English today has become more than the Lingua Franca of the masses. It has become the lifeline. The call of the hour is for the academia to well-equip itself with the most competent language skills. Only then can suitable help be extended to the beneficiaries, the students. My paper will focus on the nature of General and Technical English today. It will also attempt to show how Technical English and General English can be made more student-centric as the Academic language.
The second most spoken language in the world and the lingua franca in many professions, English is a culturally rich, exciting field of study, with some 380 million native speakers. Only Chinese and Hindi have more native speakers while Spanish is similar in number. English is also the dominant member of the Germanic languages. It has lingua franca status in many parts of the world, due to the military, economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the British Empire in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and that of the United States from the early 20th century to the present.
Through the global influence of native English speakers in cinema, music, broadcasting, science, and the Internet in recent decades, English is now the most widely learned second language in the world, although other colonial languages such as French and Spanish retain much importance worldwide. The Business Week statistics declares that speaking English increases your salary by a minimum of 35%. With all these numbers in mind, let me commence by shifting my focus, first to Technical English. Technical English
English for Engineers, as it is known today lays a lot of emphasis on the functional aspect of the language. Comprehension, report writing, composing letters for various occasions and similar technical aspects comprise the language that is learnt by the professionals today. Technical English has more to do with the fine tuning of the learner’s LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) skills. A focus is placed on Language with prefixes and suffixes, Adjectives and Modals, Infinitives and Gerunds so on and so forth.
While explaining these, the teacher often finds that the learner is unable to comprehend these, unless he/she has a basic knowledge of grammar and this is a vicious circle. Where do we begin? The Million dollar question looms large before the tutor. Listening for specific information, for note-taking, making inferences; listening to recorded telephonic conversations and listening to reports and audio texts- all these sound very gratifying in black and white. But how much is effectively employed by the student to refine his language skills?
The question is still unanswered. Speaking skills place a lot of importance to pronunciation and accent. Of course, the language labs are extensively used by the institutions to enable the smooth process of enhancing these skills. Out of the lab premises, accent is placed on conversation practice in different situations, self and peer introduction, debates and oral presentations. Since these are not emphasized at the school level, the I year students find the transition difficult. The difficulty arises because the entire syllabi is packed within the first year of study.
There is no time to give ample scope for the development of each individual skill. Predicting the content, Skimming the text for the gist, Scanning for specific information dampens the spirit of a poor reader. It is disheartening to say that most of the youngsters today browse more and read and read very less and thereby, are poor readers. It is essential for us to first instill in them the love for reading. Teachers today have to be role models themselves. Thrust must be given to reading books rather just spoon feeding them with the details of the books.
A love for literature must be developed in the student. As Sachidananda Mohanty says, “I do believe that literature has a great relevance in the contemporary context because it is the gateway to liberal education, creativity, humanism and most of all, spirituality. The absence of it deprives citizens of having a rounded personality and an integrated view of life. In today’s world, we find people lacking sensitivity which is manifest in terms of gender violence and other abuses of human rights. It is reflective of the fact that we lack the means to understand life.
In the context of late capitalism and affluent society, literature has to be reinvented to serve the interest of humanity that is at crossroads. ”(1) When this love for literature is developed, the rest follows suit and there is no need for the teacher to thrust English on the student. The learning will happen automatically and he/she would also evolve as a fuller human being. It is because today’s world is very materialistic and prosaic. The curriculum should add spice to the Technical English syllabus, make it more lovable and rename it, if necessary.
Technical English should be extended to at least 4 semesters and its significance in today’s world of communication must be sent across as an important message to the learner. Each semester can be devoted for a particular skill (LSRW) and prose, poetry, drama and such related genres have to be subtly introduced to the young learner. There would be speculations about dealing with high achievers who are very proficient in the language. For such students, the curriculum can be widened to include tougher aspects of language and literature which would be a challenge to them. After all, what is life without spice?
Poetry does have a place in our world, a necessary place. Less and less do we find poetry taught in technical schools, and many people say poetry doesn’t belong in our lives. That idea is wrong, sadly wrong. However, a resurgence of teaching literature and poetry has occurred, even to teaching literature to professional students and others in the health-care fields, according to Dr. Pereira. The study and writing of poetry brings much to our lives. The Rev. H. C. Beeching agrees in “An Address on the Teaching of Poetry” Ambleside Online because the study of poetry sharpens powers of observation and helps one store memories.
He states, “… the purpose of poetry is to communicate or extend the joy of life by quickening our emotions. ”(2) Peter Pereira, MD, writes in “The healing power of poetry,” The Writer March 2007, that “the reading and writing of poems can help us (physicians) develop empathy and thus become better doctors. ”(3) Empathy is defined as an emotional connection and understanding. Therefore, Beeching and Pereira agree on that point: the purpose of poetry helps with emotional understanding. Pereira goes on to say that since physicians have less time with their patients than ever, they need to develop listening and interpretive skills.
The study of poetry, especially the lyric poem, may be a way for students to learn needed skills. Empathy is using one’s imagination to be in another’s position. Poetry exercises one’s powers of imagination as well as helping to gain skill in the use of language. Doctors, nurses, aides, as well as family members, friends, and business people need those skills. Two other things Pereira believes to be true about the purpose and need for poetry are that reading and writing poetry can help patients facing life-threatening or life-altering illness. I addressed this in my article “Writing through Troublesome Times. Poetry helps a person to “vent” and to pour emotions onto paper or computer screen, and then to manage the emotions and pain involved. Pereira’s third idea is that the reading and writing of poetry can help heal the world. The doctor states, “Poetry of witness has long been a way that cultures and civilizations all over the world remember things – their war stories, the cultural milestones – and give voice to the oppressed or the disappeared. ” A way to bring some healing not only to individuals, but to the world, gives poetry a purpose and a need that can’t be ignored.
What one should understand is that, what is applicable to the man of medicine is also relevant to the engineer, the architect and every person in every walk of life. And what is proclaimed for poetry is relevant for all genres of literature. The idea may sound far fetched but it is the need of the hour to make the young learner interested in the language. General English General English, on the other hand, is a slightly more palatable form of literature that is presented to the students. Though emphasis is laid on communicative aspects today, the learners are exposed to regular genres of Prose, Poetry, Drama and Short Story.
This is coupled with Functional English which includes Comprehension, Note-making, Developing hints and the like. While earlier, the prose pieces prescribed for the learners were not so forthcoming and were not received so well by the I and II year students of General English, the Universities have now studied the pulse of the students. In the last decade, with 2 revisions of the syllabus, it is gratifying to note that E. M. Forster’s “Challenge of our time” has been replaced with interesting pieces like Sam Horn’s “How to avoid an argument” and funny ones like “To know when to say, ‘It’s none of your business’. The teacher is able to evince a visible difference in the understanding and appreciation of such lessons by the learner. These are day to day topics and situations which all people, young and old, come across in everyday life. The student is able to identify himself/herself with the character in the lesson and the grasping of the idea happens in a facile manner. When authors are introduced with the lesson, literature can be slowly introduced to him/her and their interest can be enthused. They feel motivated to first ick a novel from the library and read it and then pieces of literature can be shown her/his way. There is no denying the need for literature in a person’s life, whatever the language. However, in the past this idea was presented in an exaggerated manner. The curriculum makers were too interested in getting Shakespeare into the young learners’ mind. There was frustration when annotative passages had to be learnt to secure marks. The question arose in the minds of learners: What am I going to do learning the Act and Scene, when I just want to enjoy the story?
This is where the frustration began. The focus shifted to identifying the Act and the Scene, rather than the beauty of the Bard of Avon’s poetry in drama. Now, there is a paradigm shift from whole plays of Shakespeare to important scenes from his plays. One-act plays, especially the humourous ones are assimilated by the learner and enjoyment and learning happens at the same time. It is poetry that is still a challenge for the student. At this juncture, I think it is duty to make a mention of the fact that a lion’s share of the syllabus must be devoted for the Indian writers.
It is only through these protagonists that one gets to know the Indian culture and tradition which is rich and abundant. Shakespeare is versatile, but so is Kalidasa. Keats is proficient but so is Subramanya Bharathi. What should be communicated to the students is that, despite English being a foreign language, the Indian writers are able to exploit it and present ideas like the native speakers and writers. One finds that the language is simple and closer to the heart. The ideas and situations are our everyday ideas and situations. The mother in the lesson is like our mother, for every Indian mother fits into the mould.
That is why, Ezekiel’s “For Elkana” seems to be like our own family anecdote and A. K. Ramanujan’s “Obituary” brings memories of the forefathers of our own families. Since Grammar takes a good share of the syllabus, the student is able to equip herself/ himself with what is essential from today’s perspective, yet enjoy the subject and not regard it a burden. More than anything, the English classes have to be interactive and the learners encouraged to be participative. The Soft Skills introduced with this purpose in mind, has to be implemented in a more inclusive and serious manner.
More time to be allocated for slow learners and scope must be given to them for participating without inhibitions. All this can happen only if more time is allotted for the language. At the same time, too much should not be thrust into the learner’s mind, for, she/he has to learn other subjects, too. Slowly, yet steadily, this has to be achieved. Grammar for the General English students is still at the basic level as at school. This can be continued with more workbooks compiled by experienced teachers who know the shortcomings of the students.
This applies to Technical English learners also. Conclusion Teaching English, or in fact, any language has much in common with any other teaching, but also has its own unique challenges. Among other things, it needs some understanding of how language works, quite a bit of patience, and considerable showmanship. Teaching English as a second language is significantly different than teaching English literature and composition to a high school class of (mostly) native speakers, though of course there is some overlap as well.
For one thing, even intelligent adult second language learners make grammar and pronunciation errors on things any four-year-old native speaker knows; an ESL teacher has to teach and correct those. Also, you have to monitor and adjust your own English, speaking slowly and clearly, avoiding slang, sometimes explaining terms, and so on. At any level, the teaching needs to be highly interactive. Too much talk by the teacher is fatal; you cannot teach language-using skills either by lecturing or (except in tiny groups) with a series of one-on-one interactions between the teacher and different students.
You must set up situations for students to actually use the language. Often this means introducing some vocabulary and/or grammatical structures on the board or in a listening or reading exercise, then setting up some sort of pairs or group task where students can try it out. Various sorts of discussion, role-playing or game activities are often used. A whole range of props are often used — maps to practice giving directions, newspaper clippings for reading comprehension or summary-writing practice, menus for a restaurant, role-play, pictures for parts-of-the-body or parts-of-a-car, cartoons to provoke discussion, and so on.
Sometimes the teacher must find or invent these; sometimes the school has a stock, as in the picture, or they can be borrowed from other teachers. It is fairly common for teachers working overseas to ask friends at home to mail them posters and other props, or to collect props themselves on visits home. If you are going abroad to teach, bring props or mail yourself a batch before leaving home. Getting beginners to speak English is difficult. Techniques include translation, mime, pictures, and a lot of repetition.
With young learners, you may be able to make a game of it. With intermediate students, you get questions that strain your knowledge of your own language. If “He doesn’t have much money” is OK, what is wrong with “He has much money”? Which is better: “a big red balloon” or “a red big balloon”? Why? Is the other incorrect or just unusual? Training and grammar reference books can help here, but sometimes the answer is just “That is the way we do it. ” For advanced students, especially in ESP settings, you may need considerable knowledge beyond the language itself.
For example, to teach business English above a certain level, you must know quite a bit about business. A major part of the ESP approach is needs analysis, figuring out how your students will use the language. In some situations, needs analysis is a formal process and courses are written to order for specific groups. Often, however, the teacher just does an informal analysis and finds or invents exercises to suit a class. Consider a company somewhere that exports products to English-speaking countries.
The engineers might just need to read manuals and product specifications in English; they might never hear, speak or write it. Marketers might need to read the quite different language of orders and contracts, and to both read and write emails in much less formal language. Some of them might also need to talk with customers. Executives might need to handle complex negotiations in English — a task that requires not only excellent spoken English but also business skills and an awareness of cultural differences. Ideally, each of these groups would get a different English course.
There are three aims to teach English, technical or general, is just this. The first is to create or to encourage in every student the desire to read the best books, and to know the beauty of literature itself rather than what has been written about literature. The second is to interpret literature both personally and historically, that is, to show how a great book generally reflects not only the author’s life and thought but also the spirit of the age and the ideals of the nation’s history. The third aim is to show, by a study of each successive period, how iterature has steadily developed from its first simple songs and stories to its present complexity in prose and poetry. General English, with its prose, poetry & other genres of literature has versatility. It has the technical aspects of Semantics and Grammar, too. With Prose and poetry, one can see the aesthetic beauty of the language. One can dwell in the world of his own creativity or relate to the writer, empathize with the author or sympathize with the poet. The reader can drink the grandeur of the language. Today, the curriculum includes variety through drama, novels, short stories, prose pieces and poems.
But only if the grammatical skill is strengthened, they can place down their exposition of these aspects of literature. This should start at the grass root level. More thrust on Communication skills should be made. That’s the need of the hour. Technical English is without frills and laces. But what is life without colour, gaiety and beauty? A young reader/student must be given an opportunity to enjoy and assimilate the magnificence of language. But Technical English is formal, down-to-earth approach to the language. It puts you through the English that is required for the profession.
The time frame to learn is limited and it narrows down to the necessary details of Grammar and Comprehension and its likes. If it is extended to the other 2 years of the Technical students’ curriculum, justice can be done. Otherwise, it becomes namesake. Hence, it is combined responsibility of the academia and the curriculum-makers to blend in the necessary requisites to suit the students’ special needs of English.
References: (1) www. amazon. com (2) http://www. amblesideonline. org (3) http://www. amblesideonline. org PRESENTED BY: MS. REMA. V LECTURER IN ENGLISH G. S. S. JAIN COLLEGE FOR WOMEN VEPERY CHENNAI-7