India: Language Education

As schools around the United States think about how to best teach English language learners and parents explore a growing number of language immersion programs for their children, it is clear that the language of instruction and positive educational outcomes are inextricably linked. The same is true in South Asia. On September 29 at 4:30PM we will host Professors Christina Davis (Western Illinois University) and Chaise LaDousa '00 PhD (Hamilton College) for a virtual conversation on issues of language and education in South Asia. You can register for the Zoom event here.

Just like in the United States, many languages are spoken in the nations of South Asia. And just like in the United States, differences between languages spoken at home and at school can become a burden for some students and contribute to their problems in school. However, school systems rarely consider the ways that students themselves reflect on these dynamics.  

Davis and LaDousa draw on interviews conducted at a prestigious institute of higher education in India to show how students relate language to their home life, transition to school, and future career ambitions. Students talk about links between language and social identity through the concept of “mother tongue” – literally, the tongue of one’s mother to whom one has an absolute bond. They note that the languages they speak at home rarely correspond to the standardized language varieties found in school materials. Higher education offers students unique challenges as it exposes them to environments where they must exhibit varieties with which they are not entirely comfortable. Davis and LaDousa focus on the dynamics of linguistic alienation in our interviews. By alienation, they mean the profoundly unsettled quality that emerges from students’ reflections on the place of languages in their lives.

By taking seriously students’ own reflections on language and identity, teachers and administrators might better understand what challenges their students face as they seek educational opportunities.

This talk is part of the Cornell- Syracuse South Asia Consortium “Global Voices in Education” series, designed to introduce faculty and students in Schools of Education international perspectives on education throughout South Asia. 

Christina Davis is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University. Her research and teaching interests concern intersections between language and digital media practices, multilingual education, and conflict, with a geographical focus on Sri Lanka and India. She is the author of The Struggle for a Multilingual Future: Youth and Education in Sri Lanka (OUP, 2020). 

Chaise LaDousa is a Professor of Anthropology at Hamilton College.  His research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of language and culture and include literacy and visual culture, multilingual education, and political economy.  He is the author of Hindi Is Our Ground, English Is Our Sky: Education, Language and Social Class in Contemporary India (Berghahn, 2014).

To attend this event, please register here!