Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revisiting Indian English

One popular post that I've had here at 'Many Englishes' was on the topic of prejudice against Indian English. That was back in 2007.

Since then, I've had fewer phone exchanges with Indian customer service representatives than I had a four years ago, and we're not getting so many marketing calls at dinner time from non-native English speakers either. Maybe some American companies have learned that it doesn't help their product to outsource the telemarketing to people who are not fluent in American English. Perhaps these organizations have also become more discriminating in their choice of telemarketers, or accent reduction training programs have been very effective.

Indeed, last year I heard a discussion on NPR (National Public Radio) about just this topic. Instead of looking at Indian English from the outside, however, I'm trying to look at it from the Indian perspective (as much as I can from where I sit in San Diego). About three years ago, an article came out in the Washington Post which stated that "English-speaking is a self-confidence issue in India." What that apparently meant was that Indians themselves felt that it was important to speak English well in their own country. The article comments about a commercial where a young man from a well-to-do family feels embarrassed that his maid is listening to and singing along with a song in English which he himself can't understand.

What does it all mean? For a variety of comments and reflections on English in India, I offer some reportage from various online sources, such as Chilli in India, Global Voices, Mortarboard, and Language in India (1, 2). These latter reports and articles are presented to open up my readers (mostly American) to views on English from Indian English speakers.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Build Vocabulary from Advertisements and Headlines

Because headlines and advertisements are meant to be eye-catching and extremely condensed summaries of the news or products, they pose a unique problem for most non-native speakers. However, if you see headlines as a way of learning idioms, expanding your knowledge of expressions that often have double meanings, and practicing English in a fun way, you may be surprised by the results.

Here is a copy of some expressions that I cut out of various magazines and discussed with my intermediate level students in a vocabulary class. What is a pet peeve? a trendsetter? the rat race? They are all common expressions in American English. How about watch your words? How many meanings of "watch" do you know? How many ways can you use "watch", meaning "be careful"? What does opt out of something mean? Again, just learning a few phrases can take you quite far if you learn to use them appropriately. You can grow your vocabulary every day. Once you understand the phrase or word, listen and look for it on the radio, on TV, on the Internet, in the newspaper, and in magazines. See how many ways the expression is used. Let the English in!