The bill to ‘kill’ Urdu - Mushfiq Ahmad - Saturday, March 05, 2011

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The bill seeking eight national languages for Pakistan is nothing other than an attempt to kill the movement for Urdu in this country. Eight national languages will help none but those who want English to continue to undermine the potential of Pakistani youngsters. Since independence, there have been a few voices in favour of making Urdu the official language and the medium of instruction. This bill is intended to suppress these sane voices.

The bill has received favour from those who claim that Urdu is spoken by a minority of this country. They say Urdu is spoken only by those whose ancestors migrated from India and that Urdu is as difficult for most people as English, so teaching in English or Urdu will amount to the same. This is almost entirely untrue. Urdu is certainly not the mother tongue of the majority, but the majority does understand and can speak Urdu. So learning in Urdu will be much easier for the whole Pakistani nation than learning in English.

Then they argue that English is necessary for communication with the outside world, so we must teach our children English. But what percentage of our people goes abroad? Less than one percent. How many people living in Pakistan have to communicate with English-speaking people? Again, less than one percent. We cannot and should not burden the whole nation with the task of learning English for the sake of that tiny percent of people. Our education system’s energies should be directed towards that part of our population which will remain here.

There are countless examples of our wasteful spending on teaching different subjects in English. Our lawyers plead cases of people who don’t speak English. So lawyers talk to them in Urdu or their native language. Why, then, do lawyers have to know English? Our doctors treat people who speak Urdu or their mother tongue. Why then do we have to teach our doctors in English?

What benefit have we had of teaching our youngsters in english? I find none. We have only hampered our students’ ability to think clearly. Instead of developing expertise in their subjects, they remain busy trying to improve their english language skills because that is a pre-requisite for any good job.

In most of the private sector companies, interviewers ask candidates questions in English although employees do not have to speak in English to perform their job.

In recent interviews at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, candidates were asked questions in English. It was shocking to know that those who have been chosen to run an Urdu-medium university themselves do not believe in Urdu as a medium of instruction.

It is regrettable that in exams for civil service, there are two compulsory papers of English language, while Urdu remains optional. Does command over the English language improve the capacity of our civil service? Surely, it doesn’t. In fact, it hampers their work because they spend more time trying to write correct English than they do on improving their quality of work.

Our rulers, civil and military bureaucracy included, have been setting deadlines to make Urdu our official language. The deadlines were never met because the day Urdu becomes the official language, the elite will lose its supremacy over ordinary folk.

Set no deadlines. What needs to be done should be done now. All official paperwork should be done in Urdu. Technical terms should not become hurdles. Those terms that have no Urdu equivalent at present should be used as they are.

There should be no exam of the English language for any public sector job unless the job involves communication with foreigners (most jobs don’t). Sound knowledge of the relevant subject should be enough for a candidate to get a job.

Researchers pursuing doctorates in philosophy, who have had all their education in English, learn German to read the original texts of German philosophers. This shows that one can learn a foreign language even after graduating. Then, why can’t our people learn English after they have had their primary and secondary education in Urdu? If we do this, we will be producing students with better skills of English language. It is a proven fact that you have to know your mother tongue well to be able to learn any other language.

If we continue to ignore Urdu, we will remain followers of the English-speaking world. If we adopt Urdu as our official language, we may hope to lead the world some day because then we will be thinking in our own language and that will make us creative. Creativity is what takes a nation forward, not any particular language. The English-speaking world is dominant because of its creativity, not because it speaks English.

The writer is a staffer

We welcome other views on this issue and would like to invite comment regarding this bill.

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