G.B. Shaw’s Radio Talk, ‘Spoken English and Broken English’:Broken English’s Relevance in Today’s English Spoken World

In a lively, witty and conversational style G. B. Shaw in his essay (a transcript of a radio talk and was recorded in 1927. The talk was broadcast over Manhattan's radio station WNEW)  ‘Spoken English and Broken English’ gives some instruction to a foreign student of the English Language in regard to speaking English when he travels in the British Commonwealth or in America or when he meets a native of those countries or it may be that he is himself a native but that he speaks in a provincial or cockney dialect of which he is a little ashamed, or which perhaps prevents him from obtaining some employment which is open to those only who speak in correct English. Read More Teaching English

The essay  is divided into three sections. The first part rightly stresses that there is no single model of correct speech in English. Whether he is a foreigner or native, the first thing that he must remember is that there is no such thing as ideally correct English. Shaw discusses notions of ‘correct English,’ that is, the proper way in which English should be spoken. No two British subjects speak exactly alike, according to G. B. Shaw. He himself is a member of a committee set up by the BBC for the purpose of deciding how the utterances of speakers employed by the corporation should be pronounced in order that they should be a model of correct speech from the British Islands. The committee is comprised of Irish members, Wales’s members, Scottish members, Oxford University members, American members all recognizable by their differences of speech. They differ also according to the countries in which they are born. Though they all speak differently they all speak presentably and if a foreign student of the English language speaks as they do he will be understood in any English speaking country and accepted as a person of good social standing.   Shaw demonstrates that even among the educated and the specialists on language; the manner of speaking is determined by one’s origin, background, training and workplace.

In the second part, Shaw illustrates how everyone, irrespective of whether they are educated or uneducated, speaks differently in public and in private. Read More Teaching English G.B. Shaw, an Irishman, says that as a public speaker he has to take care that every word he says is understood by his hearers. But at home when he speaks to his wife he takes very little pains with his speech. He shows that in familiar surroundings and in one’s exchanges with close friends or relatives, one is quite careless, both in one’s articulation and in framing full- bodied, grammatical sentences. This is because they are confident of being understood in these circumstances without seeming rude or uncivilized. In the public sphere however, there is no such assurance. So we are much more careful with our speech while speaking with strangers or on formal occasions. This section is particularly amusing and most of the instances are drawn from Shaw’s own life, namely his conversations with his wife. By directing laughter at himself and presenting himself as the guinea pig he makes his arguments more convincing. His suggestion of spying through the keyhole is a good- hearted jibe at the reader’s human weakness that cleverly maneuvers the reader into a position of complicity with the author. Although Shaw is concerned only with the English language, his arguments in both the first and the second section are applicable to any language. Everyone has company manners and home manner. At home people speak in a careless manner but when they speak in the presence of a stranger they have speak very carefully. Even when their home manners are as good as their company manners they are always different and the difference is greater in speech than in anything else.

In the last section Shaw advises foreigners on how to communicate in English while travelling in English speaking countries. Shaw now gives to foreign students another warning of quite a different kind. If they are learning English because they intend to travel in England and wish to be understood there, they must not try to speak English perfectly, because if they do, no one will understand them. Read More Teaching English He reiterates that though there is no such thing as perfectly correct English, there is presentable English which is called ‘good English’, but in London nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand people not only speak bad English but speak even that very badly. Even if they do not speak well themselves they can at least understand it when it is well spoken. They can when the speaker is English, but when the speaker is a foreigner, the better he speaks, the harder it is to understand him. 

No foreigner can ever stress the syllables and make the voice rise and fall in question and answer. Therefore the first thing a foreigner has to do is to speak with a strong foreign stress, and speak broken English, that is English without grammar. Then every English person to whom he speaks will at once know that he is a foreigner and try to understand him and be ready to help him. He will not expect him to be polite and to use elaborate grammatical phrases. He will be interested in him because he is a foreigner, and pleased in making out his meaning and being able to tell him what he wants to know. Read More Teaching English This advice is flawed for several reasons. First, it is outdated and suggests a time when perhaps few foreigners visited England. Today not only are several foreigners visiting many English speaking countries but people belonging to different races and nationalities also reside in countries like America and Britain. English has also become the global language of communication.

 The native speaker of English, therefore, is accustomed to hearing several kinds of people speaking English in different ways. Significance in today’s time Classified as borderline boring or a sheer waste of perfectly good time by many of the modern day students, Spoken and Broken English’s relevance in today’s time cannot be more emphasized upon. With Globalization taking hold of the world and the need of learning multiple global languages out of which English stands at the very helm, has led people to seek out the ‘Correct’ form of the language. G. B. Shaw explains to us that although it is an insult to the native speaker of English who cannot understand his own language when it is too well spoken, times have changed and we simple have to accept the fact that Good English is more important than ‘Correct’ English. India, which carries in it English of different accents and pronunciations, could very well benefit by adding this piece to its education curriculum in order to make people realize the true sense of the word language. India is one of the chief exporters of human resource to the world. Thus, a study of this recording can help people overcome their obsession for correct and start focusing on the good aspect of English.