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Rediff.com  » Getahead » Want to improve your English?

Want to improve your English?

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February 21, 2007 16:30 IST

The language of transaction in the organised side of the business world in India, today and tomorrow --  is English.

A large part of where you will end up in your career will depend on your comfort with this language in different modes of communication, oral and written, from talking on the phone to making that killer presentation.

So, how does one cope with this 'animal'? The first step, I feel, is to assess ones proficiency with a great deal of honesty. If you don't realise and admit that you have a long way to go, you may never get there!

I am often asked the question -- if I could make myself understood, how does it really matter whether my English was correct or not?

A valid question. You have to decide your path in life and ask basic questions -- like why should you strive for quality in anything at all that you do. It's an attitude thing.

Plus, most of the people who have the power to fashion your career probably reached there because they cared about quality. Some of the best English we hear today is spoken by some of our business leaders and CEOs' of business conglomerates. A coincidence?

I don't think so.

The silver lining is that learning to communicate well (correctness of language being only a part of this) is fun. Yes, languages are tricky and mastering them is an interesting and life-long exercise.

But there is a monster called "common errors". You never know when you have become a victim, because, as the name suggests, it is "common" -- everyone around you makes the same errors. Besides, we are constantly bombarded with incorrect English on radio, television, newspapers, in classrooms and even boardrooms.

Can we afford to be oblivious to the existence of this monster? Is it as dangerous as we are making it out to be?

Most MBA aspirants (the community I am close to) think that they are very good in English. Almost all of them have given either their final year engineering or B Com exams. They are always keen to discuss about anything that would make them better equipped to tackle the admission process, and to avail of the huge number of opportunities available in India today.

The lines in bold have common errors. The correct version would be: Most MBA aspirants (the community I am close to) think that they are very good at English. Almost all of them have taken either their final year engineering or B Com exams. They are always keen to discuss (no about) anything that would make them better equipped to tackle the admission process, and to avail themselves of the huge number of opportunities available in India today.

I hope you see what I mean. Here are some more instances of incorrect English:

Incorrect: Can I take this call?
Correct: May I take this call?

Incorrect: Can I help you?
Correct: May I help you?

Incorrect: The number of people on Indian streets are mind-boggling.
Correct: The number of people on Indian streets is mind boggling.

Incorrect: She is my cousin sister.
Correct: She is my cousin.

Incorrect: I had a bad experience yesterday night.
Correct: I had a bad experience last night.

Incorrect: This class comprises of 50 students.
Correct: This class comprises 50 students.

Five things to do

  • Read more. Not just newspapers and magazines, novels too.
  • Refer to the dictionary and a grammar book (like Wren and Martin), while reading. Make it a habit. 
  • Do crosswords. They help to increase one's vocabulary and also urge you to think.
  • Grab every opportunity to speak English -- with friends, colleagues -- even to yourself!
  • Listen to people who speak well. Watching channels like BBC and CNN is a good bet.

A good reason to strive to improve your communication skills: Communication impacts the way you deal with yourself and with everyone else around the world.

Good communication improves the quality of your life and the quality of relationships you enjoy and sustain.

~ Want to improve your English? Chat with communication expert Charanpreet Singh, February 22, 4 pm. 

-- The author is passionate about training students in the art of communication and has conducted several workshops, and delivered lectures at IIM-C, XIMB and IISWBM. Currently the Director of Formal Education at IMS Learning Resources, he passed out of IIT-Kanpur and has an MBA from the University of Iowa, USA.

Charanpreet Singh
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