Friday, March 10, 2006

Condition of English in Bangladesh Second language/Foreign language

Mother tongue or first language is perhaps the most favorite thing for any person. The question of language has resulted into many conflicts and discontentment. The prime example of such discontentment is the Language Movement of 1952 in Bangladesh. On the other hand we can not live in isolation. We have to be in contact with the speakers of other languages. Bangladesh is considered to be a monolingual country in which more than 98% of the population is speakers of Bangla language. However, there are more than ten languages in such a small country like Bangladesh. Monipuri, Urdu, Chakma, Santali, Garo, Rakhain, Tipra- are just some of the other languages present in Bangladesh. The interesting thing is that Urdu is a Indo-European language but written in Arabic script, Santali belongs to the Mono-Khemar language family while Chakma belongs to the Chinese-Barmese language group. So, although Bangladesh is often portrayed as a country of linguistic unity based on Bangla language in reality it has notable linguistic diversity. To communicate with the speakers of other languages we either need to know their language or communicate in a Lingua-Franca that is comprehensible to both of us.

Today, the world has become a global village. Thanks to the advancement of communication system and technology. Every country is dependent on others for trade and commerce, education, politics etc. As a result, we have to constantly communicate with other countries and speakers of other languages. Third world countries like Bangladesh have to depend on foreign aid because they are not self-sufficient. As a result, many foreigners come to Bangladesh. A third factor is the factor of religion. The sacred language of the Muslims is Arabic, Sanskrit for Hindus, Pali for the Buddhists and Latin for the Christians. All these factors remind us the necessity for learning other language(s) in addition to our mother tongue. According to this reality many countries of the world have adopted a European language as second language which is often used in education, law court, economic activities and government works. These languages have most of the time official status in the constitution of those countries. Many of the cases the countries have adopted the language of their past colonial rulers as the second language. Sometimes these languages are also called official language. In many African countries we can see this picture. On the other hand, some European languages have become very important in the world for literary and economic purposes. For example, German and French are considered to be important languages of the world because both of them have influential literature and economic aspects associated with them. For example, many people in our country are interested to learn French because it may help them to get UN jobs and jobs in Multinational companies. Another attractive motivation for learning French in Bangladesh is that it may help us to immigrate to Canada as skill in French language gives a person some extra points in the point system of Canadian immigration.

The title of my research is "Status of English in Bangladesh: Second language or foreign language?" I have selected this topic because from sociolinguistic point of view the status of English is a very interesting one. On the one hand English language is dominantly present in every side of our national life while on the other hand in our constitution it is clearly declared that the language of the country is Bangla. In fact, nothing is said about the status of English language in our constitution. On one hand, economic activities in the private companies are carried out in English while there is a government law (Bangla procholon ain1987) that government offices must use Bangla in their official works. So from the government point of view Bangla is the national- official language of Bangladesh and English is the most important foreign language. But in reality English is the second language of the country and in many places English is more important than Bangla in Bangladesh.

Second language:

A second language is any language other than the first, or native, language learned; it is typically used because of geographical or social reasons. The term is to be distinguished from foreign language; linguist Eric Lenneberg uses second language in his critical period hypothesis to mean a language consciously learned or used by its speaker after puberty. In most cases, people never achieve the same level of fluency and comprehension in their second languages as in their first language.

Historically in Europe, the most widely used second language (or lingua franca) was Latin. It was used by the Church; by the Law (as it still is today); in Medicine (starting much later); Horticulture and biological classification of plants, animals, fruits, nuts, etc.

Latin was used so much across Europe that it was called the vulgar (or common tongue); this is why the Latin version of the Bible is called the Vulgate.

Nowadays, English is considered the world's most widespread second language; it is used in areas as diverse as the internet, television and radio, and international aviation.

The success of English throughout the world stems from two major causes: the far reaching influence of the British Empire, and the 20th century (and continuing) dominance of the United States in the fields of business and entertainment.

French was for a time the lingua franca (the origin of term) in Europe. In history, both England and France were ruled by a single crown - the language used by the royal court was French (English was considered "the peasant's language"). Afterwards, as was the case with English, the French empire spread its language through colonization. French continues to be one of the world's most widely spoken languages. (Source: Wikipedia)

If we look at the definition of second language then we can easily say that English is the second language of Bangladesh. It is widely used in many parts of our national life. Many people watch English television channels and also use Internet. The students have to study it for twelve years and those who want to join civil service by attending BCS exam also have to sit for English examination. The only thing that is missing from the above definition is the fact that except for formal occasions no one speaks in English in Bangladesh. It is not the language used in home among family members and among friends in informal conversation.

Foreign language:

A foreign language is a language not spoken by the indigenous people of a certain place: for example, English is a foreign language in Japan. It is also a language not spoken in the native country of the person referred to, i.e. an English speaker living in Japan can say that Japanese is a foreign language to him or her.

Some children learn more than one language from birth or from a very young age: they are bilingual. These children can be said to have two mother tongues: neither language is foreign to that child, even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the child's birth country. For example, a child learning English from her English mother in Japan can speak both English and Japanese, but neither is a foreign language to her. (Source- Wikipedia)

From the above definition, it is seen that foreign language refers to a language that is not native to a person. From this point of view English can be considered as a foreign language in Bangladesh since it is not native in our country. Hardly any Bangladeshi person speaks in English although many of them use it in education and business.

Official language:

An official language is something that is given a unique status in the countries, states, and other territories. It is typically the language used in a nation's legislative bodies, though the law in many nations requires that government documents be produced in other languages as well.

Officially recognized minority languages are often mistaken for official languages. However, a language officially recognized by a state, taught in schools, and used in official communication is not necessarily an official language. For example, Ladin and Sardinian in Italy and Mirandese in Portugal are only officially recognized minority languages, not official languages in the strict sense.

Half of the countries in the world have official languages. Some have only one official language, such as Albania, France, or Lithuania, despite the fact that in all these countries there are other native languages spoken as well. Some have more than one official language, such as Afghanistan, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Eritrea, Finland, India, Paraguay, South Africa, and Switzerland.

In some countries, such as Iraq, Italy, Russia and Spain, there is an official language for the country, but other languages are co-official in some important regions. Some countries, such as Australia, Sweden, Tuvalu, and the United States have no official languages.

The official languages of some former colonies, typically French or English, are not the national languages or the most widely spoken language.

In contrast, as a consequence of nationalism, Irish is the "national language" of the Republic of Ireland and its first official language, although it is spoken by only a small fraction of its people. English, which is spoken by the majority, is described only as the second official language (Constitution of Ireland, Article 8).

In some countries, the issue of which language is to be used in what context is a major political issue.(Source-Wikipedia)

From the above definition, it is seen that the notion of official language is complicated. According to our constitution English can not be termed as the official language of Bangladesh since it has no status in our constitution. The only language that is mentioned in our constitution is Bangla. But English is allowed in our parliament and many government events. For example, when there is a government event in which some foreigners attend then in many cases the speakers use English language. Many important government documents are written both in Bangla and English. The parliament proceedings are kept into these two languages. When a government body organizes a fair then often the souvenir is published in English.
(S M Mehdi Hasan wrote this article for his English course 1 year ago.)


  1. Wikipedia Copy
    link is given below

  2. Very short but informative. thanks.