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India's evolving relationship to English

by David V. Appleyard

India's 'Taj Mahal'Opinion pieces from the sub-continent suggest some Indians may be trying to Americanize their English in order to make themselves attractive to U.S. corporations and to find new job opportunities created by outsourcing. This is especially true in the hi-tech field, and is most prevalent among those in their 20s and early 30s—a burgeoning age group keenly concerned about future employment prospects. They are now taking advantage of special courses designed to familiarize them with American vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling.

This is a significant development because ever since colonial times British English has been the language of officialdom and the elite in India, serving as it has as lingua franca in a country with no fewer than 17 constitutionally recognized national and regional languages. If we then consider the fact that these 17 mainstream tongues are actually spoken in some 1600 dialects, it is not hard to understand why this vast nation has chosen English as its official working language.

What many don't realize, however, is that seen in a longer-term perspective the linguistic influence has not been all one way. Especially UK English has enriched itself with Hindi words such as 'guru' and 'juggernaut', Hindustani words such as 'bungalow' (derived from 'Bengal') and 'gymkhana', Tamil words such as 'mulligatawny', and Urdu words such as 'khaki' and 'pyjamas'. Nowadays, however, if one is to believe these latest trends, ambitious young Indians are probably learning to say 'ranch house' instead of bungalow, and to write 'pajamas' instead of pyjamas.

They are, no doubt, also having to unlearn a whole host of expressions still commonly used in India but now perceived as quaint or antiquated elsewhere in the English-speaking world—words like 'needful' and 'felicitations', or the 'fooding and lodging' seen on signs outside cheaper hotels.

Indians appear comfortable with the easygoing conversational style of American English and perhaps see it as a welcome departure from the rigid grammar-adherence of the British English learned in their schooldays. Nowadays more and more of them can afford to make the odd mistake and expect to get away with it. British English, too, is far from static. Once sacred grammar rules are becoming less strict, and even die-hard conservatives are having to face up to challenges posed by internationalization of the language.

Despite the recent flurry of interest in American English, the BBC is still said to attract a larger following in India than any of the U.S. networks, and I doubt this will change any time soon.

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Our children still need to master handwriting skills

by David V. Appleyard

Writing practiceDespite our ever-increasing dependence on computers. tablets and smartphones, children's capacity to write clearly and legibly with more traditional tools can play a decisive role in how well they end up doing in school exams. If words fail to flow from their pens, they may not be able to get down all they know within the time allowed and so lose vital points. Further marks will be lost if there is no clear distinction between letters which look alike, such as o and a, v and u, or m and nn.

Clear handwriting involves the eyes as much as the hands, so both must work in perfect co-ordination. Just as when we learn to play the piano, the many fine muscles of the hand need to be strengthened, something only achieved through plenty of practice. Every opportunity should therefore be given for children to write things down—and preferably on a daily basis.

A key point to bear in mind is that they themselves should feel there is a real purpose in what they are doing—they will soon get tired of repetitive exercises only aimed at improving certain strokes. One good idea is to let them keep a diary to be filled in at bedtime. Another is to have them write shopping lists when food items run out.

The advice of experts on the subject is sometimes age-specific. For example, when older kids draw pictures they should be encouraged to make less use of "undemanding" marker pens, and greater use of crayons and colored pencils.

In the case of very young children, however, practice sessions need to be kept relatively short, as their delicate hand muscles and movements need more time to develop.

So then, lasting benefit is sure to come if the emphasis is placed on regularity rather than the duration of the practice sessions. And be sure to make it fun!