Importance of Language for UPSC Exam

Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation. – Angela Carter, English writer

An underrated tool for success in the UPSC civil services is language. While the importance of hard work, systematic strategies for different subjects, newspaper reading and answer writing practice is well-expounded in IAS preparation circles, the role played by language is often forgotten in the melee. But the truth is, language plays a crucial role in success in the IAS exam (indeed, in life) simply because language is the vehicle that transports your thoughts. A lot of IAS candidates possess knowledge, information and even analytical ability. But they falter when it comes to expressing their ideas and thoughts whether orally or through the written medium. In this article, you will read about the importance of language for the UPSC exam and also a few tips to improve your language.

In the context of the UPSC exam, written language is important in the mains and oral language is vital for the personality test/interview round.

You might have great ideas and innovative thoughts, but without a decent command over any language, you will not be able to do justice to yourself and your ideas. Of course, words alone cannot help you unless you have good content. Language alone cannot save you. But, knowledge without language cannot help you either. Therefore, language is important.

Medium of language in the IAS exam:

An oft-asked question by many candidates is what medium to take the exam in. You should remember that this decision is a purely personal one. The answer depends on your comfort level and not on any statistics regarding the success rates of past candidates. You should choose a language in which you have a better command over both in terms of the written and the spoken language.

What constitutes ‘good’ language?

There are three aspects of ‘good’ language. ‘Good’ is a relative term but the idea is to convey the features of language that will help you develop this skill.

  1. Error-free writing

Everybody makes mistakes. However, mistakes should be minimised to the best possible extent. Your answers in the mains exam must not have jarring grammatical or punctuation errors. You are at least a graduate and your writing should reflect that. Your examiner should be able to understand your answers and sometimes bad grammar can spoil the meaning intended to convey. So, it is important to have a decent grasp of the basic grammar of whatever language you are writing in.

  1. Good pronunciation

This is with respect to the interview round. Good pronunciation doesn’t mean you need to develop a British or American accent when you speak English. It means you need to be clear in your pronunciation. It is okay to have an accent when you speak. But you need to have a good pronunciation because it helps you be clear and the interviewer doesn’t have to break his/her head trying to figure out what you are saying. That is why it is important to choose a medium of interview in a language you are comfortable in. Remember, the idea is to be clear rather than sound posh.

  1. Effective language

Language is a powerful tool. It can influence people profoundly and even inspire people to make life-changing decisions. Language of this kind can be termed ‘effective language’. When you write a 250-words answer in the IAS mains exam, try to write at least 3-4 lines that are effective and you will be rewarded. If you can write in effective or influential language, you can create a deep impression in the mind of the examiner. This can translate into valuable marks for you.

How to acquire good language?

Yes, this is an acquired skill and not one people are born with. Once acquired, this skill will help you your whole life, not just in the civil services exam. You need to read a lot of books, newspapers and magazines. You need to make a note of new words and phrases that you come across and start using them while speaking and also during answer writing practice. In the beginning, you will need to make an effort in doing so, but with practice, they will become second nature to you.


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