It did not matter that I am a journalist or whether my English is “perfect”, I had to give the language test to qualify as a registered immigration consultant.
“You may be a reporter with the BBC or had done your Master’s in the English language, you still have to give the IELTS exam,” said an executive on a YouTube video explaining about the course.
“It is a moneymaking con, ” said my wife, sounding like one of the characters in a TV serial we would watch in Saudi Arabia.
I remember eagerly waiting for the serial to start after breaking the daylong fast during Ramadan. It was a very funny show about an English teacher trying to teach English to a bunch of foreigners from various countries.
Surely my English is better than this poor guy trying to be nice to a local politician, I said to myself.
He had put up posters all over the city proclaiming, “Happy Birthday Horible Chief Minister”, and ‘horrible’ was spelt with a single R by the signwriter, who had stumbled on the abbreviation for the word, “Honourable”.
Indians are very polite and show deference to politicians, especially if you are trying curry favours and get a national award. The poor man had to pull down all the posters after someone pointed out the mistake.
Incidentally, the same signwriter must have migrated to an Arab Gulf country that I had worked in earlier, as I could see his signs all over the emirate, announcing proudly, “Punctures made here”, or “Hairkating Sailoon”.
(In India, a ‘salon’ is a ‘saloon’, and it always reminds me old Hollywood, Western movies where there is a lot of shooting, throwing of chairs and smashing mirrors, whenever I go for a quiet, sleepy haircut).
There was just no way of getting away from doing the International English Language Test as it is now designed to “help you work, study or immigrate to a country where English is the native language”.
I suddenly started getting doubts whether I would pass the test, even though I used to read a lot when young, especially crime pulp novels by James Hadley Chase, who used expressions such as, “He shot out of the living room like a bat out of hell”.
There are various ‘bands’ and one has to get 9 CLB (Canadian Language Benchmark) in Speaking, and 7 in Reading, Writing and Listening.
I hate giving tests and usually get jittery and tense (even after taking several deep breaths and pretending that I am sitting somewhere in the Himalayas) and make mistakes like the time I was taking driving lessons from a burly Sardar.
“I say take left,”, he would suddenly snap at me, rapping on my wrist that was gripping the steering wheel. Despite his help I failed the driving test four times, because I had to learn driving all over again, after driving for a decade in Saudi Arabia.
The main hurdle for many new immigrants and international students to get into Canada is the English language, with its crazy spelling, unintelligible grammar and the way nobody speaks English like the ‘Masterji’ in the coaching class in the village.
“Are you OK?” asked my wife, alarmed at catching me speaking to myself in the bathroom mirror.
“I am enunciating,” I said. “I have to practice speaking to get 9,” I said.
“You sound like Mary Poppins,” said my wife. “Nobody speaks like that. I don’t think your thick Hyderabadi accent matters. Just speak slowly and first gather your thoughts in your head,” she said.
“Oh, God, I won’t be able to understand what the British professor is saying. I am sure he speaks like your relative who was in the army,” I said.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi