Letter to India: is your written and spoken English too good?

Dear English-speakers from India,
One thing that has struck me many, many times in corresponding with Indian people in English, is that the English you speak and write is so utterly perfect in grammar, syntax, spelling and general presentation. You have learned the language as it should be spoken and written, with the grace and elegance the language should still be using now.

Letter to India - is your english too good?

Is Indian English too good for everyday international communication?

The trouble is, the standards of English used for nearly all communication in the main English language markets have deteriorated. Proper, well-mannered and well-constructed English as so many Indian people speak and write is (sadly) viewed as old-fashioned and long-winded. In our modern throwaway society all but the essentials in language have become disposable, too.

The USA – and the internet – have much to answer for

It would be very easy to point fingers at the USA as being responsible for the dilution/degradation of the English language, but (despite being a Canadian!) I can’t put the blame solely on them. Even though the “Yanks” are the instigators of much more casual English, what has compounded the problem is the internationalism of the internet and its easy-going offshoot, social media.

Of course, the internet was a product of American (and British) culture to start with, but by now its language has become universal whether we in other countries and cultures like it or not. And because the internet and social media have become such hugely valuable assets to business, in particular, virtually all online communication is following in those free-wheeling, informal American footsteps.

Is this such a problem?

Speaking as an exponent of day-to-day writing being a means by which we speak and write directly, I don’t see this as a problem. It is a very useful common denominator because its directness and relatively low use of figurative language makes it easier for people of many more nationalities to understand.

So what’s the way forward for Indian English?

As I suggested above, one of the many things I admire about the Indian culture is the fact that you all speak such elegant, eloquent English. Please don’t lose that!

But for business and general purposes across all the native English language markets and also those using English as a second language, the simplified English of today is actually a very useful global communication tool.

Here are a few tips that will help you adapt what you write to benefit from it:

Write as people speak. Yes, even as people speak in American and British TV programmes and movies. Leave formal salutations and other, older-style written civilities aside; greet people, state your message and leave them with the words that you would speak to them face-to-face.

Use contractions as they are used in speech. Use apostrophes to write “it’s” instead of “it is” … “you’re” instead of “you are” … etc. It makes your writing seem more friendly and natural.

Keep your writing simple. Avoid lengthy, convoluted phrasing. Use only one main idea or notion per sentence. Make sure each sentence leads on from its predecessor. Use “action” verbs, and avoid adjectives and adverbs unless they’re really necessary.

Don’t use jargon unless you’re certain your readers will understand exactly what you mean. If you have any doubts about that, explain each term as you write about it.

Avoid clichés and superlatives that people don’t believe any more even though those still are valid in older-style English. These include words like “free,” “amazing,” “XX percent off,” “buy direct,” “money making” … etc. Check “spam words to avoid” on Google for a comprehensive list.

Obviously there is a great deal more to effective business writing in English than I have shared here, so if you’d like to know more please check out this category here on HTWB. 

Please write any concerns or questions you may have in the comments here, and I will answer as usefully as possible.

With all good wishes – and I hope one day finally to visit your beautiful country!