Can you able…? – In defense of Indian English

“Madam, I can’t able to do it.”, said my chartered accountant. I looked at him. “Ravi, you either say, ‘You can’t do it or You are not able to do it.’ You cannot use both together.”

“I know madam. You have told me many times. When I write I am careful, but I forget when I speak”, said Ravi.

When I first engaged him nearly ten years ago, Ravi was working alone. Today, he has an office with five or six accountants working under him. Ravi is a very capable person. He can tell me the rules at the drop of a hat, and what to do in a tight situation. However, his English is not particularly good.

I stick with him because of his capability as an accountant. His not-so-good English does not bother me anymore. I appreciate his sincerity and capability.

Ravi is just one of the many Indians who have studied in the vernacular language and are exposed to English only at the university level, or when they start working. Most of them interact only with other Indians who can understand them clearly. Their spoken and written English may have grammatical errors, but the language is intelligible. Whatever little time he has for upskilling, he devotes to learning more about his profession and the latest rules and regulations of the financial sector.

This raises many questions. But the two important ones are

Do people like Ravi need to learn the Queen’s English? Should he try to improve his pronunciation and accent as English is the language of business?

As trainers what is it that we consider as proficiency in a language? Is it grammatical accuracy or intelligibility? If it is the latter, then what is intelligibility?

Is intelligibility the ability of your audience to understand what you say and for you to understand your audience? Will it differ for different audiences?

I am sure many of you have faced this problem. Do share your experiences and your thoughts on this.

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