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Speaking Indian English

Updated on February 27, 2013

The call center. The hub of transatlantic tech help located somewhere on another continent, connected by a thin, not always clear, invisible satellite phone connection. The time difference might be 12 hrs., the city, maybe, Mumbai.

The caller is already pissed despite having "free" tech help for the malfunctioning product, usually computer related and the tech help knows this. Many companies have their tech issues also sent to call centers for resolution, usually, issues regarding getting services for the computer, permissions to access etc. Those Indians getting these calls are low paid, many students working long shifts. The techies are trained to resolve issues via written protocols set by the company they work for on their products, however, they do not always work or are effective or clear.

Now add the Indian English to this frustrating mix. The English spoken in India is the real deal, but it is British English, not American. Since many American companies use call centers in India for the American customers, it can pose a misunderstanding. However, this is usually a minor flaw, the more catastrophic flaw in their English is their pronunciation and speed when speaking. Americans usually do not speak rapidly unless it is in an emergency. The British are much the same. Indians speaking English in their usual manner is rapid, too fast for their American audience and their pronunciation over a satellite connection is murky and unclear. When you combine all the elements of the the transatlantic call for help, frustration and impatience is the result many times on both sides.

To the American ear, the Indian tech help is only partially understood or is clear, the rest is pure gibberish. Repeating the instructions sometimes does little until the seeker of help asks the tech help to slow down when speaking. It may require a few times until the techie has slowed down enough. Some Indian speakers do speak a pace Americans easily understand, but many don't. In my own experience, after much frustration, I have said, " Look, I know you are speaking English, but it might as well be Russian. I don't understand you, please slow down".

Some Indian speakers do have a thick accent and this compounds the problem greatly. Some words in their pronunciation are unclear enough to me that I ask, "Can you spell it?". Once spelled, I sometimes laugh at what was said that I could not understand!

Besides the communication, when you add a user's own expertise with computers and software, which might be at a beginner level, the frustration level rises on both parties greatly. Sometimes, the techie can control your computer remotely to facilitate the repair, this makes it much easier.

Like any second language, even when you are fluent in it, the speed and pronunciation are critical if you want to be understood. If the natives speak more slowly, you, when using the second language must mimic that. Using the speed of your native language is incorrect.


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