The Lounge Life #1: English – Unifier or Separator?

By Angela Weinberger

Recently I watched the movie „English Vinglish“. It is a movie about Indian housewife Shashi who increasingly is frustrated by the English language influx within her life and family. In India where English is often more of a common language than Hindi, English is often spoken at work and in schools. The cultural impact of this change cannot be underestimated. With the language comes a different way of interacting with each other, which is shown in a scene where her husband „hugs“ a colleague from work in the mall. Shashi changes her life when she goes to New York City to stay at her sister’s place for the wedding of her niece. In India a wedding is a huge family gathering and a lot of work to organize so Shashi goes to the US alone for about six weeks. She is helpless and decides to take an English intensive course. The movie is a beautiful movie for interculturalists as her classmates all come from different cultural backgrounds and her teacher is gay. The way the group interacts and how they address each other, their misunderstandings and their sad moments are amazing studies of the human psyche. What they all have in common is that through learning English they develop an identity that is grander than their older self. They start to show a new side of themselves. Shashi grows into a self-confident woman who feels more equal with her husband and children. She maintains her basic values which is shown in an amazing scene where her son makes her drop a plate of  hand-made sweets. She decides to roll them all again and misses her English exam…

What this movie made me think of is how we exclude a whole generation from the workforce as they never learnt English well. It poses a lot of stress on Babyboomers that they feel they cannot cope any longer because of the global language. It will be interesting to see how the younger mobile generations will cope with language as they learn two or three languages already when in kindergarten. What is your view?

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