Prof. Thiruvasagam, the vice-chancellor of University of Madras, made a strong plea for a mother-tongue medium education at the World Classical Tamil Conference 2010.
He poignantly describes "our very own children hailing from Tamil medium schools who are confident and happy individuals" and the shock when they encounter English as the medium of instruction in higher education:
"We have seen these children transforming before our eyes into timid, sullen individuals whose creativity and voice are silenced by the linguistic imperialism of English."
He also cites yet another figure for English-speakers in India: "the percentage of people speaking English is supposedly about 23%". He gives no source.
In contrast, the English Wikipedia in its table of Countries in order of total speakers - using government of India census (2001) figures - says 12% of Indians speak English (which still gives a 125 million plus people!).
But, of course, all these figures make little sense unless we have some idea of what level of speaking (or knowing) we are talking about. This is where the various levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) are particularly useful: "CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level."
To return to Coimbatore, the Tamil conference promises to be interesting. I'll be following it in English, of course! :-)
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