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Native Eigo-juku: Common Mistakes by Indian Speakers of English

Filed on: May 14, 2008 | Written by | 7 comments

Common Mistakes by Indian Speakers of English

We'll look at mistakes in both spoken and written English. Let's first start with written English.

Written English Mistakes

Overuse of the -ing form: Mistakes of this kind occur in writing and speech. There is a tendency to overuse the -ing form of the verb. For instance, in response to questions such as "Where do you work," speakers who are not fluent in English will write "I am working with an international law firm." Although the response is grammatically perfect, it may sound a tad unnatural to the native ear. A more appropriate answer would be "I work with an international law firm." Here's another example:

Incorrect: I am not knowing the password to the system; how can I access it?

Correct: I don't know the password to the system; how can I access it?

Overuse of the -ing form of the verb becomes a very grave issue in cases like the above. This is because some verbs like know, have, and hear are not commonly used in the -ing form. And such sentences, like the one in incorrect example, are grammatically incorrect.

Spoken English Mistakes

Incorrect use of reflexive pronouns: Many Indians tend use reflexive pronouns, especially myself, incorrectly. Myself can be used in a sentence only if the pronoun I has been used earlier, e.g., I built this house myself. However, a common mistake that people make is using myself without the I.

Incorrect: Myself, Rahul Verma; this is my colleague, Sheena.

Correct: I am Rahul Verma; this is my colleague, Sheena.

Using myself in place of I is mistakenly thought of as formal, though it is grammatically incorrect.

Misplaced stresses: There are no classic pronunciation mistakes that Indians make. However, sometimes, the influences of regional languages do creep into spoken English. For instance, people who speak Malayalam, a language spoken in southern India, tend to place additional emphasis on the vowels in words like sorry and water. Some pronounce it as sow-ree and waater. Further, Indians who speak Bengali tend to use a bh sound for words that begin with v, e.g., "bhery good" instead of "very good."


[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

Mallika says:
On November 4th, 2010

Freya and Veena,

I agree with Veena on this because I have come across many Indians who use such constructions. I could completely see where Veena is coming from. It seemed to me that it was written in good faith and was not intended towards any ethnicity. On a separate note, lately I have heard a lot about Indians distinctly mixing up pronounciations for words starting with W and V - food for thought!

Editage says:
On August 10th, 2010

@Maya: We are glad you found the article useful! There are no plans at the moment to write about how different communities, in India or abroad, speak or write English. However, we have noted your comment and might return to this theme at a later date.

Anonymous says:
On August 8th, 2010

Veena, thanks. Yur article was useful. It makes it easier for me to understand these two communities accents. How about the other major Indian communities We do talk and laugh at their accents - why not make them aware or gain us a possibility to understand or correct them - do share more examples and corrections. Maya

Editage says:
On March 30th, 2010

Thank you for your frank comment! It is extremely well-written. Maybe that’s the reason it was difficult for you to relate to the errors commonly made by Indian speakers of English.

First, we owe you (and others who might be offended by the write-up) an apology for not clarifying that the write-up was about generalizations. As you rightly pointed out, we are generalizing. Not every Indian will say, “I was not knowing the password to the system.” However, there are a number of people who do use such constructions.

I’m sorry if you felt we presented a skewed perspective to a global audience. Although we Indians have learned the language well, many of us haven’t mastered it yet. There is some influence of our native languages in the way we express ourselves in English. Thus, there is always scope for editing.

This article, specifically, was about errors made by Indians in English. Since we are an editing company, we have a compulsive urge to correct errors. We noticed a pattern of errors commonly made by Indian speakers and thought we’d share it.

We, however, admit that the last paragraph may be misconstrued as mockery. This was purely unintentional. Everybody has an accent. We were just acquainting you with some of ours.

Freya says:
On February 18th, 2010


When you're writing a piece such as this - it's difficult to resist the temptation to discuss stereotypes and make generalizations. Sadly, it seems you weren't even trying.

The " I am not knowing" -- is an awful example for the point you're trying to make. It seems like the result of an uninformed and unimaginative researcher.

Also the generalisations that you make, choosing to point out certain ethnicities in India in particular - again reek of ignorance.
I can only imagine that you were tired and overworked at the time of writing and hence should not be held accountable.

Lamentable to think that is the view you would like to present to a global audience regarding your countrymen and their lack of proficiency in the English language. Fortunately, your own ignorance in the use of such antiquated examples instead of more commonly made mistakes and your offensive prejudice to certain regional languages in India are the only major impressions left on the reader.

I sincerely hope you're slightly more rational the next time around and hence spare me the worry that I may have chosen the wrong agency.

While writing mainly to an audience possibly unaware of the

Bharat says:
On November 13th, 2008

Good article

Rajeev says:
On June 21st, 2008

Nice article Veena. Thanks.


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