South Asia

Delhi Games put accent on sounding British

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMetro staff practice "She sells sea shells on the sea shore"

"Delhi Metro welcomes you. Before taking your seats, please check to see that no suspicious, unidentified articles are lying under it," a young Delhi Metro trainee says, looking up nervously after finishing his announcement.

"S-u-s-p-i-c-i-o-u-s," his instructor, Alka Gupta, prompts him. "Go on repeat after me."

"Suspicious," comes the hesitant reply.

I am at the Delhi Metro training institute where a special class is under way.

Image caption The class puts an emphasis on mastering a clipped British accent

It is a spoken English class and the students, all dressed in crisp yellow shirts with matching ties, are trainees who will eventually go on to work on the underground rail system.

Mostly in their early 20s, they have been hired after a stiff entrance test and interviews for a job, that for many of them, represents a major opportunity.

In October, the Indian capital Delhi will play host to the Commonwealth Games.

With large numbers of foreign tourists expected to visit the country during the event, India is taking steps to ensure that they have an enjoyable stay.

Regional accents

For the staff of the Delhi Metro this means brushing up on their English language skills and being trained to replace their local, Indian accents with clipped, British ones. 

None of the students in the class is a native speaker of English and the emphasis is on making sure they speak the language with the right pronunciation.

Ms Gupta is from the Delhi-based British Academy for English Language and has been doing this for 17 years - teaching English language to those not familiar with it.

"The trainees who are here come from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and have a strong regional accent," Ms Gupta explains.

"So we first have to reduce their accent and then after neutralising it, we have to give them British accents, since that's the correct way to speak English," she says.

To try to simulate their working environment, the trainees are put through role-playing exercises.

So, in one exercise, a Metro staff member tries to assist a foreign tourist - played by one of the other trainers speaking in an accent that sounds like a cross between an American drawl and broad Australian.

"Since we have these Commonwealth Games coming up, they need to communicate with foreign nationals. If they cannot follow their English, it's going to be a problem," adds Ms Gupta.

Confidence boost

And with the Games just months away, there is a real sense of urgency.

"We are gearing up and we are training all our frontline staff, since we expect a lot of foreign visitors to come to Delhi and we want them to have a world class experience," says Praveen Pathak, the vice-principal of the Training Institute.

Image caption The Commonwealth Games are set to take place in October

At the Delhi University station on the Metro's Yellow Line crowds of passengers are coming up from the underground stations on escalators.

Others are gathering outside ticket counters with big glass windows, where metro staff deal with their queries - everything from tickets to which station to get off at and what local attractions there are to see.

"Good morning, how may I help you?". Customer care agent Kailash Chowdhury smiles as he tries to help a student from north-east India find her way to her destination.

Like many of his colleagues, Kailash has been through the English training sessions and is anxious to put his newly acquired skill to practice.

"My English was never very good. But now I am much more fluent and a lot more confident," he says. "My vocabulary has improved tremendously too."

The Delhi Metro is the pride of India's capital city. And why not? It is air conditioned, the stations are spotless, the trains are quick and always on time. It is a convenient way to swing across this vast city.

And for those foreign visitors who may choose to use the service, things may just have got a bit easier.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites