I recently got the following comment for one of my articles in midmanager.com –
This was not the first time.
I keep seeing many arguments online. Arguments on variety of subjects start with the substance. Later they end with ‘Good English’ suggestion. Some are worse – No discussion on content. No new learning or viewpoints on the subject. Just preaching on English.
First, this English is not Okay
This was a work email: An email from a professional with non-native English skills. His mother tongue is one of the Indic languages.
We need to discuss this urgent issue. Please come to meeting room now.
Gays instead of Guys?
The beauty of Indic languages is that what is spoken and what is written are same. The script and grammar have well structured consonants and vowels. There are “half vowels” (Not sure how to call this. So coined my own word). Individual letters are formed by combining consonant and ‘half vowel’. It works like ‘pronunciation key’. So, there is no need for separate such key.
So, when this friend means guy i.e. ga-y, he writes ‘gay’ instead of ‘guy’.
2. Then there is this one about wedding and the marriage
That was when a I came back to work after the wedding.
“Oh nice! Your marriage is over, no? You must be relieved now !”
Wait. Only my wedding got over. My marriage is not over. I just got married and I intend to stay married : ) This is the era of divorces for silly reasons. Here I get congratulated for my marriage being over! Oh, No!
Traditionally, marrying and wedding meant the same thing. Once married, it is for life. In Indic languages it is used interchangeably. When marriage and wedding are used interchangeably, it is disaster while greeting.
These probably are not ok.
For most scenarios at work, you do not need Queen’s English.
Simple things like when to use can, could, will, would etc. Also there is mix up of past tense and present tense.
While this definitely is bad English, would I still be too worried?
I would not.
There are many cases when I write, I mix up past tense, present tense, past perfect tense and lot more. I also mix up active and passive voice in a paragraph. I also misuse ‘in’ ,’at’ etc. It is lot of work to copy edit. Overall it conveys the meaning and that is what I primarily care about. If I had more time, I would spend it on social skills or technical skills. We use hardly 200 words at work. The vocabulary changes from work place to another work place. But the number of words and phrases roughly remain the same.
While being open to feedback is good, do not let someone kill your confidence.
But at my work place, English seems to be only thing that matters.
At first look, this is what we see:
- Those with better English get better career prospects
- Those with better English have better social skills
- Those with better English are more confident
When others perceive – Better English is confused for better competency.
Hence it is still important to understand the psychology of English education in both – those who studied in English and also those who didn’t. But success is tied to English. It is not so.
Perfect English matters lot less than everyone believes
I have seen many with excellent English grammar and vocabulary lag behind in appraisal ratings, actual performance and promotions. This was in highly performing companies and teams. English did not save them. It is mix of social skills and technical skills that mattered more. The ability to handle workplace politics matters quite a bit. But save it for another day.
But I have noticed interesting thing. If you are talkative in one language, the strength exists in English too. Even with bad English, some people are able to explain well – in a way others understand. I can easily feel that they talk with good energy, good pitch and most importantly have clear thoughts.
In comparison, I know one senior business leader. She talks for hours, with great voice, body language and very good English too. Employees get impressed at first. Then they realize that there is no substance in the talk. Then they stop respecting. None of the strategies talked materializes because employees see lack of clear thoughts. They see lack of intent. They do not trust her values. Now, English does not matter anymore.
So, if you are bad at both language and many other skills, focus on other important skills – social skills,, the subject matter expertise needed for your business.
English accent matters more than the grammar
I started working with Korea long back. The biggest hurdle was the language. Even for the simple English, they struggled to understand Indian accent. The Indian teams just could not make sense of what Koreans spoke. The same was the case with Vietnam. And also with China.
Even few weeks back, I decided not to work on a consulting task because it was painful due to accent, not due to English per se.
After few face to face meetings and knowing each other makes it better. But still, the accent kills the spirit.
For Indians it is easier to understand American and English accents because of the movies. But I can sympathize with them when they have to deal with Indian accent(s).
The accent problem is very tiring. The listener needs to be lot more attentive and needs to spend more energy. The business leaders tend to prefer the vendors / reportees who they are comfortable dealing with. It is not really about English.
If you get feedback from others about communication skills, they most likely to mean talking skills. Not the full set of communication skills. You primarily need to work on accent and phonetics.
Do the following to improve what is really needed
The accent problem is universal. But the problem is also very specific to specific language native speakers. The instructor here has worked with people from different regions like Chinese, Indians etc.
I liked this course because it is not trying to overdo the accent which will make it sound fake. Many decision makers take decisions based on their instincts. What they can trust plays a big role. If you sound too artificial, I doubt if anyone would trust you.
So, go for this, if you want to work on accent.
I really like this course because it does not aim to make you English professor. It is about comprehensive communication skills than fixing your language. It talks about writing, using voice mail, negotiation skills etc.
I have observed a lot of communication skill gaps in project manager and below. Just addressing few of these could zoom up their career. Many corporate training for the employees do not cover what they really should.
This course covers lot of gaps I observe in engineers with 0 to 10 years of experience.
While picking up better English, do not give up who you are. Just address the actual issues and focus on other core skills. You will do just fine.