Practical English: Learning and Teaching

Discussions as questions and answers

Session 1

Ref: Importance of learning English.
Q: Why should we learn English? What is the idea of calling the course "Practical English"?
A: The foremost objective of learning English is to use it in one's daily life as and when the need arises. Be it workplace requirements, scholastic necessities, social formalities or exchanging casual pleasantries; a good command over English is necessary. In short, it provides one with the power and ease of communication in professional and personal spheres. Besides, it cannot be denied from a practical point of view that sound grasp of this language secures an inevitable sense of respectability about one's persona. In today's world, English is an important component of empowerment.
Of course, one may learn English to quench her literary interests as well, but the major emphasis in this course is on use of the language for regular 'utilitarian' purposes that is linked to an individual's prosperity. Therefore, we call the course "Practical English".

Ref: Avoiding English.
Q: Why are people reluctant to learn English even though it is necessary?
A: There are several reasons. Some people have a false sense of knowledge and hence, they always discard validation. In the opposite paradigm, there are some who possess a false sense of incapability about learning English. After all, a language that is used regularly by so many cannot be so difficult. Yet, the sense of English truly belonging to the privileged and/or meritorious is somewhat hard to eradicate from the minds of many people. Then, there are many people who are eager to learn but expect to achieve it with only superficial effort which may prove to be futile.

Session 2

Ref: Cursive writing in the case of capital letters.
Q: Is it necessary to follow any particular writing pattern for capital letters?
A: We need not put too much emphasis on cursive writing as far as capital letters are concerned. Writing the small letters in cursive is important. It needs a lot of practice. As capital letters appear only once in a while, it is not necessary to insist on their cursive forms and, more importantly, we need to join them from one side only, not from both the sides as in the case of small letters.

Ref: Learning cursive writing.
Q: Why is it important to write in cursive?
A: There are several reasons for writing in cursive. We can write fast as we do not have to write each letter separately. Another major reason is that English letters in printed form (Roman script) have lots of straight lines. While writing by hand, the letters will neither be straight nor be vertical. If all the letters are curved in roughly equal proportion the written piece will look elegant and beautiful. And when we write cursive, most of the letters are curved. Slight deviations do not spoil the grace of curves, as it does for straight lines.

Ref: Interpretation exercise.
Q: How to decide on the break-points while identifying different parts of sentences?
A: First we need to identify the individual parts which in themselves have meanings. Individual pieces should be understandable by themselves and can be separately translated.

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Session 3

Ref: Word families.
Q: Why are words clubbed together? On what basis are the 'families' categorized?
A: We form word families for convenience to teach a lot of words together in large groups, particularly their patterns of spelling and pronunciation. In a large group of words, a student knows some words and some others are new to him/her. A family or words conveys the spelling and pronunciation of the unknown words in association with known ones. Another reason to categorize words according to vowel sound is to make the students know the pattern of sound, so that whenever a new word with a particular vowel comes in a text/speech, a student knows how to pronounce/spell it.

Ref: Names of word families.
Q: Any particular reason for the particular name given to a word family?
A: No. Just a common word known to most people and one which preferably follows the 'regular' spelling and pronunciation pattern of the family rather than an exceptional one. For example, 'car' is a better family name than 'palm' - on both counts.

Ref: Word families.
Q: Is it necessary to know/learn so many words?
A: How many words a person needs and can handle depends on his/her typical use of the language. For some, these many words may be too much to handle, while for others it may not be enough! For small groups of students, the teacher may decide on smaller/larger sets of words.
[What you do not need, you will anyway forget.]

Ref: Expression exercise.
Q: How to decide on the different parts of a sentence?
A: Same as in Interpretation Exercise. See above in Session 2.

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Session 4

Ref: End-e effect.
Q: Are there similar effects of vowels other than 'e' at the end?
A: Not exactly in such a straightforward manner with just the vowel appearing at the end. But, in longer words, later characters and their 'sounds' together do modify the sound of an earlier vowel. Note the difference between 'cap' and 'capable' or 'capability'; between 'tot' and 'total'. However, that influence is much more complex and perhaps difficult to identify with such a simple rule.

Ref: The slide with title "go".
Q: Here we see two sentences: "A boy goes." and "The ant goes." Can you tell something about the sense of using "a" or "the"?
A: In the first case, the identity of the boy being talked about is not clear between the speaker and the listener (or author and reader). The listener is not supposed to know which boy the speaker is talking about. Perhaps the speaker also does not know, i.e. does not care - he is just talking about a boy in general, or just one out of a number of boys.
In the second case, it seems that, between the speaker and the listener, it is understood which ant is being talked about - from an earlier communication or common knowledge between them. If the speaker wanted to talk about some ant that the listener is not expected to differentiate from any other ant, then he would say, "An ant goes." - using "an" (and not "a") because a vowel sound comes just after that.
These issues will come up again in a later session soon.

Ref: The second sheet in the slide with title "go".
Q: Is it not that "shall" also is used in place of "will" for denoting future?
A: This is a very good question. Yes, originally the rule was to use "shall" with "I" or "we" as the subject and "will" with any other subject; like "you", "he/she/it/Robert", "an ant", "the table", "they", "Jack and Jill", "blackboards" etc. But, with time (last 30-40 years, may be), the use of "shall" is becoming obsolete, or perhaps has become obsolete already.
However, you should know the old rules. When you read a book written 50 years back or earlier, you are highly likely to find the old usage and you should not feel disconnected from it time and again. And, if somebody uses "shall" according to the old rules, you cannot call him wrong - the word is not yet really "archaic".

Ref: The previous question and answer.
Q: The use of "shall" has gone out of fashion, as you say. Yet, how is it that "should" is still used quite regularly?
A: This is again a very good question. Indeed, technically "should" is the past form of "shall". But, over a long time, it has developed its own independent meaning and, nowadays, nobody uses or interprets it as the past of "shall".
The use of "should" will come up in our discussion in a session much later. It is possible that the continued usage of "should" is somehow delaying the obsolescence of "shall".

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Session 5

Ref: The slide with title "eat".
Q: From the sentences "He eats a lot." and "She eats a little."; can we remove the article "a"?
A: The first sentence will be wrong then. In place of "a lot", sometimes people say "lots", which cannot be called wrong but is not necessary and often does not sound good.
The second sentence, changed to "She eats little." will mean "She eats (almost) nothing." Interpret "a little" as "some" and "little" as "nothing".
Similarly, "a few" means some small (whole) number, while "few" (mostly) means none.

Ref: The slide with title "eat".
Q: In place of "Tigers eat meat.", can we say "The tigers eat meat."?
A: That is what you will say if you and your listener already know which tigers you are talking about. [Such a situation may arise, even though 'eating meat' does not look like something special about 'your' tigers!]

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Session 6

Ref: The slide with title "play".
Q: Is there any rule regarding the order of details coming after the verb, say 'play/plays/played'?
A: The place, time, manner etc (adverbs) can often be put in several different orders, but they must come after the objects. Objects (answers to what and/or whom) must come immediately after the verb before other details.

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Session 7

Ref: Mixed words.
Q: If we are covering words through 'word families', why is it necessary/important to study "Mixed Words" separately?
A: To keep the spelling and sound patterns clear and simple, 'word families' have been given words which mostly illustrate the patterns for single vowel sounds. The lesson on 'mixed words' has been included to give you a practice of words having more vowel sounds with consonants coming in between and to assure you that, in the case of longer words, you can extend the spelling and sound patterns learnt through 'word families'. This, in a way, covers a very large number of long words which you will anyway come across and use, but will have no problem in spelling and pronouncing them, if you learn the 'word families' well.

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Session 8

Ref: The slide with title "do" and the corresponding exercise.
Q: In place of "do not", "does not" etc; can we not say "don't", "doesn't" etc?
A: You can 'say', but it is better not to 'write' "don't", "doesn't" etc. In two situations, authors use these contracted forms in writing.
The first is in reported speech, where the speech is directly reported. For example,
The leader shouted, "The empire's soldiers die, but they don't surrender."
In indirect speech, the same would be written as
The leader loudly proclaimed that the empire's soldiers die, but they do not surrender.

Some authors retain the contracted forms (don't, doesn't etc) even in ordinary narrations, when they want to give a more intimate tone of story-telling, as if they are 'telling' the story to you.

Ref: The above question and answer.
Q: How do we handle the interrogative sentences with these issues?
A: Yes, this is an important point because in interrogative sentences there is a separation between the "do" and "not". You write, "Does he not know this?" But, you can say, "Doesn't he know this?"

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Session 10

Ref: Punctuation.
Q: How important is punctuation in the overall learning of the language?
A: It is quite important, in the sense that missed or misplaced punctuation signs can thoroughly confuse the meaning of a passage.

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Session 12

Ref: The slides with titles "3rd form" and "5th form".
Q: What do the arrows indicate?
A: The underlined words are the adjectives given by the third forms and the adjectives/adverbs given by the fifth forms. An arrow going out of such an adjective/adverb indicates which noun/verb does it qualify. An arrow coming into it connects the object/phrase to the verb from which this adjective/adverb has been derived through the 3rd or the 5th form.

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Session 13

Ref: Lists of common verbs.
Q: Why are there so involved 'rules' regarding the forms of verbs, for example, the modifications needed while adding 'ing' for making the 5th forms?
A: These rules are nothing but loose patterns that have developed with the evolution of the language in the speech and writing of the people, and our task is to learn the language the way it is now. Rules or patterns help in that learning.

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Session 14

Ref: The slide with title "Dummy Subject".
Q: For the sentences with the structure
"It + verb + Adjective + Subject in the form (to+verb) or (5th form).",
can we not have an alternative structure by replacing the dummy "It" by the actual subject?
A: Yes, that will be a correct sentence. For example,
"To keep all the things inside this bag seems impossible."
We do have two alternative structures for this kind of a sentence. In ordinary plain speech and writing, the structure "It is ..." seems to be more common, particularly when the subject is long.
However, we can get that alternative only when the subject in some form is available in the sentence. In sentences like
"It is uncomfortable here.",
the dummy "It" is necessary because the subject is only in the minds of the speaker and listener(s) and has never been mentioned!

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Session 16

Ref: The slide with title "tell".
Q: How to settle the confusion of different meanings of "tell" in Hindi?
A: Since languages do not have direct one-to-one correspondence, when you try to render something from one language to another, your understanding and interpretation indeed gets tried and exposed. You need to make an interpretation of the nature of the statement or the context of the original sentence. That is the only way.
Once in a while, ambiguities remain. Good authors take care to avoid such an ambiguity when it would damage the communication, and retain it when they intend to keep both meanings open!

Ref: The slide with title "tell".
Q: In what way, "I have been told" would be different from "I am told"?
A: Very little difference, if you try to compare Hindi translations. In English, the first one implies immediately completed action.
We will cover this structure in Quarter 3 of this course.

Ref: Sentences in passive voice.
Q: In sentences like "He was caught.", "He got caught." or "I was told."; does it not seem that two verbs (was/got and caught/told) are appearing together in proper roles of verb, which was mentioned as not allowed by grammar?
A: In these sentences, 'caught', 'told' etc are coming as 3rd forms, which are basically adjectives. These verbs are confusing, for them the 2nd and 3rd forms are the same. If you try to use verbs like 'give' or 'know', you would immediately notice which form is really appearing there, because then you will find 'given', 'known' etc rather than 'gave', 'knew' etc.

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- Bhaskar Dasgupta