There was a time when you could walk into a central government office and see a blackboard there with two words written on it. The first word was a Hindi word and the second was its translation. The idea behind this was that people could learn Hindi, one word at a time, and in due time be able to communicate in Hindi. You could see pairs such as paathasaala, “school", and nyayadheesh, “judge". This practice was strictly followed in most central offices in the early years. With the passage of time, the practice has come to be neglected. The blackboard has become musty and dusty.

V.R. Narayanaswami

Considering the mammoth proportions of the task of teaching English in a few months, Russia has entrusted it to the language school, EF Education First, the world’s largest educational company. It runs a group of 15 subsidiaries. The credentials of EF are impeccable. Its mettle was tested and proved in Beijing where it trained 6,000 Olympic officials. Two years later EF was called upon to train 60,000 people, including volunteers, tourist guides and medical personnel at the Asian Games in Guangzhou. Its sweep is graphically expressed by pointing out that it covers 25,000 volunteers over nine time zones. Its professed mission is to break down barriers in language and to establish bridges across cultures.

More recently, Brazil has sought EF’s services to train up to 80,000 people in the next two years in preparation for the football World Cup in 2014. The project is called Olá turista, or Hello, tourist.

Not to be left behind, Ukraine has already launched its own ambitious programme of English language teaching. The ugly history of the Russification of minority languages in Russia and the suppression of Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian and Belarusian has moved to the background. The two nations are now chasing the same objective, imparting communicative skills in English to those who assist at the international sports events to be hosted by them.

The incentive for Ukraine came from the successful bid by Ukraine and Poland to host Euro football championships in 2012. Free English courses were on offer to medical personnel.

Crash courses in English are being conducted for 15,000 police officers as well as transport and medical staff. They have to accompany tourists around the city and give them directions to reach cathedrals and other monuments in the city. A foreign languages professor remarked that they will need to attend courses in local history and culture before they begin guiding tourists. The proposal was to show a film in Ukrainian about the city of Kyiv and then repeat the lesson in English. Face-to-face classroom teaching was found to be wanting and not really motivating. So the police department decided to make use of books and gadgets. People on duty in busy locations will have pocket phrasebooks and some electronic gadgets to help them. The ministry invested 5.5 million hryvnia on electronic translators which convert phrases into the main European languages.

On 31 May, the state cabinet resolved that “match days will be days off" in the host cities of Kyiv, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv. Bilingual announcements have already been installed in these cities. In Warsaw, visitors were encouraged to learn the Polish and Ukrainian languages and a portal—www.eurolang2012.com—was provided for this. Beijing continued to inspire Poland as a model, and the organizers derived their enthusiasm from that. Most important to me was the linking of a language-cultural function with sports.

V.R. Narayanaswami is a former professor of English, and has written several books and articles on the usage of the language. He looks at the peculiarities of business and popular English usage in his fortnightly column.

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