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English is not a Mercedes, it is a language after all

I remember, I was very fascinated to see a kindergartner speak in English when I was myself in class 3rd albeit in a Hindi-medium school . I didn’t know that in the months to come, I too would be expected to speak this language as fluently. Till class 3, my medium of education was Hindi. After that, I was admitted to an English-medium Convent School. I still remember the first time I saw the students. They were all dressed in clean white uniform, dragging their feet in a straight line and staring at me like I was from a different world. My mother was, I am sure, impressed by the discipline. But I was so scared. And I realized that I was not wrong. The initial months were so hard. I always felt like running away because neither could I speak fluently in English nor could I understand much of it. Even the environment was very different to me. I had to pray to ‘alien’ Gods(alien for me), in an alien language and being surrounded by people who were no less alien to me. There was an instance where I was about to get into trouble because I couldn’t understand what the prefect was telling me to do. It was all very hard. Gradually, I made friends and started understanding the language. Today I do have some command over the language but these memories are still afresh like they just happened yesterday.
I shared this experience to tell the readers that I, like them, have learnt this language (with a great difficulty, a lot of embarrassment and humiliation). I am writing this article to help people who have just begun this struggle or are struggling to gain mastery over this language.  There are many people who know how to write but they are hesitant to speak in English because of the politics around this language. By Politics, I mean people don’t look down upon you or correct your pronunciation or grammar or laugh at your accent, in the case of Hindi or any other South Asian language. English is seen as an elite and exclusive language. But today, it has become an important language to learn for many reasons. I am from a University where people from different South Asian countries, with different mother tongues and accents study and everyone speaks in English because there is no other alternative. Many of them are speaking English for the first time.
I, hereby, present some tips which can be useful for speaking and writing in English fluently, from my own experience and by observing the people in my University

  • Take out the fear and hesitation by realizing that
    • Like you, everyone else has also gone through this road. In our part of the world, English is a foreign language for most of us.
    • English is a language. A language is a medium of communication. It is nothing more than that.
    • It is not a crime to not know English. But it is definitely a very useful language.
    • No-one has full authority over English. So no-one has the right to make fun of you. Not even people from England. English is actually a mix of two languages, . So actually, it doesn’t even belong to them.
  • Speak slowly but clearly. It is completely fine to have a small gap between each word. People appreciate that rather than having the speaker repeat one statement thrice.

For example, speak like this, “There-was-a-time-when-i-could-not-speak-in-English”, rather than speaking “Therewasatimewhenicouldnotspeakinenglish”.

I am a Delhite and Delhites have a habit of speaking very fast. They often end up clubbing several words together. My hindi and English both are fast so I am often asked to repeat and trust me, it is not good! It might show that I know English well but then people often lose interest and they stop listening so what is the use?

  • Don’t worry about the accent. What is accent? According to popular belief, it seems that accent means the way Americans or British or French speak. No, accent is the way or the flow in which a person speaks. So if you do not work in a call centre or do not have to deal with people of a certain country, why do you need to have a British or an American or any foreign accent? It may seem wow! But to tell you that it is useless and irritating for common usage. PLEASE DO NOT TRY ANY OTHER ACCENT THAN YOUR OWN.
  • Do not try to use slangs. They are not necessary and are avoidable. And in no way, do they show that you know the language well. In some versions of English, people only talk in slangs. They cannot speak proper English.
  • Do not worry much about pronunciations. Pronunciations are often guided by the language that we already know. But people are very particular about English pronunciations and I don’t understand why. Ofcourse, I am not saying that there should be no attempt to use ‘correct’ pronunciations but it is not a very big deal. As long as you are able to communicate the word, it should be fine. But then laughing at someone because of their pronunciation is disgusting. I personally hate people who keep telling me to pronounce things in ‘the’ proper manner and now I protest back. If somebody corrects your pronunciation while you are learning, it is fine. But make sure that you are not dealing with people with American and British accents.
  • Do not hesitate to ask the meaning. If somebody uses a complicated word, always ask the meaning. It is not a matter of shame. In post graduation, I do not mind stopping a teacher to ask the meaning of the word. It is also an essential way to tell the person that what he is speaking is not understood by you.
  • Speak and write in simple words. Do not try to use complicated words. I am not saying that you should not make an attempt to learn the language. But in the initial stages, do not try to use complicated words. Learning them is good though. But even in future, never use too complicated words. Use of complicated words may show that you know the language well but many people get irritated if they have to constantly use a dictionary. And they don’t appreciate it.


  • Reading is important but do not read works in complicated language. The reason is that you will be discouraged and will also lose interest. Read novels in simple language.  Also, choose your English newspaper by first reading the language. It shouldn’t be too complicated. You can switch to such newspapers later, though(they will be beneficial, then).
  • Grammar is important. It is very important to learn Grammar. For this, reading will help. And the rest of the problem is solved, if you start speaking in English. I often cross-check my grammar while writing by speaking it aloud. But again, do not be ashamed if someone corrects your grammar. A lot of people don’t know how to speak Hindi correctly either.
  • If you type something in MS Word, and there is a red line, do check to see the error. But be cautious, because MS Word is not always right. The standard that it uses is of the American version of English or British, depending on what version you have installed. So always cross-check.
  • If someone laughs, you have several options:-
    • Inform them that the British have left the country and that we are all free now.
    • Learn some very complicated Hindi words (or words in your mother tongue) or a sentence and ask them the meaning and then give a nationalist speech.
    • Ask them if their word was “mother”.
    • Forgive their backward thinking. Feel sorry for them and also pray for them.

English is just a language. It is just like any other thing which can be learnt. It cannot kill you. And it has no right to embarrass, humiliate you. But yes, respect the language just like you will respect any other language or art. That is also important. And have no fear, it is not complicated but requires some hard work. Just like any other art.

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Comments

Devika Mittal

2 Comments

  1. Well said. And the tips for starters are pragmatic and easy to follow. I am part of a forum called ‘toastmasters’ where we get together once a week to practice speaking among friends. I love the ambience in toastmasters for its so supportive and friendly. (www.toastmasters.org)

    I get a feeling , that its only we Indian’s place a huge stress on language so that people with just language skills manage to move ahead in technical jobs. Rather the focus should be in the core competence and language should just be an additional qualification.Countries like Japan, Korea,Arab nations have proved that they can outdo the smart english speaking nation without speaking english.

  2. yes, it is a colonial legacy as no other language has a superiority complex too it, unless ofcourse sanskrit but then sanskrit was anyways never a mass language. and i do agree, it is good that we make attempts to learn english, but focus shd nt entirely on it. There are so many brilliant people out there who don’t get a chance or they hesitate to speak up/put forth their views just because they r nt so brilliant in english..

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