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Engineers flunk English test: Survey

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  • Published 25.07.12

New Delhi, July 24: More than half of India’s engineering graduates, some of them from the IITs, don’t know the meaning of the word “absurd”, while over a fourth can’t follow lectures in English.

Some 40 per cent can’t write correct sentences in the language, the global lingua franca.

These are some of the projected findings of a study by Aspiring Minds, an employability measurement company that conducted an English language test for 55,000 engineers who graduated in 2011 and are eligible for jobs.

Nearly 10 lakh aspiring engineers enrol every year in hundreds of institutions across the country.

Students from 250 engineering institutions, including a few from the IITs, took the test that asked questions on vocabulary, grammar and comprehension skills.

In the vocabulary test, the students were asked to give antonyms and synonyms of words used frequently both at the workplace and outside. Not knowing the meanings of such words would imply the student might not be able to follow conversations in English.

The report says only 48 per cent could answer questions on words like “absurd”, “generic”, “cease”, “adamant” and “novice”. When it came to more difficult words like “impasse”, “ephemeral”, “nefarious” and “decadent”, only 28 per cent could answer correctly.

According to the report, over 25 per cent did not possess English comprehension skills required to understand engineering school curriculum.

Only 57 per cent engineers can write grammatically correct sentences in English, the report says. This means a huge 43 per cent cannot write a correct email, increasingly the preferred mode of applications by job seekers.

“Recruiters and HR managers around the world report that candidates with English skills above the local average stand out and garner 30-50 per cent higher salaries than similarly qualified candidates without English skills. The trends in India are no different, with fluency in English being one of the key qualities recruiters look for during interviews,” said Varun Aggarwal, director, Aspiring Minds.

Teachers at IITs agreed that the level of competence in English among many students in the premier tech schools was below expectations.

“While speaking to students, one can make out the poor communication skills of students in English. Otherwise, they are all bright students. But in IITs, they learn and improve,” said K. Narasimhan, professor in the department of metallurgical engineering and materials science, IIT Bombay.

That many aspiring engineers are not comfortable in English is evident from the IIT-JEE entrance exam. Some 10 per cent take the test in Hindi.

Former IIT Delhi director Surendra Prasad, however, appeared to differ with the findings, saying most of the students who took the test might have been from substandard institutions. “My guess is most of these students would be from run-of-the-mill institutions. My experience as a teacher is that the percentage of students facing difficulty in English in the IITs is very less. By the time they graduate, they achieve the expected level of competency.”

Narasimhan said IIT Bombay had started special courses in communication for postgraduate students.