“Children in the lower classes can be taught rhymes, small phrases and simple sentences that help them get a feel of the language. Slowly, when they see the relevance of the language, writing skills can be imparted.”

At a time when good communication skills in English have become mandatory for several professions, teachers and industry professionals point to the disparity between speaking and writing skills that candidates possess.

Analysing the causes, V. Saraswathi, vice-president, English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELTAI), says it is high time schools changed their orientation to English language teaching. “Right from kindergarten, we emphasise the written form and start teaching the English alphabet.”

Children should be given time to learn a language at their own pace. Then, they are likely to start loving it. “Children in the lower classes can be taught rhymes, small phrases and simple sentences that help them get a feel of the language. Slowly, when they see the relevance of the language, writing skills can be imparted,” she says.

In linguistics, the stress is on the spoken form of a language. The written form is considered the natural progression to it and seen as a record of the spoken version.

“When young children are asked: ‘What is your name?’ we often find them replying, ‘My name is Saraswathi’ and so on. It is enough if they just say the name, but they are trained to deliver responses which sound artificial,” she points out.

Vijayalakshmi Raman, English teacher at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, Nungambakkam, agrees. “Among high school students, who come from English-speaking families, it is common to find usage of slang and jargon,” she notes.

Also, not all students who speak reasonably well have a corresponding level of writing skills, she adds. “Reading a lot and reading aloud will strengthen these skills,” she adds.

At a workshop that she conducted on English language teaching recently, she suggested that the participating teachers give students interesting exercises with scope to use formal, spoken English.

For those students who do not have sound training in either or both at school level, the challenge magnifies in college, teachers note.

V. Kadambari, professor of English, Ethiraj College says: “For many students, both their speaking and writing skills are poor. To address this in higher education is really challenging. Exposure alone will not help. It is about receiving the right training at the right time.”

K.V.Rajan, executive director, Veta, says several candidates who study English in school learn select answers just for the examination. “Once they are out, they cannot write or speak with confidence. They enrol for our courses and learn afresh.”

Shubha Sharma, corporate sales manager of a firm that facilitates placement, says recruiters often complain that even well-qualified candidates struggle when it comes to writing or speaking the language correctly. “The corrective measures have to take place at the foundational level, at school. Crash courses may not really help,” she adds.