By Aradhya Narain, Batch of 2021
These days everyone wants a good job. And you cannot get a good job if you cannot read, write and speak basic English. ‘Learn English in 15 days’ banners are therefore extremely appealing to many such job aspirers. Most of these courses however, are not what you’d call ‘very effective’. Fifteen days through it, and you are as well versed in English as the Pope is in Python.
Try a call center say to begin with, and you get an over enthusiastic ‘Good Morning’ even if you call at five in the evening, followed by a confident ‘How may I help you with today?’ question. You spend five minutes of your time telling your name, phone number, order number and explaining to this person about how your AC compressor makes these intermittent whining noises, trying to make it as simple as possible. When you are done, this person simply tells you to hold and connects you to someone else who asks you the very same set of questions. In the end, whatever your grievance may be, you are told that you will get a ‘Call Back’ from them, with ‘Call’ rhyming more with hole than hall. Sometimes you also get something sounding like ‘Complent Number’, which if contains seven, will definitely be pronounced ‘Savin’.
A restaurant waiter is another specimen. The first question this person asks is whether you want regular or mineral water, and expects a one-word answer. Something even slightly complicated such as ‘Let it be. We’ll just order some drinks’ prompts him to rush off and send someone senior. Another big mistake restaurant goers make is asking these waiters about the dishes they are deciding to order. Ask him about the ‘Spaghetti Aglio-Olio’, and he repeats the name of the dish, and utters the exact same description as in the menu with a few grammatical errors. You get a ‘Yes Sir’, when you ask him if it’s in red sauce, and a ‘Yes Sir’ if you ask him if it is in white sauce. Not to mention the actual dish is olive oil based and devoid of any sauce. Once he has taken your order, his reply to your ‘Thank You’ is also a ‘Thank You’- just badly said. You also might get particularly upset when you are sucking vigorously at an obstinate spaghetti, and the meek looking waiter comes up behind you and speaks rather sensually, ‘I hope the meal is enjoying”.
Shop salesmen also fit in the group well. He starts with a sentence confidently, and keeps on going, struggling with his words until he reaches such a stage in his sentence where he simply cannot continue. He then resorts to using his native language in the hope that you are familiar with it. ‘Sir, the many excellent reviews by customers who had buy this shirt have come, so, …. response achha hai iska, dikkat nahi aayegi sir.’ Now, you can also visit a monument and make the mistake of hiring a tourist guide. This man, shabbily dressed in oversized clothes, drunk, and mouth stuffed with pan masala, three times the volume which would be termed decent, is also surprisingly confident in his English. Ignoring all sorts of pauses and punctuation, murdering grammar all along the way, he speaks fast and flat, like a fast-forwarded recording of an uninterested professor lecturing his students, pausing occasionally to spit out a stream of red.
If you happen to be looking for incorrect written English, restaurant menus are a great place to start. Choose any local restaurant where a cup of tea costs less than a bottle of packaged water, and you are sure to find something horrific. ‘Leminades’, ‘omlets’ and ‘Ice-cream Sundays’ are common finds. Words like ‘Manchurian’ and ‘Mediterranean’ are spelt with a good five extra letters. Advertisement leaflets, which come bundled with newspapers are also pretty reliable to be full of incorrect English, be it the gym advert with ‘tredmill’ or the spa pamphlet with the ‘Thai message’ option.
And finally, there is the case of correct English used in a way that it makes no sense at all. Try a local T-shirt shop and there is always that preposterous lime-yellow coloured T-Shirt with ‘Athletic Department’, ‘Atlantic Impact’, ‘Since MXMXCVII’, ‘Quality Clothing’, ‘England’s Finest’ ‘Outdoor Wear’, ‘Champion’, ‘Car Club’ and ‘North Carolina’ all written on it. Read the label and you find it’s made somewhere near Jalandhar.
I am not saying being perfect in English is a necessary requirement for a healthy career, in fact no one is perfect in their English, but surely learning a language such as English requires more than a couple of weeks and an under-qualified instructor. Learn karate for a few days, and the only people you’d be able to defend yourself from will be withering octogenarians. Similarly learn English for a couple of weeks and you land nowhere. You are exactly the same but now with the confidence to use your newly yet poorly acquired skill set so shamelessly, that people judge you as an utter dullard. So, if you’re someone who is trying hard to learn English, as quickly as possible, through maybe a coaching center, to somehow be able to converse in English, probably in the hope of being employed, and you’re not really interested in things like spelling, grammar and pronunciation, I have genuine advice for you. Stop trying.