Why Malayalees cut a sorry figure when they speak English
Mother tongue pull is evident when Malayalees open their mouth to speak English. In the context of Indian English also, ‘Mallu speak’ stands out. Sadly the accent of Mallus often verge on the ridiculous. Why is it so? When an average educated Tamilian speaks English, even though the pronunciation or diction is nowhere near perfection, it does not sound so funny or amateurish. The lack of confidence written large on Mallu English is absent in the English of most other people in India who use English as a second language. What are the reasons and what are the remedies?
Let us face it. Malayalam is a less musical language than most other languages.
English is a highly musical language. Spoken English is almost music. There is intonation, stressed and unstressed sounds, rhythm and tonal variations. Malayalam is spoken in a rather flat way. Except in some dialect variations, Malayalam is spoken in mono tone. There is no rhythmical intonation in Malayalam. It is surprising how the music industry thrives in Malayalam. But if you notice the South Indian classical music tradition you will have a hard time finding Kirtanas and other classical compositions written in Malayalam. The huge difference in oral rendition poses a problem for Keralites in making their English sound natural.
The solution to this difficult problem is to retrain the senses. Listening to good English and practicing the intonation loudly are the two important drills to follow.
Certain sounds in Malayalam are not harmonious with English sounds.
Many Malayalam sounds are pronounced differently in English, but the mother tongue pull makes Malayaless pronounce sounds similar to these incorrectly. The complex sounds like 'bla' 'kka' etc aggravate the problem
Double consonants pronounced with double force in Malayalam
There are a large number of double consonants in Malayalam that are pronounced with a ‘double stress’ in Malayalam. This makes them pronounce English words in the similar way when they come across doubling of letters. For instance, the word ‘pulling’ has two l’s and it is pronounced by Keralites with a sound that is not present in English. In English we do not stress a syllable just because of the doubling of a letter.
Malayalam has more sounds than English but it does not have all the English sounds.
In fact Malayalam has the largest number of letters among Indian languages. Because of its Sanskrit and Tamil origins Malayalam alphabet can represent most of the sounds in Indian languages. In spite of the Indo European family bonds Malayalam does not have all the sounds in English. Sounds like ‘th’ and ‘r’ are examples.
Special training in the pronunciation of these sounds is necessary for the correctness of spoken language.
Mostly English learning is dependent on visual resources.
Most Malayallees who learn English as a second language use more visual resources than auditory. Text based learning is followed here to the exclusion of the audio-visual. This is a wrong approach for learning a new language the natural way. Schools in Kerala even after the drastic changes in curricular approaches, give more importance to reading and writing than the fundamental skills of listening and speaking. Text dependence is yet to be reduced.
Most Malayalees when they speak English, first think in Malayalam and then translate it into English. Speaking is not an automatic process for them. It takes a lot of time for sentences to arrive in good shape. The brain also gets confused in the process. The sentence structure in Malayalam is basically different from that of English. So the translation method prompts the speaker to open the sentence at the wrong place. For example the Subject Verb Object order in English demands a different thinking from the Subject Object Verb order in Malayalam. The speaker begins a sentence but he is often unable to finish it. This creates an embarrassing situation both for the speaker and the listener. The only solution to this problem is to practice thinking in English.
Certain words even though they appear correct grammatically, syntactically and meaning wise, are not used together in English. An academic study of grammar will not familiarize an English speaker with this subtle feature of language. Experience in listening to natural speech is the only way in which you can avoid collocation errors.
Schools, colleges and even spoken English courses in Kerala use most of their English teaching time in teaching grammar. Your knowledge of grammar may be a serious impediment to your fluency. To learn English naturally and effortlessly, it is better not to learn grammar. Some tourist guides and shopkeepers speak confident English that is impossible for some ‘learned people’ just because their learning of grammar comes in the way.
Training the tongue
Even if English is formed perfectly in one’s mind, when it comes to utterance most Malayalees fumble. This is because their speech organs are not trained in producing the English sounds, words and sentences. This barrier can easily overcome by loud reading or talking to oneself aloud.
Opportunity to practice English
Ordinary Malayalees do not have opportunities to practice their English conversations in domestic or office situations. Speaking more is the only way to improve spoken skills. Such opportunities need to be created consciously.
Where the schools go wrong
Schools in Kerala go wrong in two areas. The teachers training programme for Aided and Government schools is a farce in Kerala. In the unaided sector there is no system to monitor or improve the skills of the teacher. Teachers who are incompetent in speaking will not be able to help students improve their communicative capability. The second aspect relates to the superficial implementation of group activities in classrooms. Based on educational theories that state that knowledge is a social construction, group activities were introduced in the curriculum. But in order to benefit from such group activities, at least a few of the students must have language proficiency. If ten ignoramuses sit together for a group activity, however hard they try, no knowledge (here it is skill) is created or developed.
Allwin Joy on September 09, 2015:
You are not the first person to stoop this low, making fun of accents. Even in Europe and the Americas, there are accent vultures mocking accents from different parts of the world. Russians, Italians, French, they all speak English in the so called "funny" accent, but they never give a fuck, as they are proud of their own language and culture.
The reason why some Indians like laughing at others' accents in English is just the lack of respect or pride in the diversity of their own country. Even after 68 years after the formation of the Union of India, our people are yet to learn how to respect each other and proud of everything about us, be it culture, language, accents, religions, etc. The very fact that this hub was written stands testimony to the fact that there exists a huge casteist, lingual and cultural barrier between people of India. Indians are the worst racists on the face of earth. So bad that, the American rednecks are saints in comparison.
James on July 13, 2015:
Okay, they might have accents, but who cares!!! I have a neighbor with a Malayalam family which has an accent, and I can understand them just fine. Sometimes they teach me Malayalam, which shows their kindness. I am from Brazil and I still have a little bit of a Brazilian accent, but people understand me just like any other American because I grammar improved dramatically since I came to the US. Accents are unique and they shouldn't be made fun of.
Arun Asokan on May 18, 2015:
hmmm...as someone rightly said above, every region has an accent. The Spanish, Polish, even American accents can be laughed upon by the original English speakers but they don't. Its just the malayalis who learn another accent who look down upon their brethren as outcasts because suddenly I am too good to be one among them.
Anonymous on February 14, 2015:
I deeply regret for the author's incongruity, especially for the section : "Training the tongue". I wonder if any other person who has a different mother tongue wil be able to pronounce all the letters perfectly like a mallu!
They might be wrong with certain usages. But tongue twisting letters are a mallu's favourite. And malayalam is one of the few languages with varying ranges of hymn and tone, it is not mono-tone. I wonder how a person can publish a writeup on malayalam without even knowing the basics of malayalam.
A malayalee on February 14, 2015:
I agree with the bad english spoken by an average malayalee. such as combound for compound , documendary for documentary !
But pls give an insight to the english spoken by ppl from other regions! If you have a very vague idea, you ll understand the pathetic condition of the schools over there too. I have seen celebrities pronouncing ordinary as aardinary! And this list goes on..quite lonong!
And the funniest part is when a person from other region teases a mallu for pronouncing choice as choice , but not as chaaice or chaisu !!
I have heard a Tamilian/Telugu/Bengali/Punjabi/Odissi speaking English relating it to their own linguistic style!
Understand that each of the linguistic states in India have their own version of English, the reason why a malayalee is the one who s always criticized is because of his/her poor self-confidence.
Toms on October 28, 2014:
@ Mally Villager: I didn't talk about accent. Accent is ok. But i'm truly against the way some words are taught with bad pronunciation in anaverage school in Kerala.
Sree on June 25, 2014:
speaking with an accent is not murdering a language, even in the UK there are over 40 different accents. check out this youtube video watch?v=Gu9q_vedO7w some of them are heavily accented than how English is spoken by malayalees.
Mallu Villager on May 16, 2014:
@Toms: True - I speak english with a strong mallu accent - so what?
Enlighten me on what I am losing out by my mallu accent - I live a normal life, have a great family, have a decent job, and earn good money from my hard work. After a while I will die....Enlighten on what I am missing due to my mallu english - Now you see my point.
Coming back to my initial comment - there are bigger things in life than cribbing about some silly accents. Think it over.
mallu on May 05, 2014:
Everybody has their mother tongue influence while speaking English.... Tamilians pronounce "hotel" as "haatal"....
Most of the north Indians cannot pronounce "zha"... a mall can pronounce anything.... but. .. can any other place try to pronounce or malayalam 100%? Shreya goshall couldn't do it. .... :D....
Toms on May 03, 2014:
Toms on May 02, 2014:
To all those who dislike this article and what I have mentioned too (I know) are actually who speak bad pronunciation themselves and hesitate to better their pronunciation coz they are all "frogs in a rotten well"!!!
shekhar on March 30, 2014:
Who ever has written it doesn't knw a shit...every region has there own way of speaking..Im sure most keralite's can speak better English than rest of India.I've been to Kerala and knws the difference..Kindly do proper research before posting such article...Are you confident that you can speak English without any flaws ??LOL
pp on March 22, 2014:
Muruganandham on March 12, 2014:
The article exposes the absurdity of the author.
Most of the things mentioned here will be good for any Indian.
But here we find the Mallus have been singled out.
In my home state TN, I come across several Tamils using the same kind of pronunciation. There is nothing wrong in that.
We are not born to King George & Queen Victoria.
preston on February 28, 2014:
nice article...heres something i wrote
Mallu Villager on January 31, 2014:
Nice interesting column. All what is written makes sense to me; sadly all this holds only if you feel, speaking English without any mother tongue influence is the benchmark for being considered to be literate, cultured, educated etc..I am sure no educated British would be able to speak a sentence in any Indian language without making us smile (not for the right reasons). So what if I can't speak good english or the way I pronounce gives away my nationality / Statehood.
All the people who speak and don't speak foreign languages the way their natives do - learn to think beyond all this new world gimmicks; humans have a lot of capabilities / potential for leading good lives, don't let all these articles dampen your spirit.
@spicyenglish: Well done! you have brought out something we never knew - would you be kind enough to add a column for helping the less fortunate people better their english speaking skills (I assume that was the point of this column rather than just what you managed to write up above).
Regards, Mallu Villager.
ajeshvpd on January 01, 2014:
I think malayalis make a lot of mistakes while speaking English. It is just because the fact that people in Kerala generally do not have any opportunity to express their ideas in English. They sneaks only in Malayalam to a malayali. They get a chance to speak in English only when they come out of Kerala. In educational institutions in Kerala teachers do not speak in English While teaching contents in English. Students should get opportunity to converse in English to overcome this problem. But no Indians can blame malayalis for their English because all Indian English accents are ugly as compared to British or American accent. Congratulate malayali students for speaking English without any oral practice. I have heared some North indians/Bengalis make zoo as joo, education as edukkasen. But malayalis are the only Indian group pronounce correctly the 't' sound as in get, net, today etc. other Indians make these sounds as 't' in but, not, cut etc.
ERIC BOBBINGTON on January 01, 2014:
Keralits claim that they are 100% literate.Strange their English is so MALAYALISH.
bridco on December 16, 2013:
Frnd u r not right bcz . I have studied my degree from tamil nadu where students from all over india are there. But i Know that the students which speaks with comparatively good accent were malayalees . May be u only mallus with bad accent that is the problem . But one thing i will agree . They will 1st think Malayalam then translate into english .This is an average case .
Nirgguna Guru Swami on November 12, 2013:
your first point about malayalam not being musical is just bullshit. let me reiterate so that you are clear about it, just bullshit.
you missed the most important observation as well. in malayalam, there is a direct link between letters and their pronunciations. but in english, one has to listen to the word several times to understand it's pronunciation. most of the pronunciation mistakes made by malayalis come under this category.
ultimo on October 27, 2013:
This is a good and eye opening article. Mallus should improve the oratory skills in english.
Mallus uses a lot of english words even if they speak a one line malayalam sentence. Half of these words will be pronounced incorrectly also a glorious example is target (pronounced like tarrjjet).
I have seen Ministers like KM MANI, KunjaliKutty Film stars , tv personality and Law college principal Lekshmi Nair saying target like tarjett. First we have to correct these celebrities and the print media also.
Lakshmi nair calls Dinosaur dhinosaur, auto -aatto
By the by instead of by the way, trip instead of drip , oil - auuil
I have seen even stars like suresh gopi & Mukesh who speaks good english using words like Audien instead of audience.
Its high time we should correct this for the next generation
Funny thing is Mallus will tease other who say all these words correctly.
A documentary should be made so everyone will be aware of it .
Binu Jacob on October 08, 2013:
Though a number of facts covered in this article are true, the writer should have said 'the majority of English speakers in Kerala' instead of saying 'all of them'. Anyhow, for the further improvement of my Malayali brethren, I would like to add a few more mistakes that are often heard among English speaking Keralites (of course, not everyone!):
Many people pronounce the words club, bus, temple, simply, target, zebra, twenty, people, experiment, exam, chaos, anarchy, whistle, fresh, sponge, castle, elite, tier (as in 3-tier AC), film, little etc.
A good number of people from this part of the country mispronounce them as klEb, bEs, temBle, simBly, tarGet (g as in 'Germany'), Sebra, TOnty, pyoople, EKSPEERIment, EKSAm, CHaos (ch as in China), anarCHY (cs as in China), whishil, frUsh, spOnge (o as in song), casTil, aliGHt, tyre, filim, littil etc.
Here is the correction with a little explanation:
1. 'Club' and 'bus' should be pronounced as /klub/ and /bus/ (u as in 'sub')
2. 'Temple and 'simply' should be pronounced with a 'p' sound in them, not 'b'.
3. The GET in 'target' is pronounced just like the word 'get', not 'jet'.
4. 'Zebra' and many other words with 'z' in them (zen, zoo, zig-zag, zipper, zoology etc) must be pronounced with a 'z' sound, not 's'. This is a big challenge for many Malayalis as there is no corresponding letter to 'z' in Malayalam alphabet. They must listen to good English and master this sound.
5. Do not murder 'twenty'! It has a 'twen' in it, not 'ton'; hence 'twenty', not 'tonty'. Flatten your lips instead of rounding when pronouncing this word. Other common words with the same mistake are 'twelve', 'twice', 'twinkle' etc
6. 'People' should be /peepl/, not 'pyoopil'.
7. 'Experiment' needs to be /IKSpErimənt/. 'Ex' as 'iks' and 'peri' as in 'upperi' (a Malayalam word).
8. 'Exam' should be /igzam/ or /egzam/, not 'EKSam'!
9. 'ch' in 'chaos' and 'anarchy' has a 'k' sound, not 'ch'.
10. 'Whistle' is not 'wishil', it is pronounced /wisəl/.
11. The pronunciation of 'fresh' is /fresh/, not /frush/, and 'sponge' must be pronounced /spunge/ i.e., 'pu' as in 'punji', a Malayalam word meaning 'cotton'.
12. In 'castle, 't' should be silent.
13. 'elite' is /eileet/, not /alight/ which is a totally different word.
14. 'Tier' (as in 3-tier AC) has to be pronounced just like 'tear'. Don't say 'tyre' which is, again, a totally different word.
15. Remember there is no 'i' after 'l' in film, so just say /film/, not /filim/. Likewise, 'little' does not have an 'i' after 'tt', so just pronounce this word as it is written /litəl/, not /littil/!
Think on August 29, 2013:
What sounds good to the majority need not necessarily mean its good enough! awful grammar is far more pathetic to hear than a funny accent! This article in short doesn't make any sense! And then there is someone who was so jobless to compile a whole universe of words used by malayalis-even more pathetic! :)
Kamala on June 29, 2013:
What a load of bull. What is the correct English accent? Most people speak with some sort of accent. Forget about French and German accents, an American from one of the Southern states speaks English significantly different from someone from up North. The perfect diction the colonial hangoverists revere may be spoken around 50 mile radius of Oxford, that is, if at all!
The point is, among all the accents why is only the 'mallu' accent ridiculed so much? Don't give me the BS that it is worse than every other accent on planet earth. The iskools and ispoons and the thick Oriya and Bengali accents will pass without scrutiny, but when the Malayali opens his/her mouth, the accent vultures will pounce!
From what I have observed, the ones who mock other's accents are the ones who have some issues, usually an inferiority complex themselves. They have to feel better by mocking another. It is something well mannered, well brought up, polite people don't do.
What I have to say to Malayalis is, if any jerk makes fun of your accent, look them straight in the eye, and confidently tell them that you are a Malayali, and hence can't help having a Malayali accent. If they don't like it, they can f*** off!
Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on June 06, 2013:
good article. I shared it on FB for maximum reach. Thank you for such a nice and informative article. Please do further research and write more on the same topic.
Njoy on May 26, 2013:
Thanks Toms for the compilation of words. I hope more people can contribute to this.
Toms on April 27, 2013:
Karl Marx (Malayalees pronounce as 'karrrel maarks" instead of 'kaal maaks')
Toms on April 01, 2013:
The single most important question is: Why is an average malayali not taught that the letter 'a' can be used to sound as 'o'. Why do malayalees pronounce hall as 'haal', ball as 'baal', what as 'waat' etc.? This is because they are taught that way in the average Govt./aided schools!!
Toms on March 22, 2013:
Please refer to online Dictionaries with speech, for example:
Biju on March 21, 2013:
About tortoise, (see comment by Toms) surprisingly I heard a native speaker reading a story at storynory.com where she pronounced tortoise as tortois not tortes. How come!
Toms on March 21, 2013:
our (pronounced as "avar" instead of "aue")
flour (pronounced as "flower" instead of "flaue")
alarm (prounced as "alarum" instead of "alaam")
volume (books) (pronounced as "vaalyoom' instead of "volyum")
Toms on March 20, 2013:
pizza (pronounced as "pisa" instead of "pitza")
Toms on March 20, 2013:
beer (pronounced as "biiir" instead of "biye")
auto (pronounced as "aaato" instead of "otto")
one (pronounced as "onn" instead of "wun")
divorce (pronounced as "daiverse" instead of "divors")
Toms on March 19, 2013:
English words murdered by Malayalees:
kangaroo (the worst offended word malayalees pronounce as “kanGAROO” instead of “KANgaroo”)
mixed, fixed (pronounced as miksed, fiksed instead of miksd, fiksd)
bear, pear (pronounced as ‘biyar’, ‘piyar’ instead of ‘bare’ and ‘pare’)
Queen (prounounced as “kyuun” instead of “kween”)
form (pronounced as ‘farum’ instead of “fom”)
biennale (pronounced as “binale” instead of “bienale”)
place names – Ohio, Seattle, Utah (pronounced as “ohiyo, seetl, ootha” instead of “ohayo, siyatl, yuta”
Tortoise (pronounced as ‘tortois’ instead of “totis” )
turtle (pronounced as ‘turrrtl’ instead of “tutl” )
Mascot Hotel (pronounced as “muskat HOtel” instead of “MAScot hoTEL”
heart (pronounced as ‘hurrt’ instead of “haat”)
bass (pronounced as ‘baas’ instead of “base”)
twitter (pronounced as “tyooter” instead of “twiter”
birthday (pronounced as “birthaday” instead of “buthdei”
garage (pronounced as “garej” instead of “gaRAZH”)
chassis (pronounced as “chasis” instead of “shasi”)
February (pronounced as “fibruari” instead of “februari”)
Priya on February 14, 2013:
All the Indians have the influence of their mother tongue, when they speak English. The fact that lot of educational Keralites work aboard and hold significant positions shows that their talent gets recognised. Most of the points mentioned here are applicable to all the Indians.
Mathew on December 27, 2012:
Also the malayalam news media - newspapers and TV channels can do more to help improve Malayalees' English accent. They are not pronouncing some English words correctly while using it in Malayalam.
Toms on December 27, 2012:
I don't agree to your first 4 points, but agree to all others. Malayalam has as many letters as any other Indian language except Tamil. Also there is nothing more of a problem for Malayalees speaking English than any other Indians. All Indians have their unique or common problems of mother tongue interference while speaking English. It is only that 10% of Malayalees have to go abroad for better employment, the highest percentage from any state, that their English gets noticed.
arunnath on November 01, 2012:
awesome.. brilliantly written..