23 Oct 2020 20:40 IST

Helping students become adept in spoken English

As the demand for English-literate workforce increases, students face pressure during job interviews

How often do your friends complain about their lack of communication skills to ace a placement interview?They are self-critical and hugely worried about the approaching placement season mainly because of the low confidence in their ability to articulate their thoughts in English. How can you help?

First, you assuage their fears by telling them there is nothing wrong with their communication. Because more often than not, what they may have is a rather much simpler, a smaller problem called difficulty in speaking the English language. When they make this small, yet important issue, to be a giant crisis in their head, self-confidence becomes the first victim of this imagined crisis.

Students become self-conscious when a faculty member, or a friend, has derided them by pointing to their errors, publicly or in a humiliating way. Many carry this burden of shame for longer than one can fathom.

Here are some easily adaptable ways to improve your spoken English abilities:

Set realistic expectations

Let’s push our self-esteem up a bit. Most Indians know at least three languages by the time they finish school education. We must be proud of the fact that we know and understand three languages, even if we’re not an expert at it. It starts by acknowledging that English is a foreign language. Although it connects us with the rest of the world, it still is a relic of the British Raj. Had we been ruled by the French, we would have been using French to communicate instead. If we are born in a rural area of a southern state, and we are not exposed to the language first-hand at home, it is natural to struggle to speak English in the beginning. In fact, it is futile to attempt and unrealistic to expect to be proficient right from the start.

We often try hard to mimic the West when it comes to pronunciation and diction, thereby making it all the more difficult for ourselves than it already is. Please remember that the primary objective of a language is to communicate and not imitate native speakers. We learn and improve as we practice. The point here is to first try and speak, and gradually improve in the process. If you wait till you are perfect, you may never even begin.

In India, Bengalis speak English in a style quite different from that of a Malayali. The way a Tamilian speaks the language is so different from that of a Mumbaikar. We need to appreciate our own differing speaking styles and respect it. It is rather ridiculous that not even our mother tongue is prone to such scrutiny in diction and pronunciation as this foreign language does.

Clarity trumps speed

Fluency is not about speaking fast. We often confuse between the two. Remember, it takes an expert to win a slow cycle race. When we aim to appear fast while speaking, we often get the words muddled up. We sound hurried and confused and may even end up making the other person tense. So the next time you speak, practice patience and try taking a slower pace. The best of orators measure each word and deliver it with utmost clarity. They make use of intelligent pauses in between to emphasise their views.

Effective articulation is important. The right word in the right place makes a huge difference. Reading is an excellent way to improve vocabulary and understand how to construct sentences when we speak. Movies, TV shows, and so on, can help you use the right phrases. Keep adding words to your collection and remember to use it when the time is right.

Just a language, not a metric for knowledge

Start blogging or even micro-blogging on platforms like Twitter. It is easier to express and people are not as judgemental as you find them in real life. It is also said that we tend to think in our mother tongue. Ever tried to change that to the language you wish to master? It could work.

Develop a keen interest in the topics that interest you. Keep at it, so that you have the confidence in your knowledge and the content flows effortlessly while you speak. When we are interested in a topic, it shows in the way we speak. Our enthusiasm will definitely help us communicate better and once we feel strongly about something, smaller concerns like grammatical imperfection will take a backseat.

When someone's trying their hand at this foreign language, as an audience, it always helps to be an active and supportive listener. Even something as simple as a knowing nod can do wonders when someone is presenting a topic in class in front of everyone. Let’s fear not, help each other, and face the upcoming interviews with full confidence.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Kochi Business School.)