You must have the chance to study science in your own language: Principal Scientific Adviser K VijayRaghavan

Principal Scientific Adviser K VijayRaghavan has been a vocal champion of studying science and communicating it in regional languages. English is important, he tells Indulekha Aravind in an interview, but you have to be anchored in your own language in everything to be truly original. Edited excerpts:

You mentioned earlier that our goal should be to bring science into regional languages. Why is this important?

Well, if you want to be a good imitator, then you can learn English and do a reasonable job at imitating. But if you want to be truly original, then you also need to be anchored in your own language in everything. Your own language roots you to your society and environment and allows you to use your imagination in a manner that a second language does not.

No matter how well you learn English, if it is your second language, it is difficult to have the power of abstraction fully at your disposal. Therefore, it is important to learn everything in your language very well. It is also important to know English so that you can communicate well globally and nationally.

Does the lack of opportunity to do science in regional languages hobble us?

We have left out a large part of our population from frontline science and technology because they don’t know English. You will never be able to teach the entire population English at a level required to ensure all perform very well. That is not a goal one should aspire for. But you can have the entire population learning everything in their own language very well, in addition to learning any other language they want.

Are there global examples we could emulate, like China and Japan?

Each country, state and person will work out what model is best. But you are right. In China and Japan, people learn science in their native language and not English. There are multiple things we need to do. But most importantly, we need to get rid of the notion that knowing English is somehow a magical key to the world or that it is necessary for being original in science.

It is very helpful in the world, there is no question about that. But it is not something that is fundamental. The fundamental aspect is how linked you are to society, how imaginative you are, how self-confident you are, and how good your self-esteem is with content — meaning, you must be well-versed in what you are studying. And you must have the opportunity to do that in your own language.


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