My article in AsiaMag.

21 07 2010

Some time back I had written this article on Why Indians speak better English than Koreans. This article generated both curiosity and agitation amongst the native English Teachers.  And some did put across their views on my blog. Brian shared it too on his blog which was a great honor for me. And now it is also published on theasiamag.com, which is an online magazine about Asian people and their perspectives.

You can read the above article on the asiamag website here.

Thanks Vivienne from Asia Mag for publishing my article on your website. 🙂





Can Indians teach English?

14 06 2010

Yes, Definitely!

Its not that we can.. but we do…

But there are many a native speakers who have certain misconceptions or doubts about Indians and their ability to teach English.  And I do not blame them because they are more or less speaking from their experience or their interaction with the Indians they have met so far.

But a mere percentage of Indians one would meet would not represent the whole of India. With this article I would like to clarify that there is more to India than meets the eye.

So what are those misconceptions…

“If I wanted to learn Chinese, I’d much rather learn it from someone who grew up in China (even if they were white!) than from someone who studied it in school for a couple of years.”

Let me clarify, Indians do not study English in some school for couple of years. It is rather the only language in which they study, finish their degree and later work. The corporate world in India does business in English. From media to publication everything is printed in English most of the time. Yes an Indian may not be qualified to teach languages like French, Chinese, German etc. because as rightly pointed out above they study it only for a few years. But that is not the case with English. All the subjects are taught in English from the time a kid starts attending kinder garden.

“Are  Indians are more qualified to teach English than their current E-2-qualified counterparts? Do you think most people would agree with that mindset?”

An average Indian would not be qualified enough to teach English. But I am talking about that section where a) They have majored in literature / English b) Have been trained in a call center to interact with natives c) Are working as writers, journalists d) Have cleared their TOEFL, IELTS, CPE, ESOL etc. or e) Are qualified to teach English via TESOL, TEFL, etc.  A teaching certification or degree (along with experience) is a must for non-natives. They should have an aptitude for teaching English. Also from what I understand Korean Government is testing out this approach of hiring Indian Teachers and depending upon their performance they may or may not hire more teachers. It is more like an experiment so people will agree after they see the result for themselves.

“So would a student prefer learning English from a native or an Indian?”

It is true that the vox populi of the students in Korea is that Natives can be better English Teachers. But to a great extent the belief is more to do with the exposure. Students here are more exposed more to the native English speaking teachers as compared to Indian teachers. Also, the Indians which they (and I) have met here do have problem with their fluency. But that is just a small portion of India that the Koreans are exposed to and the very reason they (including me) are here is not because of their English Speaking skills but their technical or Business skills.

But then the Fluent English Speaking junta of India would normally prefer working in any native country, Singapore, Malaysia, Middle East or India. India offers a lot of opportunity for them to work as writers and journalists. Writing has created a lot of job opportunities in India – copy writing, content writing, technical writing, instructional designers and so on. And with the demand for education abroad a lot of Indians also work as English Teachers in India to help students clear their TOEFL and IELTS.

Given an opportunity, any of these guys with considerable experience in teaching and writing will take the initiative to teach English to non English speaking countries like Korea and in a few years put (or rather push) India in the list of preferable countries for teaching English.

It is all about awareness. And with this and my previous post here and here I m doing my bit to create awareness about the English Speaking junta of India.

This is just the beginning..





Koreans work hard, Indians work smart!

28 05 2010

After reading my post – Why Indians speak better English than Koreans – I got this interesting feedback from Brian (of Brian in Jeollanam-do fame).

He says “Just stopping by to say I enjoyed this post and look forward to more of your perspective as an Indian in Korea. I saw “Just Another Indian in Korea” and, pardon my ignorance, didn’t realize there were others blogging about it in English.

I’m curious if you have any experience in the English education business in Korea. I ask because I wonder if you could compare the intensity with which Koreans study—for purely domestic purposes—the language compared to what you experienced in India.

Well, to reply to your comment Brian frankly speaking I do not have any experience in the English education business in Korea. But I do interact with a lot of Koreans on a day to day basis. Also, the native speakers I bump into are mostly English Teachers and I do have a few exchange language friends here in Korea who teach me Korean in exchange for English. So my views are completely based on my day to day interactions with these people and my observations. Coming from a non native speaking country the demarcation is more evident when it comes to learning / speaking / applying English in your daily life in Korea as compared to India.

Agreed that the intensity of Indians to learn English as compared to Koreans is much much lower, because we Indians don’t have to.  English is very much a part of our education system from the time a kid starts attending school. Local languages are taught as language subjects much later when the kid is around 8-9 yrs old whereas other subjects are taught in English.  An Indian would study English with greater intensity for higher studies and immigration abroad, as he would be expected to clear his IELTS, TOEFL exams. On the contrary if he has to work / study in India he would not be expected to give any English exams, which is not the case in Korea. Koreans if they have to apply for a job in Samsung, LGE or any other Chaebol then he would be expected to clear his TOEIC. And I know this for a fact from the experience of my Korean colleagues who are finding it difficult to switch jobs in Korea. And when I say that an Indian would have to apply for a job in India it translates to jobs in various Fortune 500 Multinational companies in India like Accenture, AT&T, Vodafone, ABN Amro Bank, Fidelity, Pfizer, Siemens, Unilever, Glaxo, Novartis, Sanofi Aventis, Mckinsey, Ernest & Young, Delloit, LG, Samsung, Hyundai to name a few.

Other facts about India which I’d love to highlight is that India has a large number of call centers which is thriving purely on English Speaking Indians. Apart from Call Centers there are various BPOs and KPOs in India which offers Business and Knowledge Process Solutions to their Clients across the world. In my past, I have the experience of working for more than 5 yrs in the eLearning industry in India. I was employed with TATA Interactive Sytems which is the world’s leading developer of learning solutions. One of our job was to provide Content Solutions, Content Strategy and Instructional Design for Simulations, Enterprise Application Training, K-12 Education, Soft skill training, Sales training to various clients across Corporate, Education and Government segments. Apart from Singapore and some Middle East countries I don’t think so any other Asian country offers such diverse solutions like India, not even Philippines.

So my point is that if we can teach the world (subjects beyond English in English) then why not Koreans. The entire purpose of writing this and the previous blog was to plead the Republic of Korea to look at India for solutions beyond trade. Yes, we know that Korea has signed a MOU with India to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of both the nations. But we’d also like to request ROK to look at India for education solutions and to hire teachers from India to teach English too. As per the current scenario when Korea needs English Teachers they look at Native Speakers where as if they need Engineers they look at India. So with this blog I would like to bring it to your notice that India has much more to offer if  (you = any country) care to dig a bit deeper. We have an extremely talented pool of technical writers, instructional designers, content writers, copy writers, educational writers, usability and accessibility experts, creative writers, accent trainers and above all TEACHERS to be hand picked by ROK and other countries.

In the past few years India has seen an exponential rise of readers giving rise to new stream of writers in both fiction and non-fiction segment – Karan Bajaj, Chetan Bhagat, Siddharth Shangvhi, Rajashree, Kunal Basu adding to our gamut of talented, Man Booker, Pulitzer and other award winning writers like Aravind Adiga, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul, Shobha De, R. K. Narayan, Manju Kapoor, Vikram Seth and many more. Also, the movies these days in India are more or less bilingual which is a strong indicator that given a few years Indians “on an average” would be at par with native speakers.





Why Indians speak better English than Koreans

18 05 2010

These days Teaching English in South Korea is considered one of the hottest jobs as compared to other Asian countries like China, Japan etc.  The government is spending a lot of money in recruiting native speakers and making this nation very affluent in English. English is taught predominantly by native speakers. And most of the public as well as private institutions prefer English Teacher from native speaking countries like US, UK, Australia, New Zealand etc. Koreans spend a lot of money in learning English. But still you wont find many Koreans who could speak English fluently.

The other day I met this girl in a parade who had stayed in New Zealand for like 2 yrs for studying English but she was not very confident about her English Speaking skills. Trust me she spoke good English but she was not very fluent. I strongly feel that as compared to her (and other Koreans) we Indians speak better and fluent English that too, without staying in any native English Speaking country.

I meet Koreans who have spent years in countries like Australia, America etc.  yet they pause while speaking because they are forming sentences in their mind. It is very common in Korea to find people who have spent life abroad just to be surrounded in an English Speaking environment so that they get more exposure to the English speaking crowd and that helps them improve their command over English Language. But they still stammer in English.

I have also met Korean families where the kids with their mom live and study in a native English speaking country and the dad would work in Korea and send money to support the kids education abroad. All this only for the sake of English.

So the first question which comes to my mind is that why is it that these Koreans who after having so much of an exposure to the foreigners and after having traveled so much still struggle when it comes to speaking English where as we Indians with very less exposure to foreigners and with no native speaking teachers to teach us speak much better English than Koreans.

And the answer is obvious for any Indian who is staying in Korea. Media and Education. Both play a very important role in our English education and we will look at them one by one.

  • Mostly 70-80% of the schools and colleges in urban India and almost 50% of the schools in rural India teach subjects in English, except for languages. Which is not very common in Korea. Most of the Koreans I have met study their subjects in Korean and study English only as a language subject in schools and colleges.
  • In India mostly 70% of the nation reads the newspaper in English. And there are so many of them to chose from. You visit any random newspaper vendor in India and you would find that the count of English magazines and newspaper surpassing their local counterparts. Koreans also have newspaper in English but they are mostly targeted to the expat community. 99% of the Koreans would prefer to read newspaper and magazines in Korean. Only if the media stops or limits the printing of newspaper and magazines in Korean will they do some good for the people of their own country.
  • One thing I like about Indian Movie channels is that they display English movie with English subtitles. So it becomes easier for us to enjoy the movie and not get lost in the accent. Apart from that most of the Indian music channels as well as radio stations have VJ/RJ who host the shows in English. The youth in India is well fed on English media, where as in Korea you walk in to any cinema for watching English movies and you will find it with Korean Subtitles. Which I do not blame keeping in mind the current circumstances else people will stop watching English movies. And if at all the DJ/RJ will start hosting their shows in English then they will lose their fan following soon.
  • Now this is an extremely important step to do if the Korean government wants to help the upcoming generation with their usage of English. It should stop translating academic books as well as fiction in Korean. Walk into any bookstore in Korea and you will find books and books in Korean. Even the bestsellers like Harry Potter, Twilight etc are translated in Korean. In any normal Korean book shop only around 20-30% of the section is allocated to English books. Whereas in India if one walks into any bookstore like landmark or crossword, one will find books in English only. Bookshops in India cater to all kinds of readers from technical to academic to fiction to non-fiction to self-help books (but in English).

It is all about the exposure and the right exposure for that matter. No matter how many native speaking teachers you recruit. No matter how many countries you visit or work or stay. No matter how many private tuitions you do. No matter how many English songs you listen to. No matter how many foreign friends you hang out with. No matter how many English Movies or Sitcoms you watch (with Korean subtitles) you will improve you English only if you READ. Read as much as you can in English dedicatedly. Read books, read newspaper, read articles, read blogs, read magazines, read manuals, read anything and  everything you can put your hands on. The more you read in English the more it will stay with you in your mind and will come automatically to you when you are talking or writing.

Yes I do agree that watching English movies and sitcom,  having foreign friends and other things do help. But not as much as READING. Why do you think we Indians can speak better English than Korean? Because, we are forced to read. There are many schools in India where teaching happens in local language but in Colleges the subjects are taught only in English. So it is mandatory for us to read and write in English. The only way I improved my English was by joining a library during my vacation. I used to read and read a lot in English. And Korean as I see is a nation of very good readers. People in Korea love reading. So henceforth if you have to chose a book for reading make sure it is printed in English.

Most of the English Movie DVD’s available in the market come with English Subtitles for people with hearing disability. Knowing English but not understanding the accent and pronounciation can also be considered as a disability. So next time when you are watching movies, make sure that you watch it with English subtitles and not Korean Subtitles. These subtitles are like floats to help you swim. Once you can swim on your own then you will discover many new oceans to conquer in English.

On a side note, since Korea itself is not a native English speaking country it should look at the learning strategies adopted by other developing and non-native countries like India, Philippines, Malaysia (as mentioned by Joseph Dart) and incorporate their best practices in its education system, rather than just recruiting native speakers as teachers. Given an opportunity, any certified teacher for whom English is a second language would be in a better position to teach from his / her experience of learning English. And for native speakers TESOL or TEFL does a good job in teaching them the difficulties faced by non-natives while learning English or any other language. So if someone takes out time to get certified as a TESOL or TEFL certified teacher, it shows his / her commitment towards teaching English to non-native speakers. Having said that Korean Government should also give equal weightage to both native speakers as well as qualified/certified teachers from India and Philippines.

Thanks for your time.
Brijesh Bolar