The lingua franca of business in India is English. India is also home to 22 official languages and more than 1,600 dialects and “unofficial” languages, of which the largest group is Hindi-speakers. English proficiency is not something you can take for granted. Also, Indian English has its own phrases and buzzwords that will vary from the English you probably speak, for example, “dicky” instead of “trunk” or “boot” on a car. Even if people seem to understand, they are probably doing some “code breaking” to try and interpret key words as opposed to comprehending your full sentence.
You can make things easier by trying to phrase things in Indian parlance, for example, “I would like to take leave” instead of “I need a day off” or “Will you go by walk?” instead of “Are you walking there?” This takes time, but most of our participants learn to enjoy the unique rhythm of “Indian English”.
One thing you do have to watch out for is that, like in many Asian countries, it is embarrassing to have to say no to someone, or be forced to admit that you don’t know the answer. Furthermore, things are a bit more chaotic in India than in the West, so people will make commitments with the expectation that they will probably be able to meet them, but a traffic jam, a supply chain failure, a power cut, or some other unexpected emergency will often happen that makes appointments hard to keep. The general rule of thumb is that you should plan to make 2 or 3 visits to get something done, as usually on the first visit, some important requirement will be missing. Don’t be frustrated if you make an appointment and show up only to be told that the person you need to see is not there, or that you were supposed to bring some form with you that you would have downloaded and filled out, if only you had been told. Just get the form or make the new appointment, and know that, by having gone the first time, you now have a relationship with the people there that will make the 2nd visit smooth.
As one of our past interns says:
The manner of general communication and the way people handle planning is not reliable, to say the least, when you make an appointment you are lucky to get it done in the same week. Even when you have made it very clear that some things are important, this will still be treated loosely. Furthermore, when asking a question that could be answered negatively people tend to act avoidingly. This leads to confirmations of things that are impossible and general vagueness on important details, not very helpful in a professional business. Knowing this tendency exists will be of great aid in general communication (and no, there is nothing you can do about it).