It’s hard to adopt a second language. In India, most of us have learned English later in our lives – and the transition from the mother tongue to the world’s tongue is never fully complete. India is known for it’s language diversity – and many languages mean many versions of English. Though the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI) gives a unique flavor to the English spoken in the sub-continent – yet in professional environments too much of this influence may leave a not-so-polished impression. Even the people who have learned English for many years tend to make these errors – mostly because
- This is how they’ve seen others speaking, hence adopted as is – now out of habit find it hard to change.
- They make a word to word translation from their mother-tongue, which skews the sentence structure.
I’ll highlight some very common errors that we all tend to make while speaking English – by correcting these through practice, one can speak fairly correctly. Most of these errors are generally habitual, so you’ll have to make a real effort watching what you speak.
Error 1: Use of sentences like “I am from Delhi only.” This is used especially during interviews – when asked about the place of residence.
This error happens due to literal translation from Hindi sentence “मैं दिल्ली से ही हूँ|” – here “ही” is made into “only” – which is an error. The unnecessary use of “only” is an error here. Saying, “I am from Delhi” should be sufficient. Or, if you want to emphasize the origin – you could say, “I’m originally from Delhi”.
Error 2: Another unnecessary insertion of the word “only” is in the sentences like “It’s like this only” which in hindi means “ये ऐसा ही है|”. Here too, a literal word-to-word translation causes the error.
This can be easily corrected by using a different sentence structure like “That’s how it is”.
Error 3: A very common error is over-usage of “ing” behind words. For example, in the sentence “I am living in Delhi”. Generally, “ing” is used to describe an continuous action like, “Ram is running” – which describes the action of “running” which is happening presently. In Hindi, it would be, “राम भाग रहा है|”. But if you want to merely state a fact, you’d use “Ram runs.” – which in Hindi means, “राम भागता है|”.
Similarly, when you want state the fact about your place of residence – you should use the sentence “I live in Delhi” – which in Hindi would mean “मैं दिल्ली में रहता हूँ”. Fun to know, that McDonald’s tagline “I’m lovin’ it” is also grammatically incorrect – but creative liberty allows them to do that.
Error 4: Another over-usage is of words like basically, actually etc. Though, it’s not incorrect grammatically, yet over-usage of such words while speaking sounds odd and shows that the speaker is not very fluent. Such words are used as fillers by speakers to borrow more time to finish their sentences.
Error 5: Coming back to the place of residence – I often hear a common usage when it is asked that “Where do you put up?” – This sentence is completely and utterly incorrect. This error has passed on as a “sophisticated” way of asking “Where do you stay?”. I don’t know who started this, but it is incorrect and should not be used. Either simply ask, “Where do you stay?” or “What’s you place of residence?”.
Error 6: Use of sentence “Myslelf, Neha.” while introducing ourselves is incorrect – and is a direct translation from Hindi sentence “मैं, नेहा”. Do you remember a similar usage in the movie ‘Namaste, London’ – when Katrina Kaif arrives to meet Riteish Deshmukh? She says “Myself, Jasmeet” – this is scriptwriter’s comical take on this very habit of Indians. The correct usage is simple, say “Hello, my name is Jasmeet”.
Error 7: Now while addressing people, a very common mistake is to us the title “Mr.” with the first name., for example, Mr. Rahul, Mr. Prakash etc – same is with Mrs. Seema. These titles should only be used with the last names or full names. Though an exception is with the title “Miss” which can be used with the first name.
So, while addressing a person named Gagan Kapoor, Mr. Kapoor or Mr. Gagan Kapoor is the correct usage, while Mr. Gagan is incorrect. Same with Madhuri Kapoor – Mrs Kapoor or Mrs Madhuri Kapoor is correct, whereas Mrs Madhuri is incorrect.
Error 8: Another very common error is associated with the word “having”. ‘Have’ could means several things in English language – possession, consumption or for grammatical usage. But ‘having’ is used only with consumption. For example, “I’m having my food.” here having means “eating”.
Yet, a very common error is in sentences like, “He’s having a car” or “She’s having a house.” … this usage is incorrect and means that the person is eating their house or car – which is absurd. The correct versions of above sentences would be “He has a car” and “She has a house” – or “I have a car.” Here ‘has’ and ‘have’ mean possession.
Error 9: While asking a question a common mistake is to just use the ‘questioning tone’ with a normal statement. Let me explain with an example, to ask “क्या ये आपका थैला है?” the correct usage is “Is this your bag?” – but most people just use “This is your bag?” in a questioning tone. Though, most times one is able to convey their meaning through the tone alone, but it looks unpolished. In Hindi, it’s acceptable to ask “तुम राहुल हो?” instead of “क्या तुम राहुल हो?” – but in English, it doesn’t work, and “Are you Rahul?” should be used instead of “You are Rahul?”
Error 10: The use of the American slang “bucks” for money. What everybody may find interesting that “bucks” mean “Dollars” – and it’s usage for other currencies is incorrect. When you friend tells you that the he bought that T-shirt for 800 bucks, he means to say Rs 800 and not 800 Dollars – which frankly would make the T-shirt really really expensive at Rs 48,000 … :) There’s no similar slang for Rupees in English – so there can’t be a replacement for “bucks” for INR.
Error 11: Usage of sentences like “I’m telling you na?” … which is a direct translation from the Hindi sentence “मैं तुझे कह रा हूँ ना?” – Some people modify this unnecessary “Na?” to “No?” – and make “I’m telling you, no?” which too is incorrect usage, and frankly annoying, because some people just use it way too much out of habit. A simple, “I’m telling you…” is enough.
Error 12: A common error is while we’re using a sentence similar to “Me & Ram are are going to the market”, or “Me, Ram and Rahul are going to the market” – both these sentences are wrong. The correct structure is the use “Ram & I …” or “Ram, Rahul & I …” So, to remember, all the names and then “I” – instead of “Me” and then all the names.
Error 13: There’s something called “being over-polite” in English, it’s called, being patronizing – and it’s not a positive trait. This happens when we pack way too many polite gesture in the same sentence in an attempt to be as polite as possible. It can easily be misconstrued as patronizing or even sarcastic sometimes.
For example, “If you don’t mind, can I please borrow your pen? Thank you so very much.” Now, some of you may be wondering that what’s wrong in being in over-polite, at least you’re not being rude right? Patronization appears insincere instead of polite and it make the other person feel uncomfortable with the unexpected attention. Instead, just use “Can I get your pen please?” or “Could I get your pen?”
Error 14: While politely asking people their name a common phrase is “What is your good name?” which is a direct translation from “आपका शुभ नाम क्या है?” Now, asking people their name upfront like “What is your name?” is considered impolite in both the cultures. But ‘good name’ doesn’t mean anything – so shouldn’t be used.
The right way of asking somebody’s name in a polite manner actually depends on the situation. You could introduce your self by saying, “Hi, my name is Neha, nice to meet you” and shake hands – and the other person is obligated to introduce themselves. Or, you could slightly less formal yet polite way would be to ask “Sorry, didn’t catch your name”.
Error 15: Expressions like “He’s my real brother” too is a direct translation from Hindi, “वो मेरा सगा भाई है”. In English “सगा” is not really needed. When you say that he’s my brother, you mean brother. Another expression is “Cousin Brother” or “Cousin Sister” – in English using the word cousin is enough, no need to add brother or sister with it. But if you’re referring to a friend as a brother or sister – there the expression could be that “he’s like my brother” or “she’s like my sister”.
This was all. Phew…
Correcting people’s language in India isn’t an easy task, wouldn’t suggest you to do it outside a classroom :). There’s a good chance that you may end up sounding like a snob. Especially with English – people tend to get a little touchy. You may have heard of the north-Indian expression – “अँग्रेज़ी नही आती क्या? हिन्दी में समझाऊं?” (Don’t you understand English? Should I explain in Hindi?) … this is supposed to be an insult. In my opinion, people should keep their pride aside and see the language like a language. An open attitude towards learning to speak the language of the world has the potential of connecting us better with the world and its culture. Good luck!