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Why is Mallu English so funny?
Why Malayalees cut a sorry figure when they speak English
Mother tongue pull is evident when Malayalees open their mouth to speak English. In the context of Indian English also, ‘Mallu speak’ stands out. Sadly the accent of Mallus often verge on the ridiculous. Why is it so? When an average educated Tamilian speaks English, even though the pronunciation or diction is nowhere near perfection, it does not sound so funny or amateurish. The lack of confidence written large on Mallu English is absent in the English of most other people in India who use English as a second language. What are the reasons and what are the remedies?
Let us face it. Malayalam is a less musical language than most other languages.
English is a highly musical language. Spoken English is almost music. There is intonation, stressed and unstressed sounds, rhythm and tonal variations. Malayalam is spoken in a rather flat way. Except in some dialect variations, Malayalam is spoken in mono tone. There is no rhythmical intonation in Malayalam. It is surprising how the music industry thrives in Malayalam. But if you notice the South Indian classical music tradition you will have a hard time finding Kirtanas and other classical compositions written in Malayalam. The huge difference in oral rendition poses a problem for Keralites in making their English sound natural.
The solution to this difficult problem is to retrain the senses. Listening to good English and practicing the intonation loudly are the two important drills to follow.
Certain sounds in Malayalam are not harmonious with English sounds.
Many Malayalam sounds are pronounced differently in English, but the mother tongue pull makes Malayaless pronounce sounds similar to these incorrectly. The complex sounds like 'bla' 'kka' etc aggravate the problem
Double consonants pronounced with double force in Malayalam
There are a large number of double consonants in Malayalam that are pronounced with a ‘double stress’ in Malayalam. This makes them pronounce English words in the similar way when they come across doubling of letters. For instance, the word ‘pulling’ has two l’s and it is pronounced by Keralites with a sound that is not present in English. In English we do not stress a syllable just because of the doubling of a letter.
Malayalam has more sounds than English but it does not have all the English sounds.
In fact Malayalam has the largest number of letters among Indian languages. Because of its Sanskrit and Tamil origins Malayalam alphabet can represent most of the sounds in Indian languages. In spite of the Indo European family bonds Malayalam does not have all the sounds in English. Sounds like ‘th’ and ‘r’ are examples.
Special training in the pronunciation of these sounds is necessary for the correctness of spoken language.
Mostly English learning is dependent on visual resources.
Most Malayallees who learn English as a second language use more visual resources than auditory. Text based learning is followed here to the exclusion of the audio-visual. This is a wrong approach for learning a new language the natural way. Schools in Kerala even after the drastic changes in curricular approaches, give more importance to reading and writing than the fundamental skills of listening and speaking. Text dependence is yet to be reduced.
Most Malayalees when they speak English, first think in Malayalam and then translate it into English. Speaking is not an automatic process for them. It takes a lot of time for sentences to arrive in good shape. The brain also gets confused in the process. The sentence structure in Malayalam is basically different from that of English. So the translation method prompts the speaker to open the sentence at the wrong place. For example the Subject Verb Object order in English demands a different thinking from the Subject Object Verb order in Malayalam. The speaker begins a sentence but he is often unable to finish it. This creates an embarrassing situation both for the speaker and the listener. The only solution to this problem is to practice thinking in English.
Certain words even though they appear correct grammatically, syntactically and meaning wise, are not used together in English. An academic study of grammar will not familiarize an English speaker with this subtle feature of language. Experience in listening to natural speech is the only way in which you can avoid collocation errors.
Schools, colleges and even spoken English courses in Kerala use most of their English teaching time in teaching grammar. Your knowledge of grammar may be a serious impediment to your fluency. To learn English naturally and effortlessly, it is better not to learn grammar. Some tourist guides and shopkeepers speak confident English that is impossible for some ‘learned people’ just because their learning of grammar comes in the way.
Training the tongue
Even if English is formed perfectly in one’s mind, when it comes to utterance most Malayalees fumble. This is because their speech organs are not trained in producing the English sounds, words and sentences. This barrier can easily overcome by loud reading or talking to oneself aloud.
Opportunity to practice English
Ordinary Malayalees do not have opportunities to practice their English conversations in domestic or office situations. Speaking more is the only way to improve spoken skills. Such opportunities need to be created consciously.
Where the schools go wrong
Schools in Kerala go wrong in two areas. The teachers training programme for Aided and Government schools is a farce in Kerala. In the unaided sector there is no system to monitor or improve the skills of the teacher. Teachers who are incompetent in speaking will not be able to help students improve their communicative capability. The second aspect relates to the superficial implementation of group activities in classrooms. Based on educational theories that state that knowledge is a social construction, group activities were introduced in the curriculum. But in order to benefit from such group activities, at least a few of the students must have language proficiency. If ten ignoramuses sit together for a group activity, however hard they try, no knowledge (here it is skill) is created or developed.