Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

India Cultural Differences: Language

with 6 comments

For the majority of the time that I’ve spent in Pune so far language hasn’t been a big deal at all but there are a couple of differences that I didn’t initially anticipate.

The local language

While the official office language is English my colleagues seem more comfortable talking to each other in Hindi so quite frequently the conversation will move into Hindi if someone isn’t directly speaking to me.

I initially found it tremendously frustrating that I couldn’t understand what was going on in group discussions and while I did point it out people don’t realise when they’re switching into Hindi so it’s a difficult problem to fix.

My brain now seems to zone out when people stop speaking in English so I don’t even notice that it’s happened unless I observe myself becoming much more aware of my surroundings because I’ve tuned out and started looking around the room.

An interesting side effect is that I don’t pick up as much information from osmotic communication as I have done when working in the UK/Australia because conversations between my colleagues have a 50/50 chance of being in Hindi.

I guess the easiest way for me to fix the problem would be to take lessons in Hindi but I’ve never got around to that.

Another interesting thing to note is that it’s not only me who doesn’t understand Hindi but also people from the Chennai office.


Swearing in India is a bit of a taboo which is quite strange for me because in the UK/Australia there’s not really any stigma attached to the majority of words.

There are a few people who are more easily offended so you have to be a bit more careful about word selection when speaking with them.

Having said that, with the majority of people that I’ve worked with the language that I use makes no difference at all.

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Written by Mark Needham

December 24th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Posted in Distributed Agile

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  • Pankhuri

    ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ seems to be an exception. Instead of zoning out, your brain becomes most attentive when this Hindi song is played around you 🙂

  • Hahaha maybe all conversations need to be structured around that song then 😀

  • Claus Hausberger

    Thanks for the tip about swearing. I will be in India in
    January and I will be fucking careful 🙂

  • Disha

    It’s quite sad to read this as I would imagine in a multi cultural environment like India people would use a common language to speak which happens to be English and not any other Indian language.
    May be the set of people who you worked with all knew Hindi really well.
    I am currently working in the Brazil office and have similar issues as English is simply not common here!
    I’m sure it wasn’t intentional for people not to speak in English but have you tried anything to help them understand why is it important to speak in a common language which happens to be English especially when working in a global company like TW?