Sonal Minz may hail from Simdega, a remote region in Jharkhand, but that’s not where she wants to remain all her life. A goalkeeper with the Indian women’s hockey team, she plans to make her mark in the upcoming Rio Olympics – then use it as a stepping stone to feature in many other international tourneys.
There is a problem, though. Confident as she with the hockey stick, most of her morale dissipates when she has to take on European and American opponents.
“They shout things to each other in English, but I fail to grasp even a sentence. It gets even more difficult when we have to train under a foreigner coach. Their instructions often fly past our ears, and we just feel so embarrassed,” Minz laments.
But hope is in sight for the Jharkhand player and her companions, who have now begun learning English under a new programme launched by the Simdega District Hockey Association (SDHA) . Interestingly, it was the 2007 blockbuster ChakDe! India – where two hockey players from the state were shown to be hesitant about conversing with foreign players – that awakened the authorities to the need to enhance the team’s language skills.
Now, SDHA players have to undergo an hour of training in English and computers, followed by six hours of on-field hockey practice, everyday. Fortunately, nobody seems to be complaining. “The classes boost our morale and confidence levels,” gushes Minz.
Promilla Soren, another national-level hockey player, says she initially felt awkward performing exercises such as speaking before a mirror, but later grew to like it. “This way, I am sure to grasp all the necessary vocabulary needed to communicate freely in English,” she adds.
Simdega is a remote district in the state’s Maoist belt, with a tribal population of 70%. Though the literacy rate of the district is high, not many of its residents are exposed to the English language.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” says Manoj Konbegi, secretary of the SDHA. “Be it an engineer or a sportsperson, knowledge of English is a must in today’s world. We are teaching English to our players because they represent our country in international arenas. I am happy that they are taking the classes seriously.”
SDHA president Asunta Lakra, a former captain of the women’s hockey team, feels it’s better to learn English late than never. “Back in our time, we faced a lot of problems because of the language barrier. Back then, nobody thought of helping us the way we are doing for these girls,” she says.
Lakra, who is also the vice-president of Hockey India, says that professional teachers were hired to teach English to the women players. “If we succeed with the first batch, we will extend this programme to the state-level,” she adds.