Monday, March 24, 2008

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.

Reviewed by:

Rajni Singh

Assistant Professor of English

Department of HSS

Indian School of Mines University, Dhanbad

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.

--Dr Rajni SINGH

Published in Indian Book Chronicle, Vol. 33, No.6-7, June-July, 2008, p.2.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Haiku in Mainichi Daily News

The perfume
from her armpits --

R.K. Singh
Dhanbad, India

published in Mainichi Daily News, March 2008.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Rajni Singh: Review of “Contemporary Indian English Poetry”

Book Review P. Raja & Rita Nath Keshari (Editors)Contemporary Indian English Poetry Pondicherry: Busy Bee Books, 2007. Pages: xix+524, Rs. 495.

A serious and a much-needed attemptTalking about the current situation in Indian English Poetry, R.K. Singh in his article “New Indian English Writing: Postcolonialism or the Politics of Rejection?” states that “the growth of Indian English Poetry has been marred by lack of recognition by the local/ native audience with taste, pride and professionalism.” This is quite true as in almost every issue of literary journals across the country, we come across reviews of books by well-known or new poets; but how many of them go on to get the deserved attention from the readers or the academia, or win accolades of the literary establishment? Singh believes that this politics of rejection of many new Indian English poets is practiced not only by the “governing-elites-cum-cultural elites of India but also by the media and academia that think there is nothing worthwhile in recent writings that are not honored by a Pulitzer, a Booker, a Sahitya Akademi, a Commonwealth or a Whitbread Prize…or have a ‘foreign’ stamp.” He further points out that “those writers who are settled abroad and have been receiving good attention from media and academia…do not like to be called Indians.” Singh’s article draws the readers’ attention towards the vacuum that has sustained in Indian English Poetry for the past two decades, and angrily questions: “How long the so-called established scholars, critics, reviewers, university dons at home will continue to ignore the poets appearing in small journals or publishing their books spending their own hard-earned money?”

Singh’s article seems to have had the desired effect on the mind and the heart of some scholars. The anthology under review appears to address the question raised by the article and in a way marks the dawn of a new era in the history of Indian English Poetry. Dedicated to the great visionary Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the book makes a refreshing shift from the mainstream writers to the less-known or academically ignored writers. The poets in this anthology are from different parts of the country and from different professional backgrounds—they include an academician, bank officer, auditor, executive, civil servant, social worker, and media person.

The editors’ introduction gives a brief account of the trends and the shifts in Indian English Poetry from the 1950s to the 1980s, mentioning the different phases that went into the making of this literary genre. They also pay attention to the contemporary Indian English poets “who are actively engaged in conveying their experiences with highly chiselled skills”. The editors make a decisive choice in favour of practicing poets who have been writing for more than two decades or so, and write briefly about them to justify their inclusion in the anthology. Through this mapping of the terrain, the editors make a bold attempt to foreground the selected poets in Indian English Poetry and to contest the hegemony involved in validating literary art. In the introduction, the editors Raja and Keshari aver, “many critics would like to know how much they mingle with the mainstream …this attempt of determining their rank or whether they can rub shoulders with the forerunners in this field is best left to the literary historians and to the test of time” (xxiii-xxiv).

The anthology is a serious and a much-needed attempt to extend the range of Indian English Poetry. The seventeen poets included in it are Shiela Gujral, R. Rabindranath Menon, I.K.Sharma, Baldev Mirza, M.L.Thangappa, Dwarakanath H. Kabadi, I. H. Rizvi, Ashok Khanna, Pronab Kumar Majumder, Mohammed Fakhruddin, D.C. Chambial. Ram Krishna Singh, P.Raja, B.V. Selvaraj, Manas Bakshi, K.V. Raghupathi and Rita Nath Keshari. These poets balance themselves between tradition and contemporary reality, between the outburst of spontaneity and the rigours of craftsmanship, and are aware of the redemptive powers of poetry that can heal the fragmented self.

Shiela Gujral’s poetry mirrors the changing socio-cultural environs, the existentialist dilemma of modern man, and nature as a soothing balm to all tensions. Her exuberant intimacy with her natural surroundings is superbly conveyed and it leaves the reader spell-bound.

R.R. Menon’s disillusionment with contemporary society is well reflected in most of his poems. Tennyson quietly shook hands with the changes of Time, accepting it as inevitable: “Old order changeth yielding place to new” (Idylls of the King). But for Menon it doesn’t seem to be that easy. In poems like ‘The Last Gasp’, ‘Bald Man’s Comb’ and ‘Computer Craze’, he laments the loss of old values and shudders at the new ones.

I.K. Sharma is the most representative poet of our time. ‘A firebrand non-conformist’, he presents the squalor and sordidness of contemporary society, the prevailing injustice and hypocrisies which have maimed our society. Through irony and realism the poet sensitizes the reader to the chaos and anarchy rampant in the society: “In this city/ of speed, smoke and cinema, /Sunday is a dainty episode/ in the history of barren weeks, /When love is renewed, /and father cherished at home/like a prize long overdue.”

D.H. Kabadi’s broad canvas depicts social discrimination (in poems like ‘Hunger’, ‘Let the Graves Smile’, ‘Disposable Gods’, ‘Existence’, ‘Sour Milk’, etc) and degeneration of moral values. He gives a bare outline of truth without any sort of ornamentation: “Marxism/A medallion/On a dead body Capitalism/A bullet/In a living heart Humanism/Still a seed/In a dry land”.

Environmental degradation in urban centres is the theme of Ashok Khanna’s poetry. In the poem ‘Fulsome Figure’, the female figure becomes a metaphor for the transformed city of Mussourie and with gentle irony the poet focuses on the ecological degradation. The same concern can be found in such other poems as, ‘You’re From Delhi Indeed’, ‘The Yamuna’ etc.

P.K. Majumder too expresses deep anguish about the general callousness towards ecological issues. The word ‘progress’ has shattered the societal structures and moral values. The ever-increasing mindless dependency on technology has corrupted the human mind and has also brought havoc to the planet.

M. Fakhruddin portrays the various facets of human nature with a fine blend of humour and irony. D.C. Chambial’s expertise lies in not only exposing the general decay around him but in finding some meaning in this chaotic world. Poems such as, ‘Brahmoasmi’, ‘Dawn’, ‘light’, ‘Drink Deep Nature’s Bounty’ and ‘Beautiful Beyond’ delve deep into the warring personalities that constitute a man’s total existence.

R.K. Singh’s poetry not only touches upon environmental and socio-political issues but also has metaphysical traits. ‘Helplessness’ and ‘Restlessness’ are the two major themes that run through his poetry.

P. Raja’s lyrical poems paint the quirky behaviour of people around him with a perfect economy of expression. Apart from social violence he also captures nature’s violence in ‘A Balance Lost’.

The work of these poets is marked by Indianness and presents an image of India in its various hues and sensibilities—socio-cultural, political and ecological. The selection of seventeen poets with 20 poems each, along with their photographs, detailed bio-data and exclusive analyses of their work make the anthology the first of its kind in the History of Indian English Poetry anthologies. (The only other example of this kind, though on a limited scale, was Continuity: Five Indian English Poets (2003) edited by R.A. Singh.) The bio-data and critical analyses of the poets’ work provide enough guidance to a reader or researcher interested in studying any of these poets. In fact, this compact volume on contemporary Indian English Poetry deserves to be on the syllabuses of universities. I wish, however, the editors had included more women poets in the volume.

History ‘happens’ on a large canvas; its representations are always smaller in comparison. Writing reflects but also shrinks the scope of life and creativity. We need more editors like Raja and Keshari to unearth ‘many a gem’—talented poets such as Maha Nand Sharma, R. S. Sharma, Asha Viswas, P. K. Singh, Tejinder Kaur, Sudha Iyer, Maria Netto, Anuradha Nalapet, Nilima Wig, Vijaya Goel, P. C. K. Prem, D.S. Maini and others.

1. R. K. Singh. “New Indian English Writing: Postcolonialism, or the Politics of Rejection?” Creative Forum, 16.3-4 (July-Dec 2003), 107-112.
2. Rajni Singh. Tennyson and T.S. Eliot: A Comparative Study. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2005.
Published in Muse India, Issue 18, March-April 2008.