Grandma's Tales

June 30, 2007

I am unable to speak well in English, ma’am!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 12:27 am

Here is another request.
Could you please help me? I am a graduate from DU. Ma’am, my communication skills in English are very poor. Whenever I speak I’m unable to frame good sentences. Ma’am, please tell me how I can improve my communication skills and how to frame good sentences.
 Dear friend,
                     Do read my earlier post on this. I have listed a number of things you can do to be able to speak well. Many of us are unbale to spaek well in English simply because we do not get to hear good English being spoken around us. The best and the easiest way is to listen to English being spoken.
Do you watch BBC? Listen to their newscasts? Do it regularly. As I said before, how does a child learn its first language? By making sense of the sounds around it, right?
Watch English movies. Especially the old ones. Don’t you like Alfred Hitchcock movies? In these movies, the characters speak slowly, enunciating the words. At the time when Hitchcock made his movies, it was considered necessary to make the words clear and intelligible to audiences.
Read, read, read! Read at least 100 pages of a modern book a day. If you like thrillers, read Mary Higgins Clark – my husband recommends her books highly.  You know what, you could read comics, have you read the Tintin series? I love them! Ask book-reading friends what they are reading. Then go to the library.
Become a member of an online book club. Here is one: Here you get to read chapters from a book every week.   It takes only 5 minutes to read the daily portion. It comes to you via e-mail. You get introduced to a whole lot of authors and you could choose the book you want to read in full! Read the blog Suzanne writes every day as introduction to the book segment.  
Read the papers. I read three newspapers daily and catch up with the day’s news online as well. You could log on to thehinduonnet, timesof india,, and whatever else that you like.
All in all, this is the formula. Surround yourself with the language. Constantly form sentences in your mind. Describe to yourself the things that you see, feel, smell, hear. When you write, try to be as accurate as possible. Why should you make spelling errors? Writing without mistakes is a habit. Cultivate it.
And finally, here is an offer. If you write a dialogue between A and B, each party saying five sentences to start with, I’ll be happy to check it for you.
All the best. Keep talking, reading and writing. Pickle yourself in English!



  1. May I add a couple of things.

    If nothing else — join Toastmasters ( This is a fabulous organization where one can improve on his/her communications and leadership skills. We have one Indian who joined our Toastmasters club and English was his 3rd language. He was very nervous and he was unable to complete his speech without some long (very long) pauses as he attempted to formulate his speech in his mind. But he was applauded and encouraged to continue and he was given a constructive evaluation which helped him in his next speech. He’s not quite there yet as an accomplished speaker, but he has improved tremendously in the past several weeks. Toastmasters can be a life altering experience.

    If Greeta’s talking about everyday conversation, you have given some great advice — in particular watching the older movies. I think that’s a great idea. In fact, many of my students are ESL (English as Second Language] and I will let them know about that. I teach communication skills in Southern Califonria. Reading is a great way to analyze the grammar, though I’m not so sure how helpful it is to improve oral communications.

    If Greeta needs to do a business type presentation, I would suggest to write her speech and practice it. Then go back and revise the speech being sure that the speech is organized, simple (do not use complicated words or phrases when speaking) and all unnecessary words are removed. (Also, writing, as you suggested, is valuable in learning English grammar.)

    Eventually, a speech should be known and spoken without the need to read. If Greeta needs to read the speech, then it should be written with a minimum of 16pt type and spaced 1 1/2 lines per line. This will one can move back a bit from the lectern and merely glance down at the notes to simulate a speech that is not being read.


    Comment by Frank S. Adamo — July 1, 2007 @ 6:50 am | Reply

  2. Hi Frank, thanks for stopping by. May be I should clarify the word “speech” in the Indian context. The guy here is referring to everyday situations where he has to interact, carry on conversations in English. Going on to the stage, standing behind a lectern and delivering a “speech” is a long way off for him and I don’t think he is even thinking about it now. What he needs now is the ability to put his thoughts across in English to his colleagues and people he meets in the course of his work and during leisure hours. In India the ability to speak English in a neutral accent comes with a lot of prestige and therefore engenders loads of self-esteem. “How do I do it?” is his question. Since we are not always surrounded by people who speak well (in normal conversations) our speaking skills have to be honed through reading. I know it is not the best way, but that is the reality of our situation.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — July 1, 2007 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  3. I would like to compliment the DU grad for showing an urge to learn, and also for accepting that she needs help. Most of us would run shy of this, especially on public fora such as this.
    I have studied most part of my schooling in Hindi medium. I felt the same problems. I decided that this has to go. I figured out that most conversation level communication does not take the perfect language route. I also learnt that making mistakes in speaking is alright, as long as there is an effort to reduce them(Believe in this today too!). Also, tough sounding words are do not make good communication.Also, once should not burden themselves with an adopted accent, speaking cleanly is more important than anything else.

    If I can give another piece of advice(adlib!) at this point, please form a gang of people at your difficulty level and you would find this working in your favour as you see each other improve. Believe me, we did this even while preparing for our MBA.

    Comment by Rajesh Kumar — July 3, 2007 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  4. Great suggestions, Rajesh! Thanks! Hope all those who read this blog benefit from it!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — July 5, 2007 @ 4:40 am | Reply

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