Friday, October 9, 2009

I am trying to see the backside of the house.....

I cannot follow what you tell ma’am.... Can you please repeat again?

My name ij sudhasu.... I study in graduason 2nd yr and come here ....phor learn englis. Englis important...... phor job and in study

I phrom Bihar but live in dilli....i living alone....and cook myself phor dinner......

The above sentences represent the almost existential aspiration of every middle class and not so middle class Indian to spout the highest sounding language with the best foren accent. i’ve borne all this and been up close to that aspiration in every communication class of mine for about 2 yrs while i was in the garb of a Call Center Trainer (and even the rest of the years in other roles). That once ubiquitous, but now almost extinct tribe, was responsible for the metamorphosis of the Indian youth into an angrezi speaking workforce of some employer in the West.

Yes, English is important in today’s global world if you want to get ahead in life. But what’s it with Indian English that simply refuses to correct its grammar despite English speaking schools in every street corner and grammar classes in every locality of the country!! But alas the kind of English that even the so called educated class speaks ensures that aspiration remains pretty much what it is - an aspiration.

Grammar is taught right from the primary classes in our country. And great emphasis is laid on the propriety of usage of words and correctness of grammar. Everyone’s heard of Wren and Martin (not noticing how they turn in their grave when people blatantly flout all the rules of grammar they set down) whether or not the follow them. We are proud of following the Queen’s English as opposed to the slang version of Americans. Yet, the lack of expertise somewhere peeps in through the holes of unfamiliarity with the language during conversational English.

The first group i’d like to pick up are the representatives of firang counterparts - the call centre executives. Yes, Indians are very versatile and their tongues can be twisted to speak any accent. But most call centres that seek to offer help are badly marred by the poor language their executives speak. Even the ones that stand for reputed companies- from Dish TV to HDFC bank call centres and Airtel phone services. And this after, i am sure they have gone through training in language and accent skills. The only sentences they can spew with perfection are the stilted - “may I put your call on hold ma’am?” and “thank you for holding, we appreciate you patience Ms. Kher” or “thank you for calling Airtel, this is Charan Das, How may I help you?” or even more tedious “ is there anything else that I can help you with ma’am (when you answer in the negative, not having found a proper solution even to your current query), thank you for calling Airtel. We wish you a very pleasant day ahead”. Deviate one bit from their verbal screenplay and the cracks start emerging - lack of even basic conversational English!

Even if you look at the educated, office going category - even people who speak English on a daily basis make mistakes that are not expected of them. I got pulled by a sales executive of an international brand of cosmetics in a mall today. She dutifully pulled out lipstick testers and started applying on the back of my hand with helpful product info - “this lipstick also work as lip balm and have lip moisturiser, ma’am”. And I am like what the hell - error that’s so basic and we hope to attract international clientele with something like this!! ( I went hoarse all my training life explaining to my students that agreement of the verb with the subject is the life of a sentence - and Indians are champions in taking that life away!) some of the most atrocious announcements in the most horrendous English and accent happen in reputed chains like Big Bazaar!

The examples can be endless. Skills sets - most importantly, mastery over the global language - is a must if India with its workforce of 1.07 billion has to register its power in the international geo-political scenario. We have the people, we only need to equip them with the right skills. Being humans, speaking the right language has to be the first step.

(More post-mortem of the educated class English in future posts!)

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