Analyzing Sentiment in Metiabruz, Kolkata: What Training Looks Like at iMerit

I catch the 42B bus from Lake Gardens to Metiabruz in the morning, feeling every bump in the road as the bus bounces along. People jump on, people jump off, and all the while the ticket collector is snapping his wad of tickets to get the attention of passengers so they will pay their fare. I get off in Metiabruz, grab a paratha and some dab (coconut water) and walk a block or so to the iMerit center, where I’m greeted by a chorus of “Morning Sir!”

“Morning everyone,” I say, smiling as I move toward the training room to begin another day of Induction Training for a new batch of recent hires. As part of their training, the women in Metiabruz are trained in professional English communication skills. Part of this training also involves strengthening their critical thinking skills. To do this, I did a sneaky thing: I tricked the girls a little bit. I asked them one very simple question: “What do you say when someone says good morning?”

Easy. They all answered back, “Good morning. How are you? Had your breakfast?” etc.

Fine. I asked them a second question. “What do you say when someone says to you, “Please tell me about yourself,” or, “Please introduce yourself.”

Their responses varied from “My name is…” to “I’m from…” to “I like…” to “My favorite Bollywood actress is…” They mentioned academic qualifications, their likes and dislikes, favorite foods, movies, actors, Bollywood songs, hobbies, etc. I told them that seemed like a lot of information to give someone who just asked for you to tell them about yourself, but OK. They laughed.

Then I said, “Yes, this is all fine, but what else is missing?” The girls looked around at one another. No one could add anything to the list. It was, after all, a pretty comprehensive list. No one said anything. I wrote three little words on the board, “What about you?” They all read it back to me as I wrote it. I turned around from the whiteboard and the light bulb seemed to have gone off in their heads. The conversation we had been having before this lesson was around conversation, actually, and how it is like a back-and-forth rally in a tennis match.

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So why is this important? Why does it matter how the women in Metiabruz think about language in this way, in a way that has them critically analyzing what is being said and how and why it is being said? Because one of the most recent project involves Sentiment Analysis, whereby the women must objectively analyze the sentiment of various comments, tweets, or other internet posts from users around the English-speaking world. This is not always an easy task. Webspeak can look like Greek, jam-packed with acronyms, LOLs, ROFLs, #hashtags, and American cultural references.

To deliver the training to prepare the women for these tasks, Communications Trainer Rituparna Paul delivered a number of sessions for the team leads and employees so that they may better parse out meaning. In her training, she discussed how to view a post objectively and avoid subjectivity, hashtags, emoticons, sarcasm, and American cultural references.

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Sentiment analysis is a tough job, and I’m a native English speaker, born and raised in the US. I’ve looked at many of the tasks that our young women face, and it’s not easy. Tweets may be filled with sarcasm or personal sentiments towards recent events, and they are difficult to view objectively. The fact that these women are undertaking this work is impressive, the fact that they are excelling is exciting and inspires pride.

I and the rest of the communications team hope and believe that this new batch of trainees will take their skills forward, contributing to some of the world’s biggest companies and developing their own capabilities along the way. We trust that each batch will take on complex tasks like sentiment analysis and excel. Analyzing sentiment is not easy, but I hope that mine is clear in this post. #proudteacher #goMetiabruz

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John's interest in international education began six years ago when he took his first teaching job in Piedmont, Italy. Since then, teaching internationally has taken him to five different continents, allowing him to pick up small amounts of various languages along the way. Having most recently completed an English Language Fellowship with the US State Department in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, John is excited to begin his journey as an educator and trainer with AIF in Kolkata. In 2013/2014, John taught English composition and critical thinking skills to young women from all over Asia at the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh. This increased his interest in working in South Asia and learning Bengali. When not found teaching in the classroom, John can be found reading, playing cello, swimming, writing, eating potentially dangerous street food, and hiking.

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