Not much is being done in colleges and universities to improve the English communication skills of students. A recent survey comes as a wake-up call.

“I can’t able to tell you.” This might just be one instance of a grammatically wrong sentence that often is a part of everyday conversations but it is just the tip of the iceberg as far as communication in business rooms is concerned.

According to the survey by employability measurement company Aspiring Minds, the English learning level among engineering graduates is very poor in India. The survey which analysed the English skills of over 55,000 aspiring engineers in 250 different engineering colleges, said “around 36 per cent of engineering graduates would be unable to read official reports and transcripts and derive information out of them, even when the information is explicitly stated.”

“The worse of it often comes out in mails — the most important medium of communication in corporate offices,” says R. Rajaram, HR head of an IT major. He explains, “They write incomplete sentences; their punctuation is non-existent and grammar very poor. This is why most companies have readymade templates with sentences, and employees just have to choose what they have to say.”

While Tamil Nadu has an excellent recruitment record with the State supplying the largest number of engineers, surveys on employability have cast the State in a poor light. A few months ago, Aspiring Minds also came out with a survey that said Tamil Nadu figured the lowest on the employability index. “This is mainly because they are not able to converse in English. Most of them are not confident of themselves,” the study concluded.

“Companies take communication very seriously and there are frequent training sessions for them. But all of that is focussed on their speaking skills. There is little done to improve their vocabulary or grammar,” says a senior HR Official.

One reason for the problem is the limited use of English in colleges though the language is the medium of instruction. “More than 70 per cent of the class is from rural areas and they understand nothing when taught in English. Once students get the concept and learn to communicate it in Tamil, English will definitely follow,” says G. Sathyamurthy, mechanical engineering professor, Anna University, explaining why the language is not used much in classrooms.

Colleges need to do their bit to inculcate an interest in the language among students but it must not just be for the sake of ensuring placements, says R. Prabha, who trains students on communication skills. “Every one thinks business English is sufficient to get a job and sustain it. But that way, one does not get a hang of conversational English, which is very important as you climb up the ladder. “As a result, students will be able to explain technical points but are at a loss when it comes to interacting and conversing comfortably with others,” she adds.

For instance, R. Gnanam, who studied computer science at Anna University and graduated last year, is yet to find a job. “I have an 8.7 CGPA but I get rejected by every company. English is a must to get into companies,” he points out. Those like R. Jayaprakash, who works as a senior software engineer, add that one cannot take it easy even after entering a company. “We are expected to constantly brush up our communication abilities. We need to network, and present demonstrations, send regular mails and make sure people understand what we are saying and vice-versa.”

There is dire lack of awareness of the issue. For instance, most bulletin boards are insensitive to the topic and common mistakes in conversation are at best a source of humour. “Companies want the best communicators who can work in tandem with clients and there is no other way to that without knowing to speak English,” says Jayaprakash.

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010