Overcoming the English Handicap: Seeking English in Bangalore, India


Sazana Jayadeva

PhD defended at: 

University of Cambridge, UK



My thesis examines the critical role that English language proficiency has come to play in middle-class formation in post-liberalisation India. With ethnographic focus on spoken English Training Centres, schools, and workplaces in the south Indian city of Bangalore, it offers an important corrective to the long-standing emphasis on consumption in studies of the post-liberalisation Indian middle classes. It investigates the large-scale shift amongst the middle classes away from schools run by the state government (which teach primarily in the state language, Kannada) towards low-cost private English-medium schooling, and analyses why the latter fail to equip their students with adequate proficiency in English. It brings into focus an extensive industry of commercial spoken English Training Centres (ETCs), which has developed to meet the demand for English language instruction from a growing section of the adult population who come to experience their lack of English proficiency as a shameful handicap, affecting all aspects of their lives. To this end, my thesis illustrates how these ETCs ‘treat’ English handicaps through courses that combine a therapeutic attention to a person’s English-related ‘inferiority complexes’ with a communicative style of English teaching that takes into account people’s specific requirements. It argues that by equipping a large section of people—those who have acquired only a limited grasp of English through formal education—with the means to achieve greater proficiency in the language, ETCs constitute an increasingly effective avenue for class mobility. The thesis contributes to debates about India’s post-liberalisation middle classes, and to scholarship on Indian education, by offering a new perspective on middle-class formation and how it is impacted by, and in turn impacts upon, the country’s educational landscape.