The title of this post is inspired by the very famous paper that was first published in 2004 titled “Does IT matter?” (http://www.nicholasgcarr.com/doesitmatter.html)
At the time, few of the leading magazines had this to say about the paper –
“Nicholas Carr has foisted an existentialist debate on the mighty information-technology industry . . . His argument is simple, powerful and yet also subtle.” -The Economist
“Carr [has] performed a service in puncturing some of the starry-eyed and self-serving cant of industry insiders. “ -Steven Levy, Newsweek
While my intention is neither to start an existential debate on the need for English proficiency amongst Indians nor is it an attempt to puncture any of the industry insiders, my hope is to be able to share my life experiences on this subject and seek validation.
People of my generation valued English language skills. English grammar was an important subject in itself. I wonder if it is still taught in schools. My first job was with Godrej & Boyce in Mumbai. The late Dr. K.R.Hathi, GM – Marketing asked us to hand write a one page essay on a topic that he gave on the spur of the moment. I am sure it helped him check our thinking and of course our English proficiency besides our handwriting, I guess.
We learnt to interview and choose likewise and while there could have been deficiencies in pronunciations, I am confident that I never chose a grammar challenged person in my career. Well, at least till some years ago.
I am not sure at what point in time that things started to slip up on the grammar side of things. Television, movies, lack of the reading habit, SMS – I am not sure about the exact cause, but at some stage things have gone really awry.
Very recently the Vice Chairman of a reputed IT firm with its headquarters in India, received a long, effusive and joyous email from one of his front line junior associates expressing his gratitude on having been promoted. The English in the email clearly horrified the Vice Chairman, who demanded to know how this associate had been promoted in the first place and went on to question the credentials of the managers who had authorized the promotion.
Intake quality in the IT industry in India has plummeted in recent times, of that there is no doubt. But over time the standards of English in India have always been on a decline. In the late eighties and early nineties, it was still the era of secretaries and personal assistants and managers were expected to be adept at the art of dictating letters or reports. And secys and PAs were expected to have the speed of transcription, contextual knowledge and good understanding of the English language to be able to reproduce with a fair bit of accuracy whatever the boss had dictated. This profession was an almost monopoly amongst the Goans and Mangalorean.
But sad to say, this population was rather short on the grammar part. Appalling instances of the language usage included,
“I removed his photograph” ( a literal translation from Hindi)
“He reached me home” (in real danger of becoming mainstream)
Aksed for Asked and “He bees” ( I was so stunned by its usage that I can’t seem to remember the context of its usage) were clearly patented words / phrases even as far back as the early nineties.
My son has somehow escaped the clutches of this malaise of poor grammar. Even as a little boy of 4 years, he would read extensively and his material would even include a product brochure, if nothing else was available. I think it has stood him in good stead but people from that generation have in general poor English grammar for sure.
The other day, someone from the marketing function sent out a note to me where at several places he had written the word BROWCHER. Clearly he was planning to produce glossy brochures through the sweat of his brow. My wife, who works as a Vice Principal at a local college, received a written application from a junior colleague who sought COMPULSATORY off since she had turned up for work on the Sunday before. She was perhaps very clear in her mind that compensation had to be compulsory.
Of late someone saying, “I will explain you” is so common place, that at many times I have caught myself saying it too and later felt like undergoing some self-flagellation in private. :-)
Frankly, I am OK if someone does not have the context and refers to a heart procedure as ANGIOPLASTIC but “I didn’t went” just won’t do!
My dear friend, Chander who is the CEO of an MNC in India tells me that he has stopped rejecting candidates who start off by saying, “Myself Vijay Mahajan” when asked, “tell me something about yourself”. He changed the habit after several years when he finally realized that speaking / writing good English had nothing to do with being a good worker or even a salesperson, depending on the audience.
Around 7 years back I hired an MBA from IIM Calcutta into my team for a selling position. I was so aghast to read the drafts of emails he submitted to me, that I couldn’t help but ask him how he had made it into IIM-C in the first place. I learnt around that time that the virus had well and truly infected even these hallowed institutions.
My wife who has been teaching over these past 12 years is convinced that quality of English has plummeted and that there is little that can be done to get back to the gold standards that we are used to. She berates me on my fetish for seeking some felicity in the English language amongst my team mates and new hires.
People should be able to communicate and get their point of view across and more importantly be able to work hard, show passion and make things happen. She is convinced that youngsters have the right attitude to life and could essentially be good human beings and giving them the overhang on English proficiency on day one is to perhaps lose out on the better folks.
I have resisted her berating for very long, not wanting to believe that what cannot be cured has to be endured!
A few months ago, we ran a test of the English language proficiency on a group of 343 young engineers at an IT company. I took the test myself and it was elementary. It sought to weed out the “I didn’t went” varieties. So we kept the cut off as 85%. Only 65 out of the 343 made the grade! With one more group discussion and a personal interview to go, I clearly needed more candidates in the hopper. I had to drop the cut off by another 10% to let in more people.
These days my resolve is weakening and I am inclined to believe that English is perhaps not as mandatory on day one and is a teachable skill. I am also a bit rattled. Am I holding on to something as being very precious when things have passed me by? “Do the Germans, Japanese or the Chinese speak or write great English?” my wife asks me.
Bring in candidates with great attitude, entrepreneurial orientation and drive for results and give them crash courses in English she says. Don’t expect skills of your level or anywhere close to that in them. Short of calling me a fossil on this aspect she has me all sewn up. :-)
Does IT Really Matter? (I mean English)