English as an integral part of the Indian mosaic.