People ask me for advice on where to go to improve their language skills. I understand that there are a lot of websites out there. Here are 3 websites I always recommend:
1. British Council
This site covers a lot of ground, from vocabulary to business English. Spend some time here.
2. BBC Learning English
This site has good videos and articles on current affairs. Great place to improve your grammar and vocabulary.
3. About Education
This site is by Richard Nordquist, an American professor. He does an excellent job explaining language points. One of my favorite sites!
This is a little known article. The reason for that, is that it is invisible!
When we use no article in front of a noun, it is called the zero article. To understand the zero article, you need to know about two concepts:
- Abstract noun – this is a noun that you cannot know through your five senses. (e.g. peace, hate, love)
- Plural count noun – these are nouns that cannot be counted. (e.g. cars, cellphones, paperclips)
We use the zero article before abstract nouns and plural count nouns. For example:
- History is a fascinating subject. (History is an abstract noun.)
- She collects photos of cats. (Cats is a plural count noun.)
We are talking about history and cats in general.
The history is a fascinating subject.
She collects photos of the cats.
Now, here is the catch. There are times when we use the definite article with these nouns. We use the definite article when talking about specific abstract or plural count nouns. For example:
- Mary has specialized in the history of medieval India.
- She takes care of the cats in her building.
In the above sentences, we are talking about a specific history (medieval India’s) and specific cats (the ones in her building).
We cannot write:
He has specialized in history of medieval India.
She takes care of cats in her building.
Hope you are now more aware of this lesser-known article. Look out for them when you read and write.
Many Indian speakers find it difficult to use the correct article in a phrase. This is because in languages such as Hindi, there are no articles!
This post will look at the use of articles: a, an, the. In the next post, we will look at the zero article (my favourite).
We use the definite article for shared knowledge between two speakers. For example: The cab has come. And we use the indefinite articles when there is no shared knowledge. For example: A cab has come. (We are not sure who has ordered the cab.)
Often, Indian speakers tend to drop or add the definite article (the) in certain phrases. Here are a few examples:
- across globe – should be: across the globe
- think out of box – should be: think out of the box
- out of the town – should be: out of town
- since beginning – should be: since the beginning
- in next few years – should be: in the next few years
I wish I could give you a rule to follow here, but I cannot think of one. Be aware of the use the definite article and look critically at the common phrases you use. Check to make sure that they are correct. Over time, it will come naturally to you.
All the best!
Indianisms is one of my favourite topics. It comprises of expressions that are specific to the country. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with them. However, if one is communicating with people from other countries, it would be a good idea to not use them. After all, the purpose of communication is to be understood by the other person.
Here are some Indianisms which you should be aware of:
1.Do the needful
This is a classic Indianism. Try to re-phrase it. Perhaps: Please take care of it.
Another classic. Instead of kindly note… go for: please note
3. Concerned department
Ah, if only departments were truly concerned about our problems. You could try: relevant department.
Now you know how to convert this sentence into international English:
Kindly do the needful and send the documents to the concerned department.
A good way to improve your pronunciation is to focus on syllable stress.
You may ask: but, what is a syllable? A syllable is a complete sound with a vowel sound in it. A word can have one or more syllables. For example, in the word ‘syllable’ there are three syllables.
Next question: what is syllable stress? If there are two or more syllables in a word, then one word is stressed. For example, in the word syllable, the first syllable is stress:
syll / a / ble
In India, many people stress on the incorrect syllable. For example, some Punjabis say: senTENCE. While it should be: SENtence.
Here are some other common errors:
To improve your pronunciation, you need to focus on:
a. the sounds of English;
b. syllable stress.
In this post, we look at the first point.
If you are really, really serious about improving your pronunciation I would urge you to become familiar with the phonemic chart.
It may take a while to master all 44 phonemes. But once you do, you will have a clear understanding of the sounds that make up a word. You will be able to taste words!
Here is an excellent series of videos which are about the phonemic chart.
In urban India, English is everywhere. There is an explosion of books being published in the language. Shop signs, newspapers, and even many traffic warnings are written in a language which originated on an island, far from these shores.
And yes, corporate communication is in English. In New Delhi, when two Hindi-speaking people meet for business, there is a strong probability that they will negotiating in a second language: English.
Given the dominance of the language in education and business, I expected that people in the corporate sector would be (reasonably) proficient in the language. My experience of 4 years of delivering training has proved otherwise.
Many young executives (and some senior ones as well) are not content with their level of English. They are not comfortable with the language and often find it difficult to express their opinions and ideas. Indian communication tends to be very formal and at times, cumbersome. This is in stark contrast with the friendlier, semi-formal business style which is used in the United States and many other English-speaking countries.
English Vinglish in Indian offices can be simpler, clearer, and friendlier.