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English Language Teaching and Learning in Modern India


English Language Teaching and Learning in Modern India


Dr. Ratnesh Baranwal

Assistant Professor

Department of English


Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India




This paper is intended to bring about the exploration of the various aspects of English Language Teaching and Learning in Modern India. English language is basically the language of England. Language itself is the mark of the personality, identity, civilization and culture. It passes from one generation to the other. Origin of English language can’t be dated chronologically. It was born and brought up in England in 14th C. as a local dialect having a local identity. It was not treated as a national language. During that time, there was no national language in England. There was the complete domination of the French and the Latin in England. Even in the government offices and the royal families, these two (the French and the Latin) had been in circulation. The condition of English was very much poor and worse and it was a below dignity practice to speak and talk in English during those days. Someone has commented ––– “Chaucer found English a dialect and left it a language”. Prior to the 14th C., before Chaucer’s emergence, England was devoid of any national language. There had been 4 types of dialects known as Northumbrian, the Southern, the Eastern and the Western existing into the 04 different directions of the Country-East, West, South and the North. He made the amalgamation of these four dialects and transformed them into a national language. That’s why he is called the father of English language and poetry. Today it has assumed the status of an international language and known as one of the most-spoken languages in the world. Since then its popularity has started shooting up by leaps and the bounds. There is no country in the world today where it is not spoken. As far as India is concerned, since the foundation of the East India Company in the 16th C. during the reign of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, its popularity too has started increasing everywhere. Thus this one has travelled along the Journey of over 7th centuries. After Chaucer’s departure, Spenser, much better known as the poet’s poet and the second father of English poetry and language, added glamour and charm to the style of poetry and did employ the best quality of the poetic diction. These qualities had been missing in Chaucer’s poetry. Thus Chaucerian English language was very much poor and defective having the hybridity of the French, the Greek and the Latin. Its beautification and ornamentation was done by Spenser.          


Abstract: English; Language; Teaching; Learning; Modern India

This paper intends to focus upon the different aspects, problems, challenges and opportunities concerning English Language Teaching and Learning in Modern India. English can be defined as the window of the educational kingdom by virtue of which we can observe each and everything of the world. Its significance as an international language can be understood from the evidence that there is no country in the world where English is not spoken and understood. In the most of the countries, such as the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada and Australia etc., it is dominantly preferred as the first language. On the other hand, English is taken to be a second or a foreign language in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Africa, France etc. Thus it is one of the most-spoken languages in the world. It holds the next ranking to the Chinese. But there still remains a very big difference between the two – Chinese and English. The speakers of English are scattered everywhere in the whole of the world, while those of the Chinese language are restricted to the Chinese sub-continent only. But in the recent time, even in China, English is getting more and more popular day by day. Apart from all these aspects, this one also stands as the language of the international politics, being one of the six official languages of the U.N.O. It is also the link language of the Commonwealth Country.  

Learning a language is an art and not a science. The basis of art is practice, while that of science is knowledge. Like the other arts such as singing, dancing and drawing, without constant practice, language-learning process can’t be perfected. On the other hand, modern techniques of teaching English language, pay emphasis upon the oral assignment. English-learning process tends to follow the multi-skill approach. Language-learning consists in keeping hold on the four basic skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. It is the duty of the teacher to ascertain that all these skills are properly grown up. All these skills have equal importance in the process of English-learning. None out of them is more or less important. It is very much important to notice that English stands among the leading 20 languages of the world. Chinese holds the first rank with 1000 million people speaking it. English holds the second rank with 350 million people speaking the language. As far as the official language is concerned, it does hold the first position.

Since our independence in 1947, our political leaders, philosophers and thinkers urgently required such a common language that could be used as a link language for the entire country. In view of the requirement of English language for the progress and peace in the country, it was unanimously decided under Article 343 of the Indian Constitution that Hindi in Devnagiri script is the official language of the union but English would remain as an associate official language of the Union for 15 years from the date of the implementation of the constitution. Emphasizing the need for English, Pt. J.L. Nehru, the first P.M. of India, observes ––– 

“We are driven to English principally because we know it a good deal, we have people who can teach it and because it is the most important language in the world today”.

Obviously English has assumed very significant place in our country because of its threefold purposes –– as a national link language, as an international link language and as a library language. We have certain goal and destination in our mind, while teaching English to our students. We wish to make the students capable to understand, speak, read and write English correctly. The specific purpose of teaching English can be summed-up to develop in the learners the following skills ––––––

I-                   Understanding English with smoothness when spoken at the normal conversational speed

II-                Speaking English correctly and fluently

III-             Reading comprehensively and at a reasonable speed so as to use it as a library language for collecting information and enjoying reading

IV-             Enjoying poems, short stories and other library genres in English

V-                Acquiring knowledge of the elements of English for the practical command of the language

VI-             Translating common English words, phrases and sentences into the functional equivalents in mother tongue and vice-versa

VII-          Growing interest in English language in its totality.

Thus the main target of English language teaching and learning (ELTL) is to enhance the four languages skills, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing (LSRW). Now it is questionable if our students really get dexterous in the employment of LSRW skills, or they can communicate in English as and when the situation demands. Most of the problems in teaching English in this country are aroused because of the following factors –––––

I-                   Dearth of competent English teachers, large classes, very poor infrastructure

II-                No curricular reforms and the dominance of the traditional educational infrastructure

III-             Ignorance of the learners’ needs and aspirations and the national needs

IV-             Undue interference of the dirty politics into the educational system

V-                Thoughtless adherence to the teaching, learning models developed in other countries, where the English language teaching situation is different from India.

Apart from all these points as mentioned above, it is significant to notice that some considerable efforts have been made to improve the English language teaching learning scene in India. Since the last four decades, CIEFL, RIES, ELTS and some university teaching departments have been doing their best to improve the pitiable and poor state of affairs. In other way, it can be said that the learners of English language and the teachers of English – both of them are the essential elements which need to make a cumulative effort leading to an overall change in ELTL programme.

Since the 1960s, a great revival of interest in linguistic studies has occurred. Many fundamental linguistic theories have been interrogated. One of them is deeply concerned with the function of language in the communication of the meaning. Traditionalists opine that the meaning of an utterance/text is what speaker/writer means by it. According to this opinion, the writer/speaker’s intention determines the meaning. Structuralists tend to propound that the meaning lies in the text as if meaning were the products of the language itself. Post-structuralists strongly claim that it is the context which determines meaning.

Language is always well-organized specifically. It stands as a system or a structure, where any individual elements are meaningless separately. The language existing at a particular time is described as a system. Thus it remains as an underlying system on the basis of which speakers are able to produce and understand speech.

David Birch argues that “Language is Saussure’s virtual world and parole his real world. People do, however, live and talk in real words – real in the sense that they are socially, culturally and institutionally determined ……… In order, therefore, to be able to talk about how meanings are produced in such a system, a theory of actualization has to be determined” (Birch 48).

            Thus structuralism bears the concept that if human actions carry a meaning, there must be an underlying system of distinctions and conventions making this meaning possible. The actions and events are proved to be meaningful, provided that they are governed by institutional conventions. Various social conventions make it possible to marry, to write a poem, to produce a meaningful utterance.

Saussure argues that ––– “the relation between the signifier and the signified is a matter of convention: in English language, we conventionally associate the word tree with the concept “tree” (Rice 6).

            Both the signifier/word and the signified/meaning are described themselves as conventional divisions of the plane of sound and the plane of thought respectively. Language seems to divide up the plane of sound and the plane of meaning differently. Saussure says ––– “Each language cuts up the world differently, constructing different meaningful categories and concept” (ibid 6).

            English language, for example, differentiates book, pen, pencil, pan, pain and pun on the plane of sound, as separate signs with different meanings. But Saussure argues that if words stood for pre-existing meaning/concept, they might have some equivalents in meaning from one language to the other: which is not found at all. Rather he says that ––– “the structures of language affect and influence our perceptions of reality” ( Bradford 74).

            Thus each language stands as a system of concepts as well as forms that organizes the world.

It is noted that any structure/sentence is a sequence of signs. Each sign contributes something to the value/meaning of the whole sentence. Simultaneously, each sign contrasts with all other signs/words in the language. Linguistic unit generates concept/meaning not because it refers to the object, but because it differs from other objects of the system. For example, a word ‘book’ bears its concept not because it merely refers to an object but because it differs from other units such as pen, pencil, pan, pain etc.

Saussure argues that –– “Concepts are purely differential, not positively defined by their content, but negatively defined by their relation with other terms of the system” (Baskin 67).

            Structuralism, thus, seems to have been concerned with the analysis and understanding of an action under a particular system of systems within a culture. And language is seemingly taken as the ideal model for explanatory purposes.

            “This structuralism aims to do for literature – or myth, or food or fashion – what grammar does for language : to understand and explain how these systems work, what are the rules and constraints within which, meaning is generated and communicated” (Lodge ix).

              Noam Chomsky, therefore, criticized structuralism and its psychological basis as not merely inadequate but as misconceived. Chomsky states –––––

“Linguistics have had their share in perpetrating the myth that linguistic behaviour is ‘habitual’ and that a fixed stock of ‘patterns’ is acquired through practice and used as the basis                 for ‘analogy’. These could be maintained only as long as grammatical description was vague and imprecise. As soon as an attempt is made to give a careful and precise account of the rules of the sentence formation, the rules of phonetic organization, or the rules of sound-meaning correspondence in a language, the inadequacy of such an approach becomes apparent. What is more, the fundamental concepts of linguistic description have been subjected to serious critique” (Chomsky 43-44).

As per the National Education Policy (1986 and 1992), the teacher is the most impressive factor in the entire system of education. He occupies the role of a facilitator in the teaching and learning process. The language-teacher assumes a greater significance because language is regarded the greatest achievement of human intelligence. English in our country is considered to be a global language and hence the English-teacher enjoys a place of distinction in Indian society. It is very much significant to keep in mind as language-teacher is that language-teaching has to be different from the teaching of non-language subjects because the teacher’s concern in language teaching is to help the learners acquire language skills rather to pass on the information. A good English-teacher has to improve his/her pronunciation and acquires fluency through practice and by listening to good models of spoken English such as the varieties of English used in the news-bulletins of BBC, the voice of America etc., as well as by some individual speakers of English. A good English teacher has to motivate his students for the participation in all the classroom activities and provides ample scope to the students to interact among themselves and with the teacher. He provides lots of opportunities to the students to practice English. He does maintain the records of the mistakes done by the students and takes corrective measures.

      A critical and sound analysis of English language teaching and learning leads us to the conclusion that the existing state of ELTL programme in terms of learners’ achievement is quite dissatisfactory.

The factors responsible for this disastrous and pitiable condition comprise the non-availability of standard text books, lack of clear-cut goals, shortage of competent and decicated teachers, lack of suitable teaching-learning technical resources, impractical assessment system and shortage of innovative techniques and methods to handle English language effectively in the actual classroom situation English should be taught as a language not as a subject and the teacher must be knowledgeable in the basic language skills by going through latest materials and attending various training programmes on English language organized from time to time by ELT institutes in the country and abroad too.

Dexterity does not remain as a considerable amount of dedication on the part of English teacher, but it is mandatory because lack of conviction and passion adds destruction to everything. Today English has gained the status of a living and breathing language used for national and international communication. English language should be assessed on the ground of skill and talent, continuity, regularity and punctuality, employing multiple techniques and it should be used for improvement in learning communicative ability of the students. It must be reassured that teacher’s role in promoting ELTL programme is of great significance. A conductive atmosphere of inculcating communicative skill can be easily created in our educational institutions with knack, knowledge and commitment. Let every teacher be a facilitator and motivator and English language teaching and learning a very delightful experience.  

            Thus on the basis of the above discussion, it can be very briefly summed-up to say that ELTL programme has been progressing by leaps and bounds in every nook and corner of our country. Convent education system has accelerated this campaign to a greater extent. But in spite of all these positive steps being taken in uplifting the standard of ELTL programme, there are also some loopholes and defects which are existing in our country, in our modern education system as mentioned earlier in the beginning of the discussion. These weak points need to be improved and this programme must be done at a very large scale. This programme must enlighten even the poor and the illiterate section of the society.

Works Cited


Baskin, Wade, translated, Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw Hill, 1966. Print.

Birch, David. Language, Literature and Critical Practice. London: Routledge, 1989. Print. 

Bradford, Richard. Stylistics. London: Routledge, 1997. Print. 

Chomsky, Noam. “Linguistic Theory”, in Robert G. Mead, Jr. ed., Language Teaching Broader Context. Middleburry: North East Conference Reports, 1966.

Lodge, David. Working with Structuralism. London: Routledge, 1991. Print. 

Rice, Phillip and Patricia Waugh, ed. Ferdinand de Saussure, Fran Course in General Linguistics (1915), Modern Literary Theory. Great Britain: Routledge, 1989. Print.