Not speaking English does not mean I can’t write content in English
First, the context.
I have been making a living as a content writer for almost 20 years now. Till just a few years ago, 99% of my work came from English-speaking countries.
It’s only now that some businesses, and some people in India have begun to realize the importance of quality content writing for their websites and blogs.
Although they have realized, reluctantly, how important well-written content is, they still don’t believe in paying much to someone who “just writes”. Anyway, that’s a different topic.
Last week I got a call from someone. One of my old clients recommended me to this person. A lot of my work these days comes through references.
When someone calls me from India, especially from North India (I can make out by the accent), I insist on speaking in Hindi. If someone tells me that he or she is calling for Punjab, I start speaking in Punjabi.
A big part of India speaks in Hindi and almost everyone who lives in North India understands and speaks in Hindi (even those who pretend not knowing it).
Punjabi is my mother tongue. I’m completely comfortable talking in Hindi and Punjabi.
I’m fairly comfortable talking in English. There are many regions in India where people neither speak Hindi nor Punjabi. Due to political and regional politics, there are many regions where Hindi is detested.
Therefore, if I feel that the other person cannot speak in Hindi or Punjabi and I don’t know his or her language (Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, Kannada, Gujarati…the list goes on) and he or she can speak in English, I speak in English.
There are two reasons I avoid speaking in English to people from India, if I can.
Except for a couple of years here and there, I’ve mostly worked from home. At least, for the past 15 years, I have been working from home.
My wife is from a Hindi speaking state. I live with my wife and daughter. Among ourselves, we speak Hindi. All the time.
My own family is from Punjab. Hence, when I’m talking to my mother or one of my sisters, I speak in Punjabi.
Hence, these are the two languages I mostly use on daily basis.
I can speak English but neither my brain nor my facial muscles are used to spoken English.
So, how do I communicate with my clients from abroad?
Most of my communication happens through email or text chat.
When someone insist that we need to talk, I tell the other person in advance that although I can converse in English and I can understand the language, I may speak haltingly and with pauses because I don’t speak English all the time.
They have no problem with that. They know that I don’t speak English all the time. They are already convinced that I write well (that is why they want to talk to me).
Therefore, when someone calls from India and I can talk in Hindi or Punjabi, I see no reason why I shouldn’t.
Most of the people who are calling from India are on the same boat — of course there are some exceptions.
Even they don’t speak fluent English.
With all those aaaa’s and ummm’s I can make out that first they are forming the sentences in their own language and then they’re translating them into English and then they’re speaking them.
More effort is spent on speaking and less on talking about the task at hand.
When they call, 100%, the first sentence is in English.
I reply in Hindi.
Sometimes even the second sentence is in English.
I again respond in Hindi.
Then they begin to speak in a mishmash of English and Hindi.
Finally, we hit a common chord and the conversation continues in Hindi.
Now about the title of the post. The call last week.
So, this person called, referred by my older client. She said she was calling from NOIDA. From our place, NOIDA is just across the road. It is also called the NCR — National Capital Region, national capital being New Delhi.
By her accent I knew she was from North India and by her tone, I also knew that she was not used to speaking in English.
As usual, I started responding in Hindi.
She spoke in English, I responded in Hindi.
She again spoke in English and I again responded in Hindi.
Sometimes I don’t mind this. As long as they are able to understand me and as long as I can understand them, it hardly matters if they go on speaking in English and I speak in Hindi.
After exchanging a few sentences, she said that she would contact again and put the phone down.
The next day I received a WhatsApp message from the existing client (the person who had referred initially) saying that I shouldn’t insist on talking in Hindi because some people take it the wrong way.
I asked how?
He said that the person to whom he had recommended me felt that if I can’t speak in English, how can I write well?
“Has she seen my website? Has she seen how I write?” I asked.
“She hasn’t, yet, but I told her to do so,” the client replied.
She hasn’t yet contacted.
There is no relationship between speaking well and writing well
A writer is a writer and the language he or she chooses is a tool. It doesn’t matter what language he or she uses.
A person who sketches well, sketches well with charcoal, with pencil, with crayons and with everything that can be used to draw or sketch.
I write equally well in English and Hindi.
Yes, I have more practice writing in English because I’m writing in English all the time, but whenever I write in Hindi, I write like a writer and not like a person who simply knows how to write in Hindi.
It’s because I’m a writer.
Speaking is a different thing. I know the words. I know the phrases. I know the sentences. I’m used to writing them, not speaking them.
I’m not being arrogant about it.
I wish someday I can start practicing speaking in English.
I like the language. It gives me my livelihood. I’ve got some good friends who speak just in English. My favorite movies and TV shows are in English.
So, as a language, sure, I want to be able to speak well.
If right now I cannot, it doesn’t mean I cannot write. They are different things.
Am I going to stop talking to people in Hindi or Punjabi when they call from India?
I’ve observed that when I talk to them in Hindi or Punjabi, it puts them at ease. They are no longer constrained. They can speak as if they’re talking to someone they know. We become informal.
Information is exchanged in a better manner, in a fluent manner.
Even if she calls again, I’m going to speak in Hindi to her.
Or may be Punjabi, this time?