What's your problem?

I need some advice about a sensitive matter. I work for an IT company that has recently taken on a programmer from Bangalore, who works in my team

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

His technical expertise is really good but - and I feel ashamed to say this - none of us in the team can really understand what he is saying. His grasp of English isn't great. I don't know what to do because it's a bit embarrassing to tell him to get language lessons and our boss appears oblivious of the problem.

A: You are right to see this as a sensitive matter, but I can't see anything remotely embarrassing about it. It's not as if he's got gale-force halitosis or anything.

Here's a clever man who's already mastered a second language well enough to earn his living using it. It's now clearly in everyone's interest - not least his own - that he should build on the knowledge of English that has taken him so far.

It's a pity about your boss; you should certainly make at least one more effort to get him to take this issue responsibly. But if he flatly refuses to get involved, then you - preferably with another colleague - need to take matters into your own hands.

Do it with infinite gentleness. Wait until the three of you are sharing a cup of coffee, then get round to expressing real admiration for his skills and achievements. It'll be much more effective coming from two of you. Then move on to suggest that his life - both working and social - would be even more enjoyable if he could speed up his mastery of English.

Tell him, quite openly but not in the least critically, that you often find it quite hard to understand what he has to say. Then suggest that he take language lessons. (If you've really prepared yourselves, you'll have done a bit of research and already got hold of the name of a good tutor.)

My guess is that he's blissfully unaware how inadequate his English is and thinks he already communicates well enough. So he may be unprepared for what you have to say; allow for that.

If he thinks he can't afford lessons, you'll need to think again - and maybe go back to the boss yet again. An arrangement that should suit both of them could be an agreement to split costs - with an undertaking from the Bangalorean to stay with the company for a specified period of time afterwards.

And of course, if you and your other colleagues were feeling saintly, you might even offer to chip in a little bit yourselves. Such a gesture, even if only modest, would certainly convince him that your feelings towards him were wholly well meant.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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