The new-age English teacher

Professional English ought to be treated along the continuum of general English, not as a distinct course.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Now that the Tamil Nadu government has made Professional English a specialised and mandatory course for all undergraduate students, there is a row over who should teach it. The view of teachers’ organisations that only language teachers can do so contradicts the government’s position. This raises certain significant questions: who would be better, subject or language teachers; how different is this from teaching general English, which pedagogical approach should be adopted and how far can the expected outcomes be realised?

Subject and language

‘Professional English’ has already been integrated into the curriculum of most engineering colleges from the 1980s as ‘English for Engineers and Technologists’. However, the outcome has not been all that was desired as most companies reject the graduates due to lack of communication skills. This is mainly because the English teachers have never been exposed to the field of engineering and technology and, therefore, fail to deliver the expected results. However, the teachers could not be faulted entirely, as they were expected to be informed of technological developments and trends. But, in the new educational ecosystem where the boundaries of disciplines are collapsing, English teachers can no longer be content with explicating poems and prose pieces, or claiming to develop communicative competence.

Yet another paradox is that only one common course is offered for the multiple engineering streams. The language skills required for printing technology would differ from that of civil engineering and it would be something totally different for Information Technology. Even assuming that English teachers have some knowledge of these domains, it would be impossible to teach those who specialise in them. However, sidelining English teachers is not an option; they have to engage themselves dynamically in acquiring some specialist knowledge in some domain or the other to survive. Letting subject teachers teach English may lead to a focus on the subject and defeat the idea of the Professional English programme.

Specific to the career

All over the world, ‘Professional English’ courses have taken on different avatars: Content and Language-Integrated Learning (CLIL), Content-Based Language Teaching (CBLT), and Content-Based Instruction (CBI), all broadly under the nomenclature of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). ‘English for Business’, ‘English for Tourism’, ‘English for Nurses’, ‘English for Waiters’, ‘English for Lawyers’ and ‘English for Aviation Industry’ are some of the popular courses that attempt to cater to prospective careers. Their popularity is attributed to their occupational relevance and to the targeted learner/learning-centric approaches.

Professional English ought to be treated as a continuum of general English, not as a distinct course, on the assumption that learners already possess a basic level of linguistic competence. The objective of this course should be distinctly established as being geared towards acquiring a better command of the language in a specific domain.

Collaborative enterprise

If the Professional English courses are to be successful, content and subject teachers should work collaboratively to select relevant material and devise the pedagogical process to focus on lexical and grammatical items and the features of discourse and genre. This would enable learners to acquire both content knowledge and linguistic competence. It, however, necessitates a structural transformation; instead of an exclusive department of English, one language teacher at least should be attached to different departments to carry out the teaching-learning processes on an on-going basis. Team teaching of language and subject would engender a transformative process, causing maximum learning outcomes. However this seems highly idealistic in our context.

The writer is National Secretary, English Language Teachers’ Association of India & Professor of English, (former), Anna University

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:01:31 AM |

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