English – Even As A Second Language – Still “Not Enough” Sometimes

In most countries in the world, people pass through years and years of English classes, devoting much time and energy to learning this foreign language. Many countries would be thrilled to have English spoken widely, and often more as a second language than a foreign language. But in a country where this has already been achieved to a large extent, some sources are reporting that knowing English is not enough.

This news come from India, which has 18 official languages (more according to a reader comment) and 52 dialects.

Although many speak and work in English, media statistics demonstrate that people tend to prefer their own language for other things. So when foreign companies want to market their products to India’s “newly affluent consumers… a mastery of Hindi, Malayalam, and Tamil is essential to reach them.” Nokia, for example, developed 10 language interfaces on its mobile phones for India; the Google toolbar appears in five Indian languages, and you can “google” in at least eight.

The main problem is that there are simply not enough professional translators of Indian languages. In the past, companies hired those with knowledge of at least two local languages, but today say that casual knowledge is not enough.

With everyone studying English…who will translate Kannada to Malayalam? While English may be the common language between Indians from different parts of the country, will translation between these languages need to be done via translation to English first? This is certainly not the first case of a negative consequence of the dominance of English, but it may be an unexpected illustration of it.

This news is probably less than welcome among those who have gone to the trouble of learning English, but India is a remarkable country which has so far also shown a remarkable linguistic capacity, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds.