June 22, 2013

Native Speakers Struggle with English, Too!

Vocabulary, grammar and preparedness are the top three worries many Indians have about speaking in English, especially with native speakers.  

Even some of the best speakers of English I have met in India face this fear. I am here to share two secrets with you. Firstly, you are not alone. Secondly, native speakers face the same struggles!  

It’s true! Just think of speaking in your native language, be it Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Oriya or any of the other Indian languages. Though you may feel more comfortable in speaking the language spontaneously having grown up speaking it, given certain situations, you may face the same issues with vocabulary, grammar and preparedness. If you may wonder how this can be true, here are three questions to consider:
Credits: Keith Rowley, flickr.
  • How does your vocabulary compare to that of newscasters or books written in your native Indian language?
  • If you were to attend a job interview or be asked to spontaneously speak on any given topic in your native language right now, could you? How would you feel?
  • Would you be confident and comfortable teaching your language to a foreigner?
Conversely, here are some things to keep in mind while interacting with native speakers of English from the US that will alleviate your fears:
  1. The average vocabulary is somewhere between 15,000-20,000 words for an average speaker. Note that some estimates of the number of words in the English language exceed 1 million (or 10 lakh). As most of local newspapers and newscasts in the US are written for a 5th-8th grade reading and listening comprehension level, this will reduce the vocabulary that is used dramatically. Does that take some of the pressure off?
  2. Grammar may not be the strong point of Americans! In fact, it may be true that many schools do not even focus on grammar anymore. Couple that with increased use of text messages, and the language has lost much of its formality and structure in many contexts. This is highlighted in the news story below. (To read the story instead of listening to it, click here.)
  3. Very few Americans are ready to stand up and speak in English for public speeches or interviews. In fact, public speaking is more feared than death itself!

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This all being said, keep in mind that there is always room for improvement and setting the bar higher! All of us can improve our skills every day to be better speakers and communicators. Above learning the ‘hard skills’ of ‘soft skills’, keep looking deeper than the skill set to what is preventing you at the core level from moving forward. Some questions to ask yourself include:
  • What personal fears or anxieties do you have that prevent you from moving forward?
  • Are you afraid of moving forward?
  • How will others react to you if you improve your language and confidence?
  • How much does others’ approval or disapproval (teasing) affect your progress?
  • What benefits does improvement bring at work, in your long-term career, and personal life?
I help you and many other Indians to grapple with and find solutions to these questions while at the same time, delivering and reinforcing communication skills and techniques to improve communication in English across cultural borders.


Author, Jennifer Kumar, is a corporate coach helping Indians communicate better with their American counterparts through learning American culture and English.

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How Synonyms Help Us to Bring Richness to Our Language  

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