Tuesday, January 5, 2010


To tell the truth, mastering English is really not that difficult. It is, if you think it is, but if you view it not as an insurmountable problem but as something that any human can do with a little application, and do quite naturally, then you will find that mastering English can become a lifetime first love.

We are all human beings. We communicate with each other through language. We 'learn' our languages as very young children mostly by observing others speak and correlating what we hear with their actions, facial expressions, body language... We do all of this without even thinking about it much. In other words, learning languages - any human language - actually is a natural human activity. It's no big deal!

We make a big deal out of the whole enterprise (of learning a new language, or increasing our mastery over one that we do use) by becoming "course oriented" i.e. 'take the 3-month crash course', or 'buy the best selling self-help book on the subject'. I wouldn't say that these approaches are wrong, but I do think they are unnecessary. Instead, the Phoenix approach is to ask the student whose English is not up to snuff (most of those who have been schooled with English as a second language and even many of those who actually think that English is their 'mother' tongue) to immerse themselves in American English. I encourage them to buy a good second hand American dictionary (Merriam Webster is a good choice). Then, they have to daily read an English newspaper (TOI, The Hindu, Deccan Herald...) from cover to cover. In addition I start them off with appropriate story books, mostly from my own library. The dictionary is to be kept handy and to be used to look up each new word that is encountered. In class they have to speak in English and this is then soon extended as a general thing to do with friends too. With their friends, I encourage them to play Scrabble and to take on simple crosswords, with the additional challenge of using each selected word in a complete sentence. Finally, the student is required to watch only American programs on TV.

Within a couple of months, and without realizing how much they have improved, we find the student tackling quite difficult medical phraseology (even in the HPI) that would have had them in despair a few weeks earlier. The rest of the fine-tuning of language skill takes place in class and with their edited files open for comparison. Here, the instructor should be able to pick up the remaining faults and weaknesses and systematically set them right.

It really is not then a big deal at all. Just as the three-year-old effortlessly picks up quite complex grammar and handles the built-in illogic of the language, so too can you, if you will just consistently and conscientiously start working on mastering American English.