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Speaking the Language

India - Speaking the Language


India has a vast terrain of 3,287,263 square kilometres (1,269,219 square miles). By area, it is the seventh largest country in the world. With many different environments across the land, India can boast six climate zones and four distinct seasons, which we explore in the 'Climate and Weather' section of this country guide.

Its population of 1.2 billion people is one of the largest on earth, second only to China. In addition, India shares borders with modern day Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar and China. Its 15,106.7 kilometres (9,387 miles) of land border is almost double the borders of US, Canada, Alaska and Mexico combined. The country also has a coastline of 7,516.6 kilometres (4,671 miles).

Throughout India’s history, waves of migration and invasion have shaped communities, culture, religion and language. The country has seen the rise and fall of empires in different states, religions have been established or forced upon particular populations at various times, and city cultural developments have often followed a different path to that experienced in rural communities.

The British colonial rule of India, which occurred firstly through the East India Company and then directly by the British crown, is well known. The British Raj, as it was known, had a profound influence on the country’s history and many sectors of local society which continued even after the 1947 Independence Act.

Other European nations were also active in India in recent centuries. The British East India Company employed Indian troops to battle against small armies influenced by the French East India Company in a number of areas. Goa was a Portuguese colony up until 1961, while formalities to transfer control of Pondicherry from France to India were not completed until 1962.

122 Languages Are Used In India

Given the size of India’s terrain, its complicated history and the community identities that develop independently in rural areas, it’s not surprising that a huge variety of languages are spoken in India today.

According to the Indian Constitution, there is no national language of India. This is because identifying a national language would increase ethnic and religious tension.

However, the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution gives official recognition and status to a list of 22 identified languages. A further six were given official status as classical languages due to their rich heritage in the country.

However, the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution gives official recognition and status to a list of 22 identified languages. A further six were given official status as classical languages due to their rich heritage in the country.

A further 1599 other languages and dialects are spoken by smaller populations of less than 10,000 people.

Which Language Is Mostly Spoken In India?

Today, Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in India. However, its influence is strongest in the Northern and Central areas of India.

The Southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu experienced anti-Hindi agitations in the 1960s. Government pressure to make Hindi the dominant language rather than a combination of Tamil and English had to be abandoned. Tensions between the southern states and the northern-based government still exist today, and language forms an important part of cultural identity.

English In Indian Society

The British East India Company first came to India as a trading company, but from the 1740s onwards, it sought to obtain and control territory there. It essentially ruled large parts of India through the use of private armies, who were instructed by English commanders. Indian citizens in some other professions also learnt English, but this was a fairly limited group.

Much of India was ruled directly or indirectly by the British crown between 1858 and 1947. During that time, the use of English became widespread. Ever-increasing numbers of Indian people were employed in the civil service and other professions, where a sound grasp of English was required. The education system was dominated by teaching in the English language, especially in cities and in Higher Education establishments.

As a result, in many places in India, English is seen as a route to better employability. This is especially true in a globalised world, where doctors and computer programmers can take their high levels of skills and training to any country in which they can speak the native language. Equally, competent English speakers can work in India doing a range of jobs for global companies. Outsourced work from UK and US companies for IT projects and telesales are good examples of this.

Many schools today in India teach in English, especially in the private sector. Academic programmes in Indian universities are rarely taught in any language other than English. Well educated people are therefore always fluent English speakers, which in turn drives demand for English language skills for those who will work in local professional environments.

Many schools today in India teach in English, especially in the private sector. Academic programmes in Indian universities are rarely taught in any language other than English. Well educated people are therefore always fluent English speakers, which in turn drives demand for English language skills for those who will work in local professional environments.

Working In English In India

English speakers will usually find it easy to communicate with co-workers, suppliers and customers. You will notice differences in grammar which are different to that used in the UK or US, but they will not interfere with your understanding of what is being said.

If you are a native English speaker and want to teach the language in schools or colleges, you have a number of options depending on your qualifications. We discuss this topic further in the 'Finding Employment' section of this country guide.

Many government processes will be in English or will employ people who speak the language fluently. That should help enormously when you are trying to get projects off the ground, although bear in mind that Indian bureaucracy does have a reputation for plenty of red tape.

Keeping up to date with local and international news will be easy. There are plenty of radio stations and newspapers around the country available for English speakers, and online news sites offer a further choice of sources.

A Common Language But A New Culture

Canadians Deborah and Jon left their expat home in London to live in Bangalore. Along with their 11-year-old son Myles, they found the local Indian culture fascinating, showing that a common language still leaves plenty of cultural discoveries to make. As they explained to ExpatFocus:

“To describe the cultural differences between India and the UK would require an entire book. There is no short answer. India changes people. It teaches us that there is no one way to do things but that people can be happy and fruitful anywhere. It teaches us about ingenuity, about patience, personal space, humour, humility, respect, just to name a few things. Indians love their music and art and literature; they love their families and friends. But the way they express these feelings is deep and complex. We’ve been here for six months and have barely scratched the surface in learning about the fascinating and inspiring culture.”


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Expat Health Insurance Partners


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