Is Good English A Measure Of One’s Intelligence?!

India has many obsessions and complexes. Being able to speak fluently in English is one of the biggest ones.Those who lack English knowledge suffer from inferiority complex. Blame it on the ‘Colonial Hangover’. History might tell you that our country was freed from foreign rule in 1947, but the fact of the matter is that we are still desperately clinging on to their coat-tails. Look around you. You shall find myriad of examples that insist that anything Indian (films, for example) is far inferior than its foreign counterpart.

This ‘inferiority complex’ is deep-rooted; as can be seen in our attitude to be in awe of anything associated with our erstwhile colonial overlords (fair skin, for instance). Besides our inferiority complex that makes us doubt our own culture and language, I think, English is used as yardstick because it is seen as the language of the educated. So, as a corollary, anyone who has some amount of dexterity in the foreign tongue will be lauded too; while those who cannot, derided.

Living in urban India, we assume that our daily life has certain pre-requisites. Carrying a smart phone, being active on social media and talking in English have become the norm of an urban lifestyle. Four years ago, when we saw Sridevi’s character struggling with the language in English Vinglish, it struck a chord with us. English isn’t our first language and we found it mean when her daughter and husband made fun of her for not knowing the language. Her talent lay in her cooking and she was an independent entrepreneur. Her skill had nothing to do with the language she spoke but she learnt it anyway. If English were the sole or a very vital yardstick of intelligence, most of us would be ‘unintelligent’, because we are not as proficient at it as the Western world.

Is english a measure of intelligence?

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The English language should be treated for exactly what it is – a lingua franca whose purpose is facilitation of communication in this increasingly globalised world. Unfortunately, we tend to treat it as a reason for felicitation, instead. We do not realise that English is not equivalent to intelligence. English language is like a bridge to communicate with rest of the world no matter how big or concrete the bridge is. But that’s about it. People in many countries like France, Russia or for that matter China don’t speak English. If English speaking was a measure of one’s intellect, the average or combined IQ of the United Kingdom would be a perfect 10. And that of China in the negative!

The most common mindset is this: people who speak terrible English are labelled as stupid and people who speak English well are revered as intellectuals. This notion is stupid, yes. At the same time, saying that English proficiency is not a measure of intelligence is highly debatable. That depends on how we define intelligence.

According to Merriam-Webster, intelligence is “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)”. Simply put, it is our ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Proficiency in English, therefore, enables us to communicate and interpret our ideas opinions to people from any other culture and country. What it doesn’t do is help make and cultivate those ideas.

Is English a measure of intelligence?



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Just to be clear, I’m not saying that people who speak proficient English are unintelligent. The point here is that one’s proficiency in English is not an accurate representation of one’s intelligence, and we need to seriously stop belittling people for not having the best English skills. The judgment of a person’s intelligence level must be a cumulative evaluation based on much more than just skillful language use. Making value judgments based solely on a person’s grammar use ignores any other intellectual flaws he or she might have, perhaps a difficulty with problem solving, common sense, or simple street smartness? If a man can write with flawless English, but cannot solve any problems relative to his own life, how can he still be considered intelligent? There are several examples of successful Indians who have tasted the kind of success they have because of their special talent or skill, the right attitude and other traits, despite being not so fluent in English. Kapil Dev, Kangana Ranaut, our very own Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South Indian Superstar Rajnikant are all from different walks of life, have accomplished a lot and are not so great at English. The Queen’s language is not their first language and they are by no means unintelligent or unsuccessful!

There are multiple intelligences, and they are measured in different ways. One of these intelligences is verbal-linguistics, which includes a person’s ability to learn a new language and is measured by his or her proficiency in such language. It is ignorant to say that one’s ability to learn, understand, and use a certain language such as English is not a measure of intelligence. But that’s about it. English is a medium to put thoughts and ideas across and express them effectively. Actions speak louder than words, and actions have no language!


About Author

Adarsh Gill Brar

Armed with a Masters in Economics degree (and innumerable life’s degrees in experiential and hands on learning!), Adarssh Gill Brar is a creative and ambitious go getter, who constantly looks forward to learning from life and conceiving innovative ideas. This attitude, intertwined with her flair for writing led Adarsh to venture into the world of blogging and social media. She has her rose tinted glasses on perpetually every moment of the day, and humor and optimism are her very oxygen!


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