English Language Teaching: Some Aspects Recollected edited. R.K.Singh ,Jaipur: Book Enclave , 2008, pp.viii+238, Price Rs.695/-, ISBN; 978-81-8152-198-9.
The author of the book under review is a distinguished and renowned scholar, who has given us many other valuable studies as an ELT and EST practitioner. His latest book, English Language Teaching: Some Aspects Recollected is a compilation of 18 well- researched essays on ELT and ESP rooted in actual classroom experiences and earlier appeared in different professional journals during 1980s and 1990s. The need for assembling these stimulating articles was their non-accessibility (as most of the journals do not exist today) to the Indian practitioners of English language teaching.
As the author states his intention in the prefatory note, “I have collected some such essays which are not only historically significant in their differing background and perspectives but also helpful in our pursuit for eclectically developing relevant ELT for general, professional, academic or specific purposes in India.”(p. vii)
With the boom of multinationals in India and the shrinking of the world into a global village, there are enough people lured by the hype of speaking fluent English. There is no area today, where effective communication is not needed. Even to run one’s own business, one has to have specific language skills related to that area in order to interact with the stakeholders effectively. In this time of functional specialisation in particular areas, specific communication skills are a must for every individual to meet the objectives of the organization (national/international/or multinational) that one works for.
Against such a perspective, the significance of the English classrooms in India needs no emphasis. But the mushroom growth of English coaching centers, be it a metropolis or a small town, seems to have added to the crisis. The students who get trained from such centers are no better than the untrained ones.
The first and foremost thing that needs to be realized in a language classroom is to understand the needs of language learners, to be sensitive to their problems and expectations, to the realities of their situation and above all, the market demand. It is through purpose-oriented language teaching with an ESP approach that the teacher can help develop the required language skills of the learners to enable them to meet their job demands. As the essays remind, it is high time for the teachers of English to take initiatives and adequate measures to move the language teaching- learning process in the right direction, in the right way.
Having to use a non- native language in contexts where one would like to have full command of the medium is sometimes intellectually frustrating, and is indeed a Herculean task. However, all challenges should appear small before the larger goals. Whatever is the constraint, classroom activities must result in developing and honing the learner’s skills.
The practitioners of English language need to hark back to the past researches in order to benefit from them. Research of the type conducted in late 1970s or 1980s or even later, by the contributing teacher- researchers needs to be carried out by teachers today. The 18 research essays in the book provide an insight into the essential constituents of ESP and ELT. Some essays are designed to develop broad, general proficiency in English while others are associated with teaching of English associated with performance of certain job- specific functions and ESP programmes. Krista Varantola in her scholarly essay remarks: “To be able to train competent communication specialists we need to know more about the various connections between language use and successful communication; about the continuum of LSP texts and their historical development, about the potential and restrictions of an international language, and the selective informative needs in present day society”(p.12).
The articles on vocabulary and collocation focus on the significance of the two in language learning. Rebecca Oxford and David Crookall are of the view that vocabulary is “not explicitly taught in most language classes, and students are expected to “pick-up” vocabulary on their own without any guidance.”(p.199) The same is the case with collocations. S. Alavi and M.H. Taharirian aver, “In teaching vocabulary, one important but less emphasized dimension is the teaching of collocations.”(p.26) It is a fact that less attention is given to vocabulary and collocation teaching, which are an integral part of language learning. The essays suggest innovative ways of teaching the two areas to the learners to help them get attuned to “content-in-context”.
The essays “Errors in the Usage of Conjunctions by Advanced Learners” and “The Teaching of Idiomatic English” lay stress on the significance of proper conjunctions and idioms in language learning. Again, they are the language items that are less taken care of by the language teachers. The essay “Scientific English: Qualitative Factors Via Modern Rhetoric” focuses on the necessity of understanding the technical vocabulary and structures in relation to their context. This is explained through various examples and one such example is “cold fusion”. The oxymoron here refers to a nuclear reaction whose steps can be visualized, quantified and tested through a given mathematical formula but if it is interpreted as ‘The fusion is cold’, it will give an absurd explanation of the compounding.
The next five essays deal with scientific discourse and scientific writing that lay special stress on ‘specialist-to-specialist communication’, ‘technical communication’ and teaching vocabulary and structures in relation to their context. The essay “On Some Conjuncts Signalling Dissonance in Written Expository English” talks about the logical progression of ideas in a text that can be achieved through conjuncts.
Apparently, the essays seem to be randomly selected. Some essays are on ESP approach and EAP, some deal with the syntactical aspect of language, while a couple of essays are on abstract writing. A major portion of the book comprises of Scientific English (to put it in a broader term) that focuses on scientific discourse and scientific and technical writing. But these essays that appear divergent in nature, when read carefully, reveal the concerns and experiences of ELT teachers and experts from different countries such as Iran, Nigeria, India, Canada, the U.K. and a couple of European countries. These experiences might suit the local situations of any other country as well, where English is taught as a second / or foreign language.
An informative mix of the varied aspects of General English and English for specific purposes, the book is an important resource material for practitioners of EST, ESL and ELT. It is particularly relevant in the Indian context where empirical research in ELT and ESP is not readily available but is badly needed. The essays also prove to be a source of encouragement to the Indian practitioners of English language to come forward to share their own practical situations/ or classroom experiences in a similar fashion. It also alarms the reader to understand that it is high time to change the mindset that premier research happens only in the West.
On the negative side, the typographical errors are quite jarring and even the price of the book makes it another Anglophilic book on language, keeping off the common readers from their reach. However, these pitfalls cannot minimize the value / worth of the book, which seeks to motivate teachers to develop realistic courses for their students.
(c) Dr Rajni SINGH, Asstt Professor of English, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences, Indian School of Mines University, DHANBAD 826004, India