Learning English is not at all difficult. It is just like learning any other language. The point is we have to learn how to get rid of, first of all, the fear of speaking in English. Most of us, we hesitate. We don’t speak, primarily because we fear that people will laugh at us. We think “my pronunciation is not good”. We think “my grammar is awful, how can I speak in English, people will laugh at me”. But that’s not the point. Not knowing one’s mother tongue maybe a bit shameful, but not knowing a foreign language is certainly not. The point is if you can speak one sentence in English and you can communicate, that is the keyword to communicate. If you can communicate then I do not think that a few errors here and there in pronunciation or in grammar are reasons to stop you from speaking in English. Let us remember that English is a tool, a means for communication and just that, nothing more. You need to say something because you have something on your mind and you need to transmit it to somebody else. Now in order to do this English is one of the things that you are using. It’s a tool. It’s a tool that you are using, like Assamese, like Hindi, like any language like French or Spanish or Italian, any language in the world indeed. So what you need to do is concentrate on getting the idea across. That is all that you need to do.
A little while ago, I met a student, a young man called Arfan, and I had this bit of conversation which was recorded. I want you to listen, you will note that Arfan is speaking with a pronounced regional accent. But that doesn’t deter him from speaking to me and he is actually getting his idea across and that is what matters. The idea is when you are communicating it is not just the voice you are using. Communication is a total package, you are using body language for instance, the look in your eyes, the features of your face, the way you use your hands. Let me give you an example: I need to stand up for this. I’ll stand up and then you can see exactly how we can use body language and how this can actually send across more than what message is being transmitted orally. Look at posture for instance; does posture matter? Of course it does. If you stand like this, with your shoulders hunched, you send the wrong signal. Instead you stand erect, and you speak like this, you exude confidence. So when you are speaking in English, and let us say you are not really very confident, your posture itself can lend you that confidence. And remember, look at the hands, we are using our hands all the time when we are speaking to get the message across. Now hands have a language of their own. For instance, if you are talking to someone and you are doing this, that obviously means stay away, I don’t want your opinion, I don’t want to talk to you. Whereas when you do this, what happens? You are inviting their responses. Your listener is being invited to respond. So even your body has a language of its own and that total package that we have, what we are saying, the way we are using our hands, the way we are standing or sitting, everything goes on to make that total package that we call communication. So I think it is much more important to understand that we are not talking about pronunciation here, we are not talking grammar here, what we are talking about is communicating. I also talked to a group of students a little while ago and I think you could possibly listen to the interaction. You will notice that many of them have spoken in incorrect English; a couple of them have used the pronunciation which is far from that earlier concept that one used to have RP (Received Pronunciation) that is no longer valid. We no longer talk about RP, we talk about Englishes. The point is, if let us say, if American English is valid, if British English is valid, if Australian English is valid then the varieties of English that we speak in India are also valid. Therefore the regional accent, the mistakes in grammar or whatever that does not really signify. Mainly what you need to do is you need to understand, you need to tell yourself that I do not need to be obsessed with getting it just so. There is no just so, language changes with the times, language changes with the situation, language is something that is so very flexible, remember that. So get rid of that fear. The only thing that you need to do is to keep in mind that you have to have exposure. The more exposure, the better your language. That is, you read a lot, you listen to the language as much as you can, write as much as you can and most importantly speak it whenever you get a chance. Remember you need to speak Queen’s English only if you intend to be an English teacher because that is your profession or if you decide to be a broadcaster in the English language. These are the only two, shall I say, areas of activity where you need the so called chaste English; otherwise any kind of English will do as long as you are communicating. That is the most important thing you need to do.
A little while ago, I went to the library. There I met Deborishi and I spoke to him and I want you to see that clip. You will notice Deborishi is speaking an English which is quite unaccented and that is something that makes his speech very legible - easily understandable, but you will also parallely notice if you have listened carefully, you will notice that his pronunciation is far from perfect, his grammar is far from perfect, the reason is, when we are writing something it is recorded, people can go back to it over and over again, they can examine it , they can find out flaws and then they can point out the flaws to you. But when you are speaking, what is said is said and then it is finished, there is no recording. As a result what happens is we have a greater freedom, freedom from fear, the fear of being pointed out as a standing example of mistaken English or something silly of that sort. So we don’t need to fear that when we are speaking, alright? What we need to fear is the inability to communicate. We need to communicate, the inability to communicate will be something to fear but we don’t need to fear that as we’ve already seen, we have the words we need, simple words are good enough, we don’t always have to use very difficult words. So simple words are good enough, simple sentences are good enough, simple pronunciation, simple grammar, anything, just get the idea across, just do that and that I think is the ultimate game of communicating in whatever language, therefore it’s the same way communicated in the English language. That is what I mean.
Finally, let us some up on the priority areas here, first of all, get rid of the fear, get rid of your fear of English, it is just a language like any other language and it can be learnt, very simple. Secondly, I want you to understand that English is just a tool for communication. It is not something that is related to things like that say social status or anything of that sort, it merely has to do with communication; it is a tool for communication, nothing more nothing less. Keep that in mind. Number three, you will need to remember that we no longer talk about just one variety of English as the ideal, that we want this kind of English and only this kind of English will do, nothing else will do. The world has changed, we’ve gone global and now any variety of English that you use provided it is legible, it is certainly acceptable. We talk about Englishes nowadays; we don’t talk about only English. Therefore … do not have one target kind of pronunciation you know in your mind and try to achieve that if can do it fine, but it’s not necessary, all you have to do is speak. Just speak in the language, how you speak it doesn’t really matter that much. Remember also that when we talk about communication skills it’s not just what we say. Communication is the total package that includes the words that we say, it includes our facial expressions, it includes our gestures, it includes our postures, it includes things like eye contact, all these things come under one particular package that we call communication, remember that. And finally develop confidence in yourself. Begin by telling yourself that you can because if you say you can, then very soon you will find out that you truly can. Best of luck!