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Do You Need 'Good English' To Excel At Your Startup Job? English, despite objections of it being the 'coloniser's tongue' that continues to facilitate cultural imperialism in the post-colonial era and erase indigenous languages, has come to be the language of business in India and beyond

By Soumya Duggal

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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It is undeniable that over the years English has become the lingua franca of the global business fraternity and acquired strong associations of sophistication and cosmopolitan living. Naturally, Indian corporates have traditionally expected their employees, especially senior managers, to have a certain facility with the language to communicate well with colleagues and partners, international ones in particular.

The last decade has ushered in the Indian startup boom spanning new-age businesses across sectors such as commerce, finance, health, education and so on. With novelty inscribed in their very vision and operations from the get-go, do Indian startups have a fresh take on the expectation of a good command of English in existing and prospective employees?

Opinions on the subject vary.

According to Satish Khengre, the HR head of edtech unicorn Physics Wallah, recruitments are made basis the candidate's skills, knowledge and learning potential, of which linguistic prowess is but one part. "While language proficiency, including English, is important for effective communication, we also understand that it is not the sole determinant of a candidate's ability to perform their job duties successfully. We encourage candidates to showcase their technical expertise and relevant experience during the recruitment process, regardless of their level of English proficiency," he says.

The sentiment resonates with Akash Chauhan, the HR head of tea cafe chain Chaayos, who believes that the key to clear communication is simplicity of language and thought: "We look for articulation capability based on the need of the role and not necessarily command over a certain language. As long as you are able to clearly articulate and make other people in the conversation understand your point, we are good."

However, at a time when businesses and their workforces are facing a triad of digitalisation, automation and AI, many employers look to English-speaking skills as a basic tenet for hiring to ensure the long-term growth of both their employees as well as the organisation. "We look for candidates who are multi-skilled and can be deployed to various job roles. Since English is the global language of choice, it helps employees grow up the corporate ladder and become future leaders. However, many start-ups with loads of investor money are chasing speed of business and are more concerned about immediate productivity than long-term career building; they at times give a blind eye to this important skill (English proficiency)," states Shantanu Rooj, founder and CEO, TeamLease Edtech.

In our modern world today, the 'language question'—that is, which language should be the common denominator of all communication—permeates the workings of all institutions and systems, including schools and universities, business organisations, judicial processes and nation states at large. English, despite objections of it being the 'coloniser's tongue' that continues to facilitate cultural imperialism in the post-colonial era and erase indigenous languages, has come to be a shared resource among diverse peoples claiming it as their own—the variant of 'Indian English' being a key example. Perhaps the conundrum has no singular right answer; perhaps it can only be settled in favour of a pervasive attitude of appreciating heterogeneity wherever possible.

"We actively recruit and welcome employees from all linguistic backgrounds and do not make 'good English' a mandate for all profiles for recruitment. Linguistic diversity is a strength that can help us better understand and serve our customers. Our success depends on the diverse perspectives and experiences of our employees, especially from marginalised communities, and we work hard to create a culture of inclusion and respect," says Supriya Malik, the founder of organic skincare brand Indulgeo Essentials.

It appears that large conglomerates are making similar conclusions about the need for linguistic inclusivity in the workplace as their presence around the world deepens and the scope of their interactions grows beyond English speakers. Paul Lee, the managing director of the Indian arm of Korean cosmetics giant Amorepacific, claims to have experienced firsthand the good fortune of meeting colleagues who appreciated his distinct cultural background and even helped him navigate a foreign culture, including its pool of diverse languages, when he first arrived in India.

"Breaking down language barriers is not just about ensuring effective communication. It's also about creating a sense of community and fostering innovation and creativity. When employees feel comfortable expressing themselves in their native language, they are more likely to share their ideas and collaborate with others, which can lead to better business outcomes," he shares from the experience.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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