Of linguistic diversity

In an era marked by increased migration, diverse job opportunities, and better educational prospects, Indian classrooms are experiencing a transformation in terms of linguistic diversity. However, this shift raises a pivotal question: How should this linguistic diversity be effectively managed in the classroom? Language, as many experts argue, is not merely a means of communication; it is deeply intertwined with culture, tradition, and the wealth of knowledge embedded within a community.

However, the current reality in Indian classrooms tends to favor one language, namely the so-called lingua franca, which is English. This situation has been exacerbated by globalization, which promotes the standardization of languages. Unfortunately, this trend may lead to the gradual extinction of local and indigenous languages, along with their associated cultures and, more critically, the unique knowledge structures of these communities.

For instance, Consider indigenous forest-dwelling communities. They possess deep knowledge of the forest’s resources, flora, fauna, and disaster-prevention strategies, all reflected in their folklore. However, when they realize that their language holds no respect or utility in interactions with mainstream society, they may increasingly adopt the dominant language spoken in their state, risking their language’s existence and its exclusive embedded knowledge—a loss that may prove insurmountable to recover in the future. This predicament isn’t limited to tribal languages but extends to all languages within the power hierarchy.

The pervasive influence of English in the Indian classroom, with its association with job prospects, and economic opportunities, further accelerates the homogenization process. Regrettably, Indian classrooms have yet to fully grasp the impact of this phenomenon and, inadvertently, encourage the use of English at the expense of students’ mother tongues.

Indian classrooms have yet to realize the potential of using students’ home languages as a resource for teaching English. Many Indian educators remain unaware of the cognitive and linguistic advantages of bilingualism. Researchers, linguists, and educationists often discuss the benefits of bilingualism and the use of students’ native languages as a classroom resource in various forums. Paradoxically, teachers on the frontlines often lean towards maintaining monolingual classrooms. For instance, the practice of punishing students for using their home language still lingers in many Indian classrooms, a situation many of us may have encountered during our school days.

If this situation continues, India may eventually lose its rich linguistic diversity. To counteract this trend, India can look to countries like Canada and the United States, which have embraced translanguaging practices to accommodate all the languages spoken in the classroom. Whether it’s Hindi, Tamil, Odissi, Kulu, or any language that students bring to the classroom can be utilized as a resource for teaching English. Moreover, teachers need not be fluent in all the languages spoken in the classroom; instead, they should be trained in using translanguaging and other pedagogical strategies effectively. This approach benefits both teachers and students, enabling them to learn new languages while celebrating their own linguistic heritage.

To achieve this, both pre-service and in-service teachers should receive adequate training to sensitize them to the linguistic resources available in Indian classrooms. This practice can also foster active participation among tribal students, preventing language extinction, promoting inclusivity, and instilling a sense of identity among students. It imparts the value that all languages are equally important and encourages respect for each other’s cultures and knowledge systems. Furthermore, it helps diminish the power hierarchy between majority and minority languages. Such classrooms can create an atmosphere where languages coexist and flourish harmoniously. Given that students spend a significant portion of their formative years in schools, it becomes a moral duty for teachers and school management to champion such practices to uphold the principles of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) and “Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat” (one India, great India).

In conclusion, the evolving linguistic landscape in Indian classrooms demands a nuanced approach. Multilingualism should be seen as an asset, not a liability. To preserve India’s linguistic diversity, it’s imperative to bridge the gap between research insights and classroom practices, offer extensive teacher training, and create an inclusive linguistic environment. This path leads to a win-win situation where languages coexist and thrive, enriching the cultural tapestry of India’s educational system.

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