What would you say if you saw a restaurant billboard saying “You be in our guest and please like any menu from arrangement ultimate sea food”?

Will you brush it aside thinking the billboard painter must be ‘uneducated’. Mark, when I say ‘uneducated’, I actually mean that he does not know English. For a lot of us, being educated also means knowing English.

But, can you brush aside an entire nation – Bangladesh – which has problems with its English? That does not mean people living in this country are not educated. They are, they have simply done their education in another language.

The country of Bangladesh is now facing what is being called the ‘English pinch’, the Agence France Presse news agency reported in The Times of India newspaper. Misspelt billboards and street signs are a common sight here.

For, Bangladesh, which fought for independence from Pakistan on the basis of its language – Bengali – had banished the foreign language to the backyard. Now, as English appears to be becoming a global language, Bangladeshis feel they have to upgrade their English skills to be at par with the world.

The 'English Pinch' in Bangladesh
The ‘English Pinch’ in Bangladesh [Illustration by Anup Singh]

The newspaper report quoted concerned people from all walks of life saying that the education policy in the country should be changed. Like everyone else, Bangladeshis also want to find ‘good’ jobs and do well in life.

But, most of the talented children are “falling behind in worldwide competitions” because of their lack in English, Syed Monjirul Islam, a senior English professor at Dhaka University, was quoted as saying.

In fact, very few children whose parents can afford to educate them in private English schools, fare well in jobs because of their English skills.

Also, in government schools, children do not do well in English because they have bad teachers. Since the country’s education policy did not pay much attention to the alien language, students and teachers have also neglected it. The report said that most students ‘memorise’ questions and answers to pass tests and when these students grow up and become teachers, they do make good teachers.

The kind of people affected by the ‘English pinch’ range from company executives to members of the cricket team.

Surprised? Recently, the Bangladesh Cricket Board asked its players to learn English to help build a rapport with their Australian coach Trevor Chappell.

That is because, last month, during the team’s first foreign tour to play a Test match in Zimbabwe, the team manager discovered that the players had a major communication gap with the coach because of their English skills.

Bangladesh is not the only country feeling the ‘English pinch’. Singapore has also laid down a law to teach Singaporeans the Queen’s English, as opposed to what they speak – Singlish.