As I pen my thoughts for this article, my mind travels to 1995 when I learnt that vernacular is a word coined by the British to denote the language for the slaves during an era when the sun never use to set in the British empire. Since then I have replaced the word ‘vernacular’ with Indian language in my vocabulary. The use of the word in the title of this article is deliberate to catch your attention. The context was an advertising campaign being presented by the advertising agency for improving the perception of a leading newspaper to receive advertisements from brands targeting premium customers. All readership data confirmed that this Indian language newspaper’s readership in the premium segment was far more than the combined reach of the two leading English language newspapers in that region. But who would listen? Advertisers and their media planning agencies could not believe that people buying premium brands could also read newspapers printed in Indian language. This bias continues even today. Somehow a person who is educated in English medium school has an edge over the candidate who has studied in a non-English medium school even though the job requirement may not have the need for the person to be a fluent communicator in English. An illustrative case in point is the brief that one of our client organizations (which trains students in accounts and finance functions) receives from prospective employers is the ability of the student to communicate effectively in English. Where does a student beginning the career at a lowly placed Accounts Executive job need to communicate in English beats my imagination? I noticed an article in a leading newspaper recently which concludes that medium of instruction in Indian schools continues to be in Indian languages. And this will not change in the near or distant future.
So what happens to these students who are in non-English medium schools in terms of their job prospects? The bias towards a person who is able to speak confidently in English will continue to rule and influence perception in our country in the future. However, I think that the career prospects of such students who study in non-English medium schools ( and they far outnumber the ones who study in English medium schools) will be positively influenced if three sets of people consciously and consistently work towards a probable solution. These three sets of people are students themselves, their teachers/professors and the prospective employers. Let me begin with the employers first. My request to employers is to differentiate between ‘effective communication skills’ with ‘fluency in speaking in English’. Honestly, many job roles do not need fluency in English, but may need effective communication skills. A typical example is ‘feet on street’ salespeople in different industry sectors. Also, few job roles need to focus more on ‘functional skills’ instead of language or communication skills. Example is the entry level executive in accounts and finance functions where knowledge of accounting software and basic knowledge of accounts is the only criteria which should be considered for selecting a candidate. Teachers(at school and college) must focus on developing the communication skill of the student in the language of comfort for the student. Research has established the impact of words in spoken communication is as low as 7% with body language and pitch/tone of voice accounting for the balance 93%. The focus in school should therefore be on honing the skills of the students in the 93% which will increase the overall self-confidence of the students. As they say-‘ What you say is important. How you say it is more important.’Also, the emphasis in school must be on improving the written communication of students in English. This is easier than improving the verbal communication in English. I firmly believe that this impacts verbal communication ability as well. Finally, for all those students who are undergoing school education in non-English medium schools, it is important for them to first get out of the inferiority complex of not being able to speak in English fluently. One of the ways of doing so is to consciously focus on developing verbal communication skills in the language of choice. And supplement it with vocational, functional or subject knowledge which will combine with the communication skill to enhance self-confidence. Practice and efforts to improve written communication in English will be an added advantage. Finally, my simple formula to learn speaking in any language- speak in that language. Please do not be worried about making mistakes. Slowly and surely one develops confidence of speaking ‘confidently’ even though there could be several errors in one’s speech. In the net analysis it is about speaking confidently rather than correctly. This creates the impression of speaking ‘fluently’. Last but not the least my reason for optimism regarding the job and career prospects for children studying in non-English medium schools emanates from the advancement of technology and pursuit by organizations to accept techonological solutions to solve business problems or take the next steps in business. I have a friend who is using technology to create employement for hundreds of youth in tier 2 or tier 3 towns in India who are working with global giants successfully. And, they are doing so not because they can speak fluently in English but they are competent in the functional skills expected of them. English speaking ability helps but effective communication skills with requisite competency in functional skills can also lead to jobs and promising career options. What makes the main difference is the person’s attitude towards self and the self-confidence.