As usual, colleges have begun academic year for entrants to undergraduate programmes with a bridge course in English intended to acclimatise them to the skills that they need for developing and sustaining learning efficiency in the higher education system.

The question is whether bridge courses in the present form – of short durations ranging between just a week and a fortnight – serve the desired purpose, especially with regard to students from Tamil medium background who have to complete the programmes taught in English in colleges. Experts have insightful opinions.

The (bridge) course does serve the intended purpose, and the success is determined by the level of importance given for exposure and practice, according to V. Ayothi, Professor and Head, Department of English, Bharathidasan University.

“In general, languages are neglected at school level. The reality that languages are studied in schools from the perspective of knowledge rather than skill-orientation becomes evident when those with high marks at school level fail to perform well in colleges. Colleges do know the importance of inculcating skills, but whether they are able to fulfil this with ceremonial bridge courses is doubtful,” said Prof. Ayothi, advocating at least one month of rigorous drill in separate modules suiting the different learning levels of students. “The desired impact could be ensured if English is studied in the entire first semester in the form of a bridge course.”

In St. Joseph's College, the duration of the bridge course is for a semester though the contents are handled outside class hours. Since four credits are awarded for the bridge course, students attach seriousness to it. At the outset, students are trained to shed stage fear through exercises like role play.

“The emphasis is more on speaking rather than writing. At the beginning stage, students are encouraged to focus on fluency first and accuracy next. Primacy for accuracy could make learners diffident,” explained the Head, Department of English, S. Papu Benjamin Elango, adding that the skit fest the college conducts for General English students in the first semester makes them learn soft skills in the forms of approach and expression while delivering the dialogues.

ICT-integration is another important factor in facilitating the learning of language along with skills. In General English, the literature content has been minimised in favour of functional areas, he said. K.Chellappan, former Head, Department of English, Bharathidasan University, is also in favour of lengthening the duration of Bridge Course and integrating it with computer applications . Dr.Chellappan, who had also served as the Director of State Institute of English, said: “What the students speak in English must be linked to other disciplines of study, for unconscious learning of advanced action-based skills suiting contemporary job needs. Colleges need to convince students that English is the window to skills in other subjects.”