Sunday, July 22, 2007

Language woes

My new firm seems to take its Indian-ness rather too seriously! While I love Indian languages (and all languages in general), this whole closed-clan, "us-them" syndrome is beginning to annoy me like the dickens. It's bad enough when we're party to it at social occasions, but now I realize it has crept into the boardroom as well.

This must have been around for ages, but I was lucky to have escaped it all these years, at my previous workplace.

Here, I've been shocked to note that no-one thinks twice before starting off in their own languages even during business meetings and technical discussions. They just don't seem to care that there are participants who are completely out of the loop just because they don't speak the same regional language. This also seems to subtly reinforce the whole partisan attitude that most of us suffer from.
There's so much hypocrisy involved here; on the one hand, they like to brand themselves as multi-cultural, global organizations with an Indian core, on the other hand, they do not seem to possess that united Indian core, when they start off in their personal languages.
I even noticed this amongst some of the top executives, at business meetings with international clients!
Of course, it's not a purely Indian problem.. of course we know that the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, French, Polish, Russian and many other countries do it too. BUT the key difference is that every Frenchman knows French, every Russian knows Russian, and so on, but in India, every Indian doesn't know Kannada, or Marathi or whatever.
There's a reason why we have an official language, even if it's colonial and non-Indian.
And in any case, the single biggest factor for India being the IT hub and all of that is Indian proficiency in English, there's no getting away from that.
So on the one hand, we tout ourselves as global people with excellent English, and at the same time, we don't bother to conform to it at our own meetings and discussions.

I really wonder why there's so much clannishness really? Does it arise out of a deep-rooted feeling of insecurity somehow?
Are we so happy being big fish in small ponds, that we'd rather exclude everyone who'd bring in enough diversity to transform that pond into an ocean?
Are we so insecure that we need to resort to such small-minded techniques to maintain our exclusivity or superiority, sacrificing basic etiquette on the altar of a warped sense of unity?

I'm truly proud of our diverse culture and our languages, and I'm really glad that there are enough people left in this country to care about their roots and their own particular cultures, so that our rich heritage doesn't die out.
But I wish we'd also be open-minded enough about other cultures, undertand the concept of India as a nation (no North-South divide, no regional biases), and develop a sense of inclusion - especially on the professional front.

And I wouldn't have to smile vaguely or tune out of workplace conversations ever again.


Abhinav Goyal said...

It is a problem. Thats true.

I am interested in finding out if you have tried an approach where you politely pointed this out to the "culprits"? If so, did the people agree to do so?

In addition, where there gentle reminders wherein you reminded people of the need to stick to English as the medium of choice in the corporate setting?

Empress of Blandings said...

I did. Quite a few times. Some of them apologise, but later, they slip into their own languages again. And worse, some of them actually reply with statements like ,"You're in *our* state. You should learn our language!" Pity.

Anonymous said...

Most of the time the people who talk in their native language in the office are not very fluent in English. They are good at written English. But when it comes to conversing in English, they lack something(which they will never admit). When I started my career I never felt odd if someone speaks in Hindi or any other language during meetings. But now after getting some experience and after improving my English, I frown upon people who talk in their native language. ;-)
I think things may change if the company gives 'Spoken English' classes to all the employees. It just needs some practice to talk in English!

Empress of Blandings said...

Hey Anonymous,
good point. However, the people I referred to are those who have pretty good English, they interact on a continual basis with customers, they speak quite well.
It's essential for a workplace to have a common language of communication. And in any case, there's no excuse for the sort of jingoistic comments I hear.. "You should learn OUR language since you're working in this city."

Vea said...

Good words.

Empress of Blandings said...

Vea: Thank you!