Clear English for India

Seeking an End to "Indlish"

DO INDIANS equate "impressive" English with incomprehensible English? Many unfortunately do, according to Jyoti Sanyal, author of Indlish—The Book for Every English-Speaking Indian.

Promoted as the first plain-English style guide for Indian writers, it is now available from Viva Books in New Delhi, price 295 rupees. 394 pages, paperback. ISBN: 81-309-0281-8.

Indlish: The Book for Every English-Speaking Indian

As the blurb explains:

Clumsy Victorian English hangs like a dead albatross around each educated Indian's neck. Our feudal culture frowns on directness of expression. Indian English is often no more than an Indian language in disguise. With this funny, quirky book Jyoti Sanyal launches an all-out war against bad English and offers modern-day antidotes to archaic Indlish.

Martin Cutts of the Plain Language Commission, who edited the book and wrote the foreword, says this about the author:

After 30 years with The Statesman, where even his friends thought him hot-headed, choleric and impatient, Jyoti Sanyal became Dean at Asian College of Journalism in Bangalore in 1997. Remembered as a hound in class and a lamb outside it by the trainees he inspired with his love of both story-telling and expressive language, Sanyal now devotes himself to Clear English India, which encourages people to use good contemporary English instead of Raj-day commercialese.

The book is filled with abundant examples of Indian officialese, which Sanyal gleefully rips apart. It is based on articles first published in the "Language" column of The Statesman, in Calcutta, from 1999 to 2000.

For another review of the book, see "A Language in Disguise?"

A Nation's Crisis

The Problem of High School Dropouts

AT first sight, the United States does well in education. Fourth-grade students do better than their international counterparts, and 37 percent of its 18-to-20-year-olds go through higher education—one of the highest percentages in industrialized countries.

Universities in the U.S. are recognized as the best in the world, and they should be. The country spends 1.4 percent of its GPD on higher education, twice that of Britain and 40% more than the 1.0 percent spent by France and Germany.

One-Third of a Nation

TIME:  Dropout Nation
On 9 April 2006, TIME ran a cover story on the U.S. dropout problem.

But when we take a closer look, the success is not even. By the 12th grade, American students fall behind their international peers, especially in mathematics and science. A full third who enter high school fail to graduate.

In Germany, 80 percent of dropouts go on to receive either vocational training or a degree, and 99 percent receive formal postsecondary training or education. In the U.S., however, 46 percent of dropouts gain no certificate or degree. A remarkable 31 percent of dropouts receive no formal training or education after leaving school.

A 2005 report from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) warns that little is being done to address rising dropout rates, declining earnings for dropouts in the job market, and reduced public investments in effective second-chance efforts.

The report issued by the ETS, entitled One-Third of a Nation: Rising Dropout Rates and Declining Opportunities, tracks dwindling high school completion rates throughout the 1990s, which persist today.

The report also found clear evidence that more students are dropping out earlier, between ninth and 10th grades. The finding of too few counselors and a steep decline in federal investment (from about $15 billion in the late 1970s to about $3 billion today) combine to create a dark outlook.

"This is a story of losing ground," writes author Paul Barton. "At the same time that the dropout rate is increasing and out-of-school education and training opportunities are dwindling, the economic status of young dropouts has been in a free fall since the late 1970s. Employment and earnings prospects have declined and even for those who work full time, earnings have dropped steadily to averages around the poverty line for a family with children."

Findings from the study include:

  1. From 1990 to 2000, the high school completion rate declined in all but seven states. In 10 states, it declined by 8 percentage points or more.
  2. In high school completion rates, the United States has now slipped to 10th place in the world.
  3. On average, only one certified counselor is available for each 500 students in all schools, and one counselor to 285 students in high schools. And they have many assignments that leave little time to spend with students at risk of dropping out. The ratio is higher for minority students.
  4. In 1971, male dropouts, working full time, earned $35,087 (in 2002 dollars), falling to $23,903 in 2002, a decline in earnings of 35 percent. Earnings for female dropouts fell from $19,888 to $17,114.

In an effort to help address the problem, Barton identifies successful programs that have a proven record of increasing student retention. They include the Talent Development High School, the Communities In Schools program, Maryland's Tomorrow, and The Quantum Opportunities Program. Each is detailed in the report, along with the growing use of alternative schools.

And, while second-chance opportunities have diminished, Barton notes that such programs as the Job Corps, YouthBuild USA, the Center for Employment Training, and the Youth Corps, have all been effective at addressing the problem.

Dropouts: A Family Literacy Problem

A family-literacy program: the key to high school success.

And yet, since the 1980s, experts have recognized that the high school dropout problem is a literacy problem. Students enter high school reading very poorly. The problem goes back to grammar school and further, to the family. As children, they began school lacking the verbal skills and knowledge necessary to learn how to read and write.

One of the best predictors of high-school success is the reading habits of the parents. That is why the U.S. Federal Government in 1988 began funding family-centered education programs. They improve the reading and writing skills of parents and help them become full partners in the education of their children. In doing that, they also help children reach their full potential as learners.

Even though they are highly effective, family literacy programs such as Even Start are currently facing budget cuts.

Universal Preschool

Experts and teachers also agree that a preschool experience or its first cousin—high quality, educationally-oriented child care—is another effective strategy for improving later school performance.

The best studies strongly suggest that children benefit greatly from an early learning experience. High-quality programs have produced short-term gains in cognitive functioning and longer-term gains in school achievement and social adjustment.

The most effective programs create savings to the government of $13,000 to $19,000 per child above the cost of the pre-school programs themselves. The best results come from programs that begin early, include children from the most disadvantaged homes, and provide intensive education and other services over a lengthy period.

Economist Elizabeth V. Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes:

The keys to academic success for disadvantaged children may not be smaller class sizes, better-prepared teachers, tougher standards, more accountability, or greater choice—laudable as these goals may be. They may instead hinge on a single factor: preschool.

Most support for universal preschool currently comes from the state and local level. Governor Schwarzenegger, for example, recently signed into law a $100 million program expanding preschool in California. All such efforts are expected to have a positive effect on high school success.

Thomas Paine

America's Rhetorical Genius

A new book by Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, shows why Paine's role as one of America's Founding Fathers is often neglected. He was not only a radical, he was a working-class radical. His blunt attacks on the rich and powerful and organized religion made many Americans feel uncomfortable.

There is no question, however, about the critical role he played in the American Revolution. Before the war, everyone read his pamphlet entitled Common Sense. It turned the loyalty of American merchants and farmers against the British monarchy and towards independence.

During the war, in plain, 9th-grade English he uplifted the spirits of citizens and soldiers in a series of 13 tracts called The Crisis. The first of these was published at the war's lowest point, in December 1776. General Washington had this article read to his troops at Valley Forge (See below). At every new development, The Crisis would re-define the issues for his compatriots and renew their energies.

After the War of Independence, Paine returned to his native England, where he was tried and convicted for attacking the monarchy in The Rights of Man. In this work, he claimed that English law held few liberties for the ordinary person. He campaigned not only against slavery but also for an international peace organization, health insurance, old-age pensions, and a graduated income tax.

In The Age of Reason, written in 1796, he came out against organized religion. This caused many of his compatriots in America to brand him as an atheist. In fact, he was a deist, a religion he shared with nearly all the Founding Fathers.

Whatever one thinks about Paine as a prophet of democracy, he was a rhetorical genius. His mastery of plain language moved a nation to action—and to victory.

Words of Victory

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

—Thomas Paine in The Crisis, December 1776

Thomas Paine Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Portrait by Stuart Ramson
The Associated Press

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Plain Language in the News

Program to study medical jargon:

We are suffering acronym overload:

Frustrated by legal jargon?

Firms blinded by technical jargon:

New style checker for UNIX-based systems:

How American business is losing the war of words:

Plain language for public-safety responders:

Course for bilingual medical interpreters:

Literacy program helps patients:

Family literacy program a boon to parents: