The intriguing question ‘Why English’ is equally engaging as its sibling’s more optimistic version “Why not English?” Interesting readings of the first question, “Why do I need to acquire a fluency in English language when I have all the requisite technical skills to launch me overboard as frontline employee who can pre-eminently handle men, machines customers and clients?” This claim is justified and granted, hands down. Taking on the defensive, is equally reasonable acquitting one, as the outright logic in it is its best claim.

But what happens when one encounters an international business environment that has exclusive selection and performance criteria to meet and needs to sustain a corporate environment that has workplace-tested approaches for addressing the common challenges to meet global standards. Does today’s work focus on English language skills that are so  rigorously green flagged and so meticulously designed going to impact my confidence levels and further help stimulate my creative thinking and integrate me into a business community that teeters on the edge of growing competition. This is how a student might be tempted to think. These are no half truths, no bikers’ magic maneuvers that one sees on city roads but hard hitting truths that we need to face upfront today as employment surveys pop up alarming statistics and observations such as ‘Why are our engineers unemployable today, and what could be the reason?’

Truths are bitter indeed but solutions are always available – what with our boast of technology and its assistive tools available in plenty. Also the fact that there is ever an upswing of jobs for young engineers on the one hand and an equal downswing of frustration on the other. Over a period of research and conclaves of opinion makers, the truth has dawned that communicative skills is about managing perceptions about an organization, its culture, its corporate identity, its corporate philosophy, its corporate citizenship, its coveted seats in the marketplace and above all its effective communication strategies to survive in the rat race. The manner in which communication skills along with competent human resources become a center of focus and is integral to an organizations growth and credibility is a reality today.

To understand this problem more subjectively, with less of bias and more of concern, we need to dislodge ourselves from the high perches of myths or time bound fears such as, “Will I be estranged from my peer group if I speak in a language that is alien to my mother tongue” or even less encouraging the claim, “I find it more convenient to speak in my mother tongue rather than the language of the class room or target language” - which ironically, is the corporate language or the language of the  workplace that I am at pains to validate is to be acquired by conscious effort. The long and the short of the matter is that all roads no longer lead to Rome. There are Skill sets, Attitudinal makeovers, Personality traits, Corporate culture and a host of other criteria that make up for one employee being more privileged than the other.  

Many an educational institution has woken up to the reality that certification courses that initiate one into successful careers are more the yardstick than the preferred choice. The options are: to either accept the personal responsibility of mastering the language which is no distant dream or forbidden fruit, considering the advent of web based technology which is an open source avenue, which can be accessed and exploited from various sources. ICT, Digitalized technology, Web based tools and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter etc., are alluring portals that ask for no specialization, least of all any certification. Self motivated learners as a result are on the increase in today’s consumerist culture. The obligation is active participation on the learner’s part.

The other option is, choreographed courses like Business English, Marine English, English for Llaw, English for the Media, Professional English in use for Medicine (covering a wide variety of Medical vocabulary), English for Nursing (specialist English language knowledge of healthcare professionals), English for Job hunting, English for Engineers and Technologists – these varieties certainly dim the colored hues of the rainbow. In these books, materials are time tested, standalone content with  authentic language activities based on every day scenario, along with updating and making the course relevant and motivating.

The desired result is to be seen to be believed. As such, the acquisition of effective language skills relevant to the area of one’s employability is mandatory, desirable in the highest degree and lack of it, hampers good employability. It is no exaggeration to claim that cross-cultural understanding is largely dependent on the use of appropriate oral communication patterns not however belittling the written component as well. The growing importance of language needs, industry expectations and the question as to why some graduates are more marketable than others and the need to balance both oral skills and technical knowledge is the right approach to a graduate’s employability.

Teaching and learning have no set paradigms but evolve from time to time. Communication activities are multiple, engaging one in a continuous language learning process ensuring learner participation and interaction. In principle, more time should be exercised in situational language learning where the emphasis is on successful communication.

The fact that language learning causes anxiety is more a psychological construct than a real-time physical obstruction. The right approach to a congenial, liberal, stress-free classroom language learning environment should allay such fears. Supportive learning situations, frequency of mock interviews, face-to-face language learning situations should be solutions to the problem. The aim is to make one a lifelong learner and a successful contributor to a global society.

I wish to conclude this paper with two humorous language situations that arise from inappropriate language usage. At a busy airport, the intercom booms ‘all passengers alighting and delighting’… vehicle parked on a city roadside claims from ‘joint to joint’. These linguistic howlers surely don’t make for language that is desirable, especially from educated speakers of the language. I laugh and cry secretively on the inside…

About the Author

Dr. Sucheeta Ramachandran Professor and HOD, Department of CE & SE Dr N.G.P Institute of Technology

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