Posted on August 9, 2021 · Posted in Blog, General, Memo Plus Gold, Personal

The discourse of ‘broken English’, or the figurative use of the adjective ‘broken’ to describe one’s linguistic competence, is a common feature of the environment in which English learning is a central pre-occupation. This phrase will be considered as representative of a broader class of simplistic and usually negative absolute descriptions, such as ‘poor English’, ‘bad English’, and so on. Most of the discussion, except for a brief consideration of the metaphorical aspect of brokenness more than a simple assessment of competence, is, in fact, a form of social action that results in complex psychological work in conversation. The implications of this concept should be of special interest to English language teachers, who because of their profession tend to both use and encounter the use of the English language in their daily life more than most others do.

It seems natural for many to feel bad on account of the ridicule they may have faced at some point for their broken English. When you think about this, it may prompt you to think of your own parents at first. Your grasp of English may be better than many. Most of the time when your parents receive some letter or communication in English from the banks, service providers or such, it is usually kept aside for you to read. While your mother can easily read and understand, she still insists that you run through it just in case she may have misunderstood or missed something. You can understand where this comes from because she like many people, would have had received their formal education in some other language. In their case, English classes were given very little focus and treated as a second language.

You find it hard to understand why some people would ridicule or make of fun of others in university for their English usage, who have had their medium of instruction in school in a language other than English. For them, it is a secondary language which they would need for a working understanding because that is what they would end up using the English language for in their working life. So, when it comes to people like them, we need to understand their feelings.

What we do not understand, and which make our eye twitch are the negative and disheartening comments concerning those who spoke broken English that are being shared by many people who have had received a formal education in English! These people studied English in “English medium” schools, where English is the primary language taught. Over the course of their schooling, special emphasis was given to various aspects of the language like grammar, word construction and pronunciation at the same level as prose. People who would have learnt the language for ten years, would have had spent at least five years correcting the usage of the language. So, it is very demoralizing to criticize people who speak broken English for whom English was not taught as the primary language.

We should not be expected to have a perfect usage of any language. Everyone is prone to mistakes at times. For example, not everyone is expected to have a practical understanding of calculus, but we are expected to be able to perform basic mathematics. You may not be able to perform complicated integration in mathematics because you studied calculus in secondary school. We do not expect people to know at which concentrations and thermodynamic conditions stable iron and carbon alloys are formed. But we do expect people to know what atoms are, and how elements differ from compounds. All of it is part of the basic education that we have received.

The general perception is that people who went to English medium schools are not expected to speak broken English, just like everyone is expected to know that it rains on account of evaporation, condensation and precipitation of water, and not because of the tears, or the blessed sprouting of some divine being’s hands. Likewise, when some people speak broken English, it may not mean that it may be their second language, but could imply that they did not pay attention to the language when taught in school.

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