Tryst with spoken English

  • Beant Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Nov 17, 2014 09:50 IST

This dates back some 25 years when I alighted from a bus at Anandpur Sahib, and with a bag slung over my shoulders, started walking towards Sri Dasmesh Academy, a boarding school, which I was to join as a lecturer in English.

As I covered some distance, a smartly dressed young man brought his tractor to a screeching halt just ahead of me. Sensing that I wanted a lift, he asked me if I was proceeding to the academy and it would be his pleasure to extend me help.

I was not taken aback by his altruistic gesture, but by his fluency in English as it was not expected of a man driving a tractor. I happily jumped on to the machine. During our journey to the academy, a distance of 5 km, he introduced himself as Kanwaljeet Singh Chahal, an alumnus of Sainik School Kapurthala and a resident of a village in Nurpur Bedi, who would soon be my colleague, teaching physics there.

Our entry to the portals of the sprawling campus was embarrassing as the gatekeeper took us for intruders and it was hard convincing him that we would soon be teaching there.

Staying together in a residential school helps strengthen the bond that one develops with co-workers with each passing day. Like all boarding schools, it was expected of the faculty to be proficient in spoken English. This led to ample situations that would give us a hearty laugh.

We had a Hindi teacher, who was struggling to learn the nuances of spoken English and who would often laugh away his poor communication skills. He would say, "English doesn't come to me but I have to go to English." Whenever he was to meet the principal, he would rehearse his sentences with my help.

There was another incident concerning our physical training instructor (PTI) that does not fail to leave us in splits even to this day. The PTI, an ex-serviceman, made the school hockey team have a practice match out of schedule that disrupted the studies of the boys. This infuriated the principal, who asked the PTI, "On what grounds did you make students play the match?" Unable to get the full import of the query; the PTI, in all innocence, replied, "On the hockey grounds, sir."

No language can be mastered in terms of its spoken part in a short time. It is quite clear that an ambience has to be created in schools where children converse in English in order to achieve success.

Nowadays, where a command over the English language is considered a passport to success, someone fluent in spoken English definitely has an edge over others.

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