Nov 4, 2010

Teaching of English
Teaching of English! Yes!!
Have you ever thought about the difference that is there in India between an MA in English and an MA in any of the languages like French or German or Russian or Spanish or Arabic? I’ll tell you, English in India carries the burden of Second Language while all the other languages referred to above enjoy the status of a Foreign Language. A foreign language student is personally interested in the language and is highly motivated, whereas a second language student is socio-economically under tremendous pressure to learn the language, in the hope of getting a job and earning a livelihood. A second language student thus finds himself or herself in a don’t-want-to-but-have-to situation. Therefore, when a student seeks admission to a PG course in a Foreign Language, the student’s language proficiency level is much higher than that of a student in India who wants to do MA in English which is a Second Language for him or her.
During the MA in English course, the student is exposed to the works of writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope … Shelly, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge … Eliot …  just to name a few of the many in the Syllabus. The teachers and the students lug information, like Coolies, without ever bothering what the contents are or mean! You have MAs in English Literature in lakhs every year, and MPhils and PhDs in thousands! But can they teach English language which they are asked to do at universities and colleges and schools? The answer is a big NO!
The UGC is a funny oceanic quagmire. Look at the syllabus for NET (National Eligibility Test) that qualifies one to teach English. They start with Beowulf! Leave alone Chaucer!! Now, how can the blessed Englishes ( this expression is pretty much acceptable nowadays and it refers to the different varieties of English) of these writers, or for that matter, of even Dickens and Hardy, help today’s teacher to teach contemporary English? If they can’t, you just can’t blame them because they have never been taught nor trained to teach English language.
I once talked to the Chairman of the NCERT while the big shot (in a small barrel) was here for a blessed exercise in futility which they call a seminar (without anything seminal in it) and suggested introduction of MA in English Language or MA in English Language Teaching instead of MA in English Literature. His response? “How can you bypass Oliver Twist’s ‘I want some more!’ and give a Master’s Degree?” I bypassed him for the rest of the seminar!
My humble suggestion is: Treat English as a Foreign Language when it comes to giving a degree in English Literature. And, allow only MAs in English Language or in English Language Teaching to teach English.
The teachers of English should possess a high level of language proficiency. They should also have an up-dated knowledge of Materials Production (text-book writing and all), Testing & Evaluation and current trends in ELT (English Language Teaching), contemporary descriptive grammar and modern Linguistics & Sociolinguistics.
More when you have the inclination and I have the time!

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