Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tamil-medium education

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! :-)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

On the "outstanding success" of Esperanto

The well-known Esperantist Lu Wunsch-Rolshoven (Vikipedio) has an interesting comment on the "outstanding success" of Esperanto. The context was a discussion on Sam Green's recent documentary Utopia in Four Movements (2010).

Lu wrote an article in the online magazine Libera Folio titled "Film on Utopia Ignores the Real Esperanto-world" (Esperanto version). Here's what he says in the comments section of his article (my translation):

"The language Esperanto had (around) one speaker in 1887. Several millions have learnt it since then, and between one and two hundred thousand regularly speak it today. From the position of the smallest language in the world in 1887, Esperanto has risen steadily and is today among the 50 internationally most-used languages in the world. Every hour there are 12 000 visits to the Esperanto Wikipedia, Vikipedio, on which count it occupies the 35th position among the world's languages (which, with the exception (more or less) of Indonesian, Norwegian and Hebrew, already existed before 1887).

"Among the foreign languages of Hungarians, Esperanto occupies the 18th position, and is 16th among Lithuanians. According to my knowledge no language in human history has progressed like this in only 123 years. (Not even English, which during the last century grew more slowly in percentage terms.)

"If a documentary film-maker presents something on Esperanto within 20 minutes, treating the whole thing as a "utopia", with human skeletons and hugely unsuccessful malls, is not adequate. I also expect that the documentary maker clearly present the outstanding success of Esperanto compared to other languages of the world."