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India exporting English to China

world Updated: Sep 01, 2010 12:45 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
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Beijing's publishers are lining up to check if books by Indian authors could teach Chinese students and call-centre employees better English than American textbooks.

At a time when bilateral ties are strained, the neighbours are finding common ground over a foreign language. India is the country of honour at the 58-nation Beijing International Book Fair that opened on Monday with 27 Indian publishers showcasing 3,500 titles.

“The Chinese are greatly interested in copyright and translation rights for books to learn call-centre English," Sanjiv Chawla, manager of exports at the Delhi-based Orient BlackSwan told HT at the fair. “The Chinese have a fixed idea that English is best taught by the Americans and British, so we have to explain that English is like a second-language for Indians.’’

Books on Buddhism, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru are the centrepiece of India’s pavilion so that past cultural linkages strike a bond with China. But the Chinese publishers are mainly interested in India’s legacy of English education, to see if the books could be adapted to modernise Chinese teaching.

“The Chinese are asking us why Indians speak good English and write it so fast,’’ said Gopa Bose, proprietor of El Alma publications, Kolkata.

India’s campaign to export books is in danger of getting lost in translation because the Chinese buyers don’t speak English. “We manage to communicate, sometimes with gestures,’’ said Gopa.

Several Indian publishers told HT that English was proving the biggest barrier to selling English books to the Chinese. “We’re trying to interact but we can’t express ourselves,’’ said Subhabrata Deb, a publisher from northeast Tripura.

Millions are learning English in China but outdated textbooks and rote-learning methods can leave even graduates with English majors tongue-tied at the workplace. China needs a vast new English-speaking workforce to realise its ambitions to expand the service sector.

“The Chinese say they are interested in Indian English. They need books for schools and home learning,’’ said A M Zutshi, director of Ratna Sagar.

“They want books to teach how to teach English,’’ said K R Rajesh Naidu, exports manager at Himalaya Publishing.

The Indian slogan for the fair is ‘exploring the middle path,’ a Buddhist phrase ironically made famous by the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama who’s seeking greater autonomy for Tibetans.