Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oh Please! Its More Than Just A Medium Of Communication

My father, my uncle, my eldest cousin all of whom studied in Kannada medium up to 10th standard, speak fluent English. Their vocabulary is impressive and grammar is correct. Most importantly, their language is clean and of a high standard.

Having said that, I am flabbergasted at the hopeless English spoken by a majority of the present generation. These fellows claim to be modern, study in English medium schools throughout, wear designer clothes, watch MTV, Channel V, listen to Michael Jackson and Madonna, drive fancy cars, go to discotheques and party every night. They feel embarrassed by parents and relatives who are old fashioned. You should hear them talk once. They have no sense of grammar… Wrong usage of prepositions... Vocabulary infested with American slang… Four lettered words in almost every sentence. Yuck!

I, for one was always passionate about language.
I was and I am good at every language that I studied. Be it English, Kannada, Hindi or Sanskrit. I would argue with my English teacher when I got 19 in a class test and believed that I deserved 19 and a half. I had the opportunity to study in good schools and colleges that had good English teachers. But even when this was not true, I tried hard to keep my sense of right and wrong and did not let my surroundings contaminate my tongue.
I studied the Wren and Martin English grammar book as early as seventh standard. Whenever other students would speak in local languages, I would remind them that they were in an English medium school. While all others ignored language and focused on core subjects to realize their ambition, I took English as seriously as any other core subject.

I wrote prose, poems and essays during my student life and made my teachers proud.

All this for what joy?

All this for the joy of having to say “yes boss” to a series of managers and leads with broken English that came one after the other in the last four years of my tryst with the software industry.

Oh! What a pain it is! They don’t understand what I am trying to say. I don’t understand what they are trying to convey! So much time and energy is wasted in having to repeat myself over and over.
I run the risk of eventually loosing whatever command I have over English or worse, picking up some of their vocabulary and grammar!
They misinterpret the tone of my emails.

In response to an email that was sent to me asking if unit testing was complete and system testing could begin, I replied thus. “You may start system testing”.
My lead came to me at once looking a bit concerned and said, “Why no canfidence(confidence) in yuwer(your) vaice (voice)? Why you say “You “may” proceed? Why nat (not) you “should” proceed? any prablam(problem)?”

His cause of concern was the word “may”. He thought the word “may” was always used to express doubt or uncertainty as in “It may or may not happen. It may rain today.”

I had to tell him that there was no doubt or problem whatsoever and that my sentence was as good as a command as in “You may leave the room now” or “You may proceed” which means “permission granted”. He was still not convinced.

I almost embarked on a discourse about “moods” of sentences in English Grammar. I wanted to educate him about the Imperative mood and explain that the word “May” could be used to express doubt, uncertainty or it could be used to issue a command or an order (as in “You may leave now”).

And this guy talks to an American client almost every day to gather requirements. GOD SAVE THE CLIENT!

Some of the emails that are sent to the US folks are so pathetic that you could showcase them in a museum. Not only are they poor in conveying the intent, they also dangerously convey the opposite of what is intended sometimes! No jokes!

If I were the client, I would not trust my million dollar project with a bunch of clowns like these.

The appraisal system is not helping much either. While you get ratings for technical skills, team work, attitude, leadership skills and hard work, there is no process in place to reward those who excel in communication skills and penalize or train people with pathetic communication skills.

I tried to correct some team members as they spoke to me and in no time earned myself the title, “School Teacher”. A senior colleague pronounced the name of a car as TCHEV–RO-LETT. The T and R were pronounced with stress. I decided to correct her in order to save her from humiliation in public. I said “it’s Sheve(r)leigh, the ‘r’ is silent and so is ‘t’”. She narrowed her eyes and gave me an angry look.
So much for trying to do a favour!
Since then I have decided to educate only the chosen ones: some of my lucky friends and acquaintances who are happy to be corrected.

Coming back to the scene in office, all these fellows with their hopeless English get away scot-free and go on to becoming leads and managers to the misfortune of people like me. The latest promotion to be announced this year was that of my lead who had a concern about the tone of my email. He is an assistant manager now! I HAD to applaud as everyone else in the gathering did when the announcement was made. I hope no one noticed the expression on my face.

(And I often hear leads and managers discussing over coffee that they speak to their children in English at home! The next generation will not only NOT know their mother tongue, but will be proud to speak broken English! Talk about the importance of foundation!)

Good English is something managers owe to their subordinates. Instead of taking shelter in lame defenses such as “Language is a just medium of communication” and “English words can be pronounced any way, there is no rule” (as if their grandfather laid the rules for the language) they should pick up a copy of Wren and Martin English grammar book and study it seriously.

Just like we owe good behaviour to people around us, just like we owe public awareness to our surroundings, just like we owe good programming skills to our projects, we owe good communication skills to everybody we communicate to.
We all have a right to understand and a right to be understood.
All the same, we have a responsibility to understand a responsibility to be understood.

It’s high time we understood that communication is central to the evolution of civilisation, central to the functioning of human society.
I assert that it’s my fundamental right to expect quality communication from peers, bosses and anybody and everybody I interact with; for, it’s more than just a medium of communication.
I assert that it’s my fundamental duty to provide quality communication to my peers, bosses and anybody and everybody I interact with; for, it’s more than just a medium of communication.


Niva said...

:P something i came across in one of the emails circulating on a random day ..
"I uploaded on friday and again I uploaded on saturday also.
May be I think you have to refresh your IE. some times it caches so Please refresh and try again.
If not I a in the office I will give you suing my shared folder."

the last "If not... " is funny( or rather scary.. esp. suing part :D )..
heh ..

Sowmya said...

did not get it completely... :( what was that last sentence meant to be?

Anupama Kondayya said...

I have been wasting my breath trying to convince people in my organization about the importance of knowing and speaking good English, especially in our profession as Consultants. But truly, it is difficult to change their mindset and make them see English as more than just a language...a foreign language.

I second every thought you have expressed in your post and the only thing that I can say for the future of English in this country is that it is already sending out the SOS.

Great post...keep them coming!

Sowmya said...

The next time we come across an occasion, let us present a copy of Wren n Martin grammar book or a copy of Norman Lewis' "Word Power Made Easy" to anybody and everybody" :-)

Niva said...

:) he was meaning that when hez in the office, he can share that folder so that the other guy can use the files. :P...

CK said...


I am a part of my school alumni network regrouped after 25 years and it is such a pleasure to see the way they handle the language.

None of the SMS lingo but English in its pristine beauty. Very lively prose. Maybe, our teachers were exemplary and they don't seem to build such models anymore !

I was surprised when Pramod also echoed the same feelings about his old boy network !

Sowmya said...

Lucky uou Chendil... One sure advantage of having been born in that era... :)

Pramshanks said...

Dear Sowmya

It's so good to see someone being passionate about the language... it's a forgotten trait now. I believe that using good English is part of a basic sensitivity towards everything we do in life. One could do anything with an insensitive attitude, or with due attention, sincerity and passion. Unfortunately, more people seem to fit into the former category these days.

You may be surprised, but it is the so-called 'professional writers' who excel in murdering the English language today. I see this phenomenon every day in advertising, the media and online... it breaks my heart.

After Wren & Martin, the most brilliant book (on punctuation) is 'Eats Shoots and Leaves'. Funny, well-written and accurate... anyone who loves good English will relish it. Will give it to you in person!

Keep writing!



Sowmya said...

Thanks for the recommendation...

I was afraid the tone of the post was a little arrogant...

Its so nice to see so many like minded people... there is hope for this country. :) Looking forward to the book from you...

Nitish said...

Y did u post this post Sowms? ;-)

Sowmya said...

Did not get what you meant Nitish...
Dont you agree with what I have written?

Rishi said...

Hi Sowmya,
This is Rishi again. Very recently I had asked about Nandi Hills in one of your posts.

Well after that on and off I have been reading your blog.

Why I am commenting on this particular article ? To just clarify why that doubt came to the team lead. English as you must have heard in software world is an ambiguous language and that is actually true if you want to program. So sometimes people in the Software world start interpreting English as a programming language. That will result in such confusions. I too feel "should" is more assertive than "May". So the point I am trying to make. Quality communication is the one which puts the point across without ambiguity and not necessarily good usage of languge. This is not to negate your article. Only the expectation part.

Rarity of correct usage of a language has made the presence of it an Art form.

The other thing which I wanted to ask was not related to this article. You love music, nature and literature. That mostly reflects on your articles. You have travelogues, book reviews, Play reviews even some movie reviews. Have I missed some articles on music or you have not written much.


Sowmya said...

Hi Rishi,

I have responded to your previous comment.
I have written a few more on music and movies...