Say It Right – Anjan Behera, Assistant Professor English

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” – Frank Smith

Say It Right

We live in a post-modern society, a society that transcended all imaginable developments and feats. We can now talk long distances for free, and geo-tag locations from our mobile phones. Satellites can track stolen cars, and tiny responders can control pacemakers. All this development has two effects on our society- first, it has greatly improved our way of life making living all the more comfortable, and second, it has compacted the world into a global village. Distances earlier thought to be perilous and incredibly far have now been shrunk, thanks to advances in the fields of technology and communication. This can only mean one thing, we as human beings need to polish our communication skills in order to express ourselves, be heard, and make a difference in the world.

Our speaking abilities greatly depend on the society we belong to. Our cultures shape our vocabulary, and our community shapes our accent. Being rooted and proud of one’s heritage is vastly important, but so is speaking English in a neutral accent, such that everyone understands us. English as a language has come from England. It is important to respect the language and pronounce the way the words were meant. Speaking in a neutral accent has many benefits. One would be more welcome in every corner of the world, since the lack of a localized accent would prevent others from identifying the person as an outsider. A research conducted by Lam T. Nguyen, a research candidate in San Jose University, showed that “people with strong regional accents were perceived as having a lower chance of being promoted to a managerial position, and were hired less frequently compared to the Standard English-accented applicant”. Speaking in a good accent also helps a person gain confidence and be bold in their workplace, as well as be respected in the society.
There can be no doubt about the popularity of English these days, be it the business world, or academics. Nagaland alone has more than 300 English medium schools. Why then do people still have a strong mother tongue influence on their English? A number of factors could be responsible for this. The instructors in primary level schools teach pronunciation based on the spellings. Letters in English sound differently when used in different words, and these distinctions must be taught in the primary level itself. A lot of people are too casual about pronunciation. Just knowing words and having a good vocabulary does not mean one is good in English. Pronunciation is a very significant part of learning and using any language. India as a country has an abundance of regional languages, dialects, and creoles, which further give rise to many regionally inspired English accents. The lack of attention to neutralizing accents and abundance of many variations of accents has stumped the ability of the people in general to nurture a good accent.
A few have however learned and converse in a good and strong neutral/British accent. Researches conducted in the fields of behavioral psychology have found that human beings learn best through imitation. Watching the news regularly on channels like CNN, BBC World, CNN-IBN, and Headlines Today will help as one gets to hear correct accent and pronunciation, and will eventually apply them when speaking. The same goes for watching American and British sitcoms and dramas. A lot of good shows are telecast on television, and watching them regularly would be a fun way to improve one’s accent and pronunciation. Of course, the process would take a long time, and is unsuitable for those who lead busy lives.
A study was conducted by Dr. Dogan Yuken on the effects of watching captioned English movies on students who were learning English as a foreign language. The results, which were published in The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, found that students learned the language much faster when they saw the movies, read the captions and imitated the pronunciations they heard in the movies. Although a long and time-consuming mode of learning, it is considered an effective method in the long run. One would get to see the words, and hear the pronunciation. If we spent less time watching Korean movies and more time watching English movies, it would definitely have a positive effect on our accent and vocabulary. Korean movies are undoubtedly extremely entertaining, but offer nothing other than the entertainment quotient. The English captions for most of those movies are painfully wrong, and as such, may interfere with the chances of a person wishing to improve her/his language skills.
There are many other ways in which one’s accent and pronunciation skills can be improved. Being part of a drama fraternity or club can do wonders. In theatre, enunciating words is enormously fundamental. Unless one does this, the drama will not be clear to the audience. Thus, actors get a chance to polish their speaking skills during the practice sessions and the effects are seen during final performances. Several colleges and schools have drama clubs. Joining them would not just help improve accent and pronunciation, but would also aid in learning poise, intonation, and delivery skills; all of which would polish one’s mastery over the language. This was confirmed recently by the Drama Club of Tetso College who enacted an adaptation of Ben Johnson’s Volpone. Besides enhancing acting skills, the entire theatre experience on student accent and intonation showed a significant level of improvement.
The best way to improve one’s accent and intonation would however be to take up a course in phonetics. A specialized course in phonetics employs all the previously mentioned methods, as well as conversational exercises, and the IPA alphabet which is a full proof and time efficient way to work on one’s pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is used as the basis for the phonetic transcription of speech. It is based on the Latin alphabet and is able to transcribe most features of speech such as consonants, vowels, and suprasegmental features. Every documented phoneme available within the known languages in the world is assigned its own corresponding symbol. Once a learner gains knowledge of the IPA alphabets, speaking in a good accent would not be a problem. Certificate courses are time efficient and speed up the learning process, as well as provide a valid certificate which would add worth to one’s resume. Greater opportunities for availing such courses need to exist in Nagaland as well. Recently, Tetso College has come up with a three month certificate course on Communication Skills, and English Language Proficiency. The course, which deals extensively with pronunciation skills, is aimed at producing confident and proficient speakers of English. Likewise, Nagaland needs more professional centres of English language proficiency so we can equip our younger generation with skill sets that are invaluable for every professional individual in the world today.
We are living in a world that follows the canon of ‘survival of the fittest’. There are thousands of students graduating college each year. One needs to make a distinction for oneself to be successful in life. Speaking in a good accent and pronouncing words correctly gives one that edge. Be it the professions involving medicine, journalism, research, military, banking, or academics, good pronunciation skills are vital. Having a certificate in phonetics, and speaking in good English could also open up newer job opportunities, especially in the field of hospitality. We have had the privilege of being educated in an international language, let us make the most of it, and say it right.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:”

One Comment

  1. Very rightly put, Anjan.

    Mother tongue influence is certainly a barrier when it comes to life post school and colleges. While you're still studying you may have a couple of friends backing you up all the time, not correcting you perhaps because they dont mind the way you speak, talk or carry yourself around. However, professional circles demand more confidence in one's speech and of course the way one speaks.

    I also believe that intermingling with the multitude of other people/communities around us would also enrich our vocab and speech skills. Mother tongue influence is higher among people who stick to their side of the country most of the time, either by choice or because they have no choice and do not get to mix with other communities. Our cosmopolitan culture should be taken advantage of- talk to as many people as you can in as many places as you can and initiate an intellectual talk as much as you can! This would not only help intermingling but also broaden our thought patterns- we would know what people think of, speak of and appreciate!


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