September 30, 2005

Oil, Oil, We Say...

It was a year before when my manager told me, during my appraisal meeting, that I have to improve my oral communication skills. And yesterday my new manager in my new company gave the first positive feedback as "you have got good written and oral communication skills". If you are wondering what I have done within one year to improve my English, I would have to admit that I have not done anything except that I was more conscious about my Mallu accent. In the appraisal meeting with my first manager in my first company, though there were many things that I had disagreed regarding his feedback, some of them which ultimately lead to me quitting the company later, this one about my bad oral communication was one I whole heartedly agreed. (Even he had opined that I was good in written, so no issues there)

Till I left Kerala for my first job in Chennai, my notion was that Mallus had the best accent in the world. The widespread belief in Kerala that Malayalam is the most difficult language to speak when compared to other languages and thus Mallus can easily speak any language in the world made me proud for being a Mallu and for knowing Malayalam. In fact I still find this statement true, but with an exception, Mallus can speak any language easily but with a Mallu accent.

My pride for being both a Mallu and a linguist was shattered soon after I came to Chennai. My training batch in my new company consisted of three Mallus, all from my college, and others from Tamil Nadu. We were trained on many subjects, being from non-computer background and these classes were handled by different people. A self introduction was a usual routine in these classes. I realised that there is something wrong with how we Mallus introduced that we are from College of Engineering Trivandrum, because our fellow Tamilians started repeating this as if we were singing some song or something. But I could not really make out what is wrong? Many of our seniors had joined this company earlier, and once we did the intro, some of these trainers would say "Ya, I guessed it by the time you said "College"!" What??

The real problem became clear when we had our Personal Development Training towards end of our whole training schedule. This was handled by a lady who was a consultant and had much experience in the field. Part of the training class was about accent, and she began to discuss about typical Indian accents starting from north India. I did agree with her and did laugh with others when she told how people in north won't say "Z" in zero and all that. Atlast, when she came to Mallus I must admit I was surprised, more so when other students were laughing as if this was the funniest of them all. When she told Mallus pronounce "O" as "Oo", I really did not get it! Then she told about a previous incident when she was teaching the same stuff for the managers of a reputed company in Chennai. And when she said Mallus pronounce "O" in Oil etc wrong, one fellow Mallu in the audience asked angrily "What Madam, we say Ooil, Ooil...What is the problem?” I was pacified when she admitted that Chennaites are worse as they pronounce it as aail.

I have been trying for the past one year to get rid of my Mallu accent for English, which I think has become successful. But I must admit, after two years of living outside Kerala and after getting all these positive feedbacks about my communication in English being good, I am still afraid when I pronounce "O". Am I saying it right?

No comments: