some common mistakes Indians make while communicating in English

By: Steve Denton, Quora

In my experience of working with Indians in the IT sector, and especially with Indian colleagues who are based 'offshore' in India, or visiting on a placement at our UK offices, the main problem is not in their written communication. Apart from the occasional confusion surrounding homophones (e.g. there <->their, hear<->here, etc.), the omission of prepositions and articles, and a few grammatical errors, their written English is reasonably comprehensible.

No, the main problem for some Indians who speak English as a second language (ESL) is in their spoken English which, to native speakers unaccustomed to the way they speak, can be virtually incomprehensible. Indian ESL speakers seem to believe that as long as the actual words they use are correct, they will be understood, but this is sadly not the case. For effective and comprehensible communication, it's not just what one says that is important, but also how one says it. This is particularly true of languages such as English, where correct emphasis and intonation can convey as much meaning as the actual words used, and where incorrect emphasis or intonation may convey a completely different meaning, or even render one's speech complete gobbledegook!

I learned a bit of Sanskrit many years ago (possibly the most difficult language I ever attempted, but the written form is very beautiful). I have also frequently overheard Indians speaking in their various native languages. So I am acutely aware that the typical speech patterns of Indian languages are radically different from those found in English.

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Firstly, they tend to place less importance on emphasis and intonation. (At least, that's how it sounds to the untrained ear - perhaps the differences are simply too subtle for non-speakers to detect.) This makes their delivery much 'flatter' and more monotone.

Secondly, they also tend to speak much faster, in terms of syllables per minute, and sometimes hardly to pause for breath at all, so there are none of the usual spaces and silences one hears in native English speech. (Of course, there are certain European languages that are also spoken with what to English speakers seems like an astonishing, breathless rapidity, such as Italian, Czech and Slovak. I used to joke that the latter two, which are closely related slavic languages, sound like Russian spoken by Italians. I still recall being invited to a friend's home for dinner some years ago, at which his au pair, a young Slovak girl, was also present. During the meal, she received a phonecall from a

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relative, and proceeded to chatter away at a blistering rate in Slovak. After the rest of us had sat there for a while, listening to her rapid-fire conversation and blinking at each other in bemused astonishment, my friend's wife, a Taiwanese girl whom I had not previously suspected of having a wry English sense of humour, suddenly remarked, to much hilarity, 'It okay - I breathe for her!')

Problems occur when Indian speakers impose the speech patterns of their native languages onto English, and speak it in the same way as they would, say, Hindi or Bengali - i.e. with virtually no discernable emphasis or intonation, and extremely rapidly, and with no natural pauses between phrases or sentences. (I have heard that in Indian culture being able to speak very quickly is considered a mark of high intelligence. In fact, there is very little correlation between the two, and in certain European cultures a propensity for extremely rapid speech will not succeed in impressing people with your supposed intelligence, but merely lead them to suspect that you have drunk waaay too much coffee, or perhaps have a cocaine habit...)

The result of all this is that what many Indian ESL speakers actually speak is not English per se, but a curious hybrid of English words and native Indian speech patterns, which one might call Englian or Indish :o) And while Indians might well understand this form of English when they use it amongst themselves, in their own country, it can be extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, for native English speakers to understand it. (I have frequently had the frustrating experience of listening to an Indian colleague on conference
call from India, while sitting in a meeting room with English colleagues. As our eyes meet across the table and we study each other's frowning, baffled expressions, we realize that none of us has any idea what the guy is saying! Of course, being British, we are too polite to interrupt him and ask him to repeat himself, and to speak more slowly and clearly, so we just let him finish and then ask him to confirm everything he has just said in an email - as a mere procedural formality, of course...)

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