The Medium of Knowing

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

The first word which I spoke in Hindi (my mother tongue) was, “पापा” which means father. It established an emotional connection with my father and my family. The first sentence which I spoke in English was, “A for Apple” and that was the beginnNing of my academic career.

Language is an element which remains with us throughout our lives. Everything we do involves communication for which language acts as a catalyst. There are thousands of different languages which are spoken and written across the world. Every single language has its own history and culture attached to it.

Education is the medium through which a child moves from the unknown to the known, where his mind embraces knowledge. Its importance cannot be measured in words. The future of the world is determined in the classroom. However, for many years there has been a deliberation over whether English or the mother tongue should be the medium of education in India. I believe both play an important role.

A child’s formative years are spent observing the environment he is in. He starts comprehending his familial relationships. This is where he begins to learn his mother tongue as his family talks to him in that language, this is his heart at play. When he goes to school, he learns English as a subject as well as through medium of instruction.

It is my recommendation that the first few years, i.e. up till 3rd grade, students should have their mother tongue as the medium of education. English should be taught as a subject only. This will allow them to become proficient in their mother tongue while at the same time, building on their functional capacity of using English. From 4th grade, the medium should change to English all the way up to higher education i.e. college/university level.

The justification for such a system is to emphasise on learning both languages. It is imperative that while we retain our culture and traditions, we are preparing our future generation for a globalized world where English is the accepted medium of communication.

India is a nation of linguistic diversity. This diversity is what makes India, India. Preserving and protecting this diversity is essential. But we must keep up with the trends in this dynamic world where English has taken up the mantle of being the ‘lingua franca.’

Priyamvad Rai


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'The Medium of Knowing' is an award winning essay.
It was awarded the best essay by the Language Services Bureau, Pune for the topic, 'English or Mother tongue as medium of instruction for education in India.'
P.S. Happy birthday to me!
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