India - Culture
Foreign tourists in India: is English enough?
Clint Misquitta argues that the most important is the openness with which you come to India and approach its people, its food, its culture, its music. He claims a language that surpasses words – and that is a curious and accepting heart. From Mumbai.
To tourists’ world over a haven of existence is found in the Indian landscape. One of which even history speaks but is left without words.
The reason behind this is something you must understand. India is an ancient civilisation and each nook in her has a story. A rich one at that. India has seen the pre-Vedic and Vedic age that witnessed the rise and fall of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa and the arrival of the Aryans. Then the Mauryan age which eventually moved into an era which blended various religions giving India a secular outlook. Next was the Islamic sultanate that gave way to the mighty and influential Mughal Empire, and finally the modern and high tech west. They left in 1947 looting and dividing what was left. And we were free only to accept foreigners this time as tourists not oppressors. Tourists flock into India to experience it this rich accumulation of time.
Hands joint and a heart warming smile – now a symbol of acceptance world over. It means I welcome you. In India a guest to have is an honour. Hospitality – a way of life. What more could a human ask for than to be cared for or feel witnessed. India, a land of amazing diversity is all accepting. It finds tourists right from the snow capped northeast to the evergreen Kerala down south, the sacred Ganges and even the arid dust of Rajasthan. Everything cries out – Namaste.
For tourists visiting India, is English enough? Let´s for a moment objectively look at two factors. The English language worldwide and foreign tourism in India in a bird’s eye view.
Firstly, English is currently one of the most widely spoken and written languages worldwide, with around 400 million native speakers.
Through colonialisation and globalisation in recent decades, English is now the most widely learned second language in the world.
Four factors determine the degree to which a given language finds use worldwide.
1.The number of people that speak that language
2.To what extent is it the official language?
3.The economic power of the language and;
4.The volume of information disseminated in that language.
Today, English is on top in all four aspects. It is studied as a foreign language throughout the world. Most of the member countries of the United Nations use English as their official language.
To calculate the economic value of a language you may simply add up the gross domestic products (GDP) of all the nations where it is spoken.
People who count English as their mother tongue make up less than 10% of the world's population, but possess over 30% of the world's economic power. Therefore, in terms of the quantity of transmitted information, English is the leader by far.
The same is true in India, where the west left behind an invaluable treasure in the English language. This has not only put India on the global human resource map but also provided a common platform for the tourist to interact with India. We shall later see how English in India, even though a second language adapts tourism.
The English language has put India on the global human resource map and provided a common platform for the tourist to interact with India.
But first, let us look at the demographics of the tourist in India. Who is this tourist? Where does he/she come from? What language does this tourist speak? Is India visited by a majority of English speaking tourists in the first place?
The table 1 shows the number of tourists in India in the years 2001, 2007 and 2008 (source: Ministry of Tourism, Govt.of India).
We see a clear rise in tourism in India from the year 2001 to 2007. The year 2008 so far records the highest tourism so far. Also, a point to note, is that more tourists visit India in the winter than in other seasons. Tourism is at the highest between October and January.
It is clear that India is a tourist magnet. Let us look at the composition of these tourists and the language they speak (source: Ministry of Tourism, Govt.of India).
It is amply clear that most tourists in India hail from English speaking countries. South Korea being an exception. So most tourists who come to India speak English. The non English speaking tourists pick up quick fix English or the local state language.
The leading tourist destination with nearly 140 three and two star hotels, Kerala has turned into a major hot spot for foreign tourists. However Tamil Nadu holds the second position in attracting foreign tourists. Both these states are southern states in India. They speak south Indian languages like Malayalam and Tamil. However these states also have the highest literacy and a foreign tourist can more than survive. At least that is what the numbers reflect.
Kerala has turned into a major hot spot for foreign tourists. However Tamil Nadu holds the second position in attracting foreign tourists.
Staying with the same example, anywhere in the world a tourist in a new land is an entity in touch with a different reality. He drops his guard in this foreign land and is open. He exudes warmth and especially in a country like India receives the same. Given these facts, tourists and the tourism industry in India relates on a human level that transcends language. Both the tourist and the host know what attracts people to India. The serenity, the peace, the food, the people, the lifestyle...who needs language.
I have personally seen this in a leading tourist destination in India, Goa. Tourists make themselves at home and do as the locals do, never fail to amaze. Ever willing to smile and pat the local on the back, share a joke and bear with discomforts like flies and the heat. After all these cons fade in comparison to the heaven in store.
So while English is needed and makes communication easier, it also helps to know the bare minimum of the local language. After all, who is not passionate about ones own language.
There is a fraternity that develops between people who speak the same language. So a quick or even accented Namaste or a local greeting will do you no harm. In fact it adds to the tourists charm not to mention some bonus points for you.
In spite of this, remember that in India while a mix of English and local language is necessary. What is most important is the openness with which you come to this land. The openness with which you approach its people, its food, its culture, its music. You are assured of an unforgettable experience worth the living and worth revisiting. All you need is a language that surpasses words – and that is a curious and accepting heart.