The world works in English

Updated: Aug 4 2014, 06:45am hrs
International communication is a central function of todays workplace and access to the English language is one of Indias great strengths. But one which comes with the risk of being allowed to slip away. India is in a unique position to broaden the centre of gravity of the English-speaking world, to move good quality, international communication in English away from the UK and the US culture, and to make it truly a world language. In India, unlike some other countries such as Chinathe other candidate for economic supremacy in the 21st centuryEnglish is already everywhere.

Research conducted by the British Council suggests that 78% of employees in large organisations in India interact regularly with overseas customers/partners and 82% with overseas colleagues. In addition, among 98% of large employers in India, English is spoken daily. But the quality of English in India is simply not good enough, at least not everywhere.

In India, local languages are still spoken regularly at the workplace (93%), states a British Council report. In fact, 85% of employers in India say they have to do a lot of work to encourage the development of communication skills of their employees and only 38% believe the education system meets their employees inter-cultural skills needs.

Studies suggest that whilst technically amongst the most competent in the world, up to 85% of Indian graduates lack a level of English and workplace professional (soft) skills to make them easily employable. The knock-on effect is that some people say that there is an employability crisis in India, for Indian graduates. Less Than 10% of Indian MBA Graduates are Employable, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Further, 75% of technical graduates and over 85% of general graduates are unemployable.

We need to find new ways to work with universities and colleges to offer English and appropriate workplace communication skills training, right on the college premises. The sort of educational experience necessary is unlike anything students have had. It requires the best practices globally, drawing on the expertise of the English language teaching sector (possibly the largest education sector in the world), but adapted for Indian realities, to stimulate and to enable the next generation of Indian employees, managers and entrepreneurs.

There is a second opportunity here. There is a huge study abroad market, with students travelling to other countries to study (4.3 million students studied abroad in 2011)* and this is only going to increase. Just as with the world of work, most of this is in English, and India ought to be well placed to be attracting massive numbers of international students to study in India. But the quality of English and tuition in English needs to be of the highest quality. This makes economic sense toothe UK and the US each earns around $24 billion per annum from overseas study*. Around the world, universities in non-English speaking countries are starting to offer courses in English, some to attract overseas students and some to make their students more employable. India should have a lead here, but needs to ensure that it is not losing that lead.

*Bright, young and mobile things by Altbach, PG and Engberg D in New Statesman

Andrew Brown

The author is programme director, Kings Learning