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Mind Your language

Posted on Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Richard Boyum, Director of Regional English Language Office speaks to Chhandak Pradhan on tips on preparing for US competitive exams

One of the factors that brought many multinational companies to India has been a history and tradition of good English speaking skills. Now that India is playing host to so many organisations with global operations, the need for more functional and communicative users of English is on the rise. Richard Boyum, Director of Regional English Language Office at the American Embassy thinks that this English speaking workforce will help India to maintain its economic engine and majorly engage with the world economy. 


While many Indians suffer from a perception that Indian English is inferior to its western counterpart, Boyum thinks otherwise. “Don’t try to get out of it. Indian English is perfectly acceptable globally.” According to him, the world today runs on what many linguists are calling International English- which is a blend of many different influences. This emerging global style incorporates elements from British, American, Australian and even Indian and Ghanaian English. As long as the Indian variant is close to the international style there should be no problem. Perhaps the monopoly of British and Americans over the language is over.  

Preparing for GRE and TOEFL

The English section of the GRE or TOEFL generally have sections dealing in reading and comprehension. There is a text followed by questions that tests the student’s ability to assimilate the main idea and come up with his conclusions. In order to pick up those analytical skills, Boyum suggests, “Find textbooks with questions from the previous exams and practice them to get the feel.” With time, one can formulate his own test taking strategy. Having a good strong grammatical background also helps. He also suggests that a visit to the American Centre Library which has lots of journals, newspapers, magazines, and other reading material will help in the long run. While some students prefer self study, many are attracted to the coaching institutes which promise success in such exams. Boyum feels that it all depends on the quality of the course as well as the nature of the student. If the student has very good self discipline and can study by himself, then he would do fine. But he puts in a word of caution for the students. “There are fine institutes that can really help you and there are others who are eager to take your money.” So caveat emptor. Try to talk to the people who have attended the course and ask for their syllabus, find out the number of classes, and the materials covered before joining. 

Read read and read some more.

That is Boyum’s suggestion to anyone who wants to improve his English. He says, “Reading has been proven to increase language skills.” Read newspapers, magazine articles, contemporary fiction and short stories. Another suggestion from Boyum is to find a pal interested in English –‘an English buddy’ and discuss with him about the materials you have read. He cautions Indian students used to mugging up notes to score well in exams- “Cramming will not help you, general knowledge will.”  

Travel Abroad

To polish one’s English skills before that important business or study trip aborad, Boyum suggests reading more than one English daily every day. He says, “The Indian dailies have good quality English that is internationally acceptable.” So it is an excellent way to brush up your English skills Boyum also suggests reading American English press like Time, Newsweek, USA Today etc and listening to podcasts to get acquainted with the accent of the country of visit. “The website of National Public Radio has podcasts on dozens of subjects like science, education, travel, etc,- whatever your interest area may be,” he informs. So tune in whenever you can. Boyum also thinks that while interacting with a language group not familiar with your accent, one should remember to speak slowly and clearly.


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