Perspectives, Prospectives & Problems of Teaching Communication Skills

With marketing and aggressive marketing holding a firm grip on academia and industry, the teaching of Communication Skills has assumed greater significance, though the inputs and outputs are incompatible changing the very structure of written and spoken English; and even the teaching methodologies. With newer marketing strategies emerging in the global market and businesses having profound diversity, it is increasingly felt in both academia and industry that communication skills of all those engaged and involved in this enterprise and venture, whatever be their level of responsibility, must be strong enough to achieve the desired and declared results and fulfill targets. In this entire strenuous process and exercise, inside and outside the prescribed compulsions and obligations, the teaching and training of Communication Skills as a subject, meant to determine the future success of the prospective professionals and technocrats, have come to face bigger challenges in their spoken, written and listening skills, though reading skills cultivated through motivation and reading habits at the initial stages are of immense significance as they profoundly contribute to the thought-process without which C.S in any form cant be practiced. Reading of social, psychological, literary, scientific and technical etc, material in full comprehensiveness is a primary input in the class room and away from there, especially for those joining engineering and technical courses.

What toughens the task further is the draught conditions in the faculty in a very large majority of cases. With the equally diverse background of the learners accompanied by their lackadaisical approach, the teachers of Communication Skills, almost all from their mindset and commitments in the teaching of literature and language, from the prescribed anthologies with a number of repetitions at the Senior Secondary and undergraduate level, find it quite and completely different, though not disappointing. Secondly, the purpose of teaching is confined to job-seeking and job-security. Such teachers, with a sense of fulfillment, envious and otherwise, are overcome with a feeling of redundancy in certain respects also in the given situation where Communication Skills teaching occupies an almost negligible status in the general scheme of things in the Engineering and Technical courses and colleges. The personal, social, economic and professional needs of the learners of C.S. in this atmosphere do not get any stimulus to the level of requisite satisfaction. That is why, crash programs for PDP and inter-personal skills at a later stage prove of little substance. The revolutionized and globalized business scenario find a little breathing space in the existing syllabus-content and spirit in such institutions, although this provision and facility are non-existent in the institutions teaching humanities and sciences and job-oriented courses, notwithstanding the teaching and learning of English for a variety of reasons and purposes in every day life for secretarial practice, broadcasting and telecasting, commercial arts, journalism and mass communication, hospitality management, fashion technology, pharmacy and other such allied purposes. The syllabus is also designed keeping in view the purpose of teaching and learning.

Obviously, the yawning gap between the rising expectations and falling fulfillments poses a tough challenge more to the teachers than to anybody else. This further aggravates the situation for all when a large number of unscrupulous persons and personalities make easy and fast buck by starting teaching and learning and spoken English business everywhere to cash in on the mass craze for gaining envious status. We all know that English is a status language, the status which no other subject or language enjoys in these splendid times of fashion, pharmacy, engineering, technology, banking, hospitality, tourism and travel, employment as Personal Secretaries and Receptionists, businesses and what not- and all related to marketing where the total success and upward mobility depend only on the competence in Communication Skills. It matters a least whether your professional knowledge and performance therein have been and are respectable.

Dr. Nandini Sahu says-

“The role of English language changed in the post-independent period as a means of social and cultural organizer. Still a majority of English teachers continue to work in isolation till date without realizing the diverse phenomenal qualitative and quantitative growth of the language. In a state of academic confusion and dismay in the last five decades, they have been shifting the language teaching approaches and course contents designing the syllabi in different ways either imported or imposed on them. At present, the second language strategies are being shifted to structural English and communicative English, separating language teaching from literature, splitting the English classics unnaturally, reducing literature and language to objective by comprehension in the name of so-called ‘skills’…………..The students join English as well as Spoken English courses for varied purposes- to enhance their social status, for better mobility, to prepare for competitive examinations, for dynamism in the technical world, and a very few to enter the world of literary sensibility, to study English literature as the core subject. With a view to reaching out to the different parts of the world and becoming global, new English has developed a variety of forms, each one correct within its own context, classified as national, regional, social, occupational which is now termed as ESP, English for Specific Purpose.”

(Introduction to Post-Modernist Delegation to English Language Teaching, pages xxx-xxxi, published by Authorspress, New Delhi, Ed. 2005.)

English, undoubtedly, and by common consent, has become the lingua franca. It would be more appropriate to say that English is a language for all practical purposes. And who can deny that? All people, anywhere and everywhere, irrespective of their humble or high, social, economic, educational or professional status in rural or semi-urban or urban or cosmopolitan areas, use hundreds of words from English language in their daily conversation, consciously or unconsciously, as if these words belonged to their own mother tongue or as if they were the native speakers of English language and also in their own local or natural accent. For example -

frig, cooler, air-condition, mobile, phone, inspector, cooperative society, railway station, driver, conductor, hotel, college, school, course, university, police, palace, marriage palace, Mall, Mall Road, park, ceremony, coolie, cinema, building, airport, flight, booking, travel agent, passport, taxi, tax, subsidy, bank, loan, corruption, post office, guard, security, function, bag, pen, master, computer, management, machine, combine, chain, gun, revolver, bread, butter, juice, master, headmaster, principal, teacher, engineer, doctor, operation, heart attack, cancer, tension, hospital, accident, cut, power-cut, club, function, singer, film, actor, hero, heroine, director, direct, contest, photographer, video-movie, audio-video, courier, service, pen, marker, pencil, copy, photocopy, beauty parlor, handbag, purse, boutique, cocktail, affidavit, agreement, account, balance, C.A. A/C Payee Cheque, Crossed Postal Order, President, M.D., M.L.A., M.P., member, D.C., S.S.P., Speaker, public, cycle, scooter, car (even the names of the brands), bus, denting and painting, repair, workshop, studio, navy, Air Force, uniform, elections, votes, badmash…………..even the order for non-veg. items in a restaurant or hotel like- chilly-chicken, butter-chicken, roasted chicken, cream-chicken, leg-piece, fish fried, fish-roasted, fish curry, meat, drinks, etc are placed in English, may be eaten in Panjabi or Hindi…………

Then there is the frequent use of compounds-one Hindi and one English word-

Dhamaka-sale; Lathi-charge; Double-roti; Kathi-roll; Namkeen-biscuit; Zabardast-accident etc.

The other day, I was surprised to read in Panjabi Linement for alignment and wheel-balance at an auto repair shop.

The list may not conclude. This is an indispensable part of the daily vocabulary of a large mass of educated and uneducated mass. And there are more than 30,000 words from Hindustani incorporated in the main Oxford Dictionary. The Bank of English is working day and night at all public places - Air Ports, Malls, Theatres and Cinema houses, Hotels and Restaurants etc. and getting new usages for incorporation into English. With such lavish facilities and conveniences, does it not surprise or stun us to think what obstructs our learning and cultivating our communication skills?

In this age of hybridization, it has not been possible for language for communication purposes in speech and marketing to remain immune. Obviously, educated, half-educated or even uneducated classes feel more comfortable while communicating with others in private or public at both conscious and unconscious levels. It happens mostly when they don’t find proper equivalents in their own language and English words come handy and very easy to speak. Even language teachers, especially English teachers, are also great defaulters; teachers of other disciplines take pride in absolving themselves of this serious shortcoming. The other day, I read this marketing slogan at a petrol station-

Saal Bhar Free Fuel Offer.”

And at a car repair workshop, this was in Panjabi-

ithe caran di reapir ate denting painting da kam tassalibaksh kita janda hai” ( here car repairs and the job of denting and painting is done satisfactorily.)

Even the government buildings declare-

Nagar Council”, “ Daftar D.C.”, “ Daftar Senior Police Kaptan” “ Civil Courts”, “District and Sessions Courts”, “ Press Club” etc.

I heard an officer saying-

Maine file par noting de di hai” (I have given my noting on the file).

This interesting caption was read at the rear of the car -

Gabhru on hunt.”

This unique phenomena prevail among all classes of people - general public, students, professionals, officials, business or executive class. From where did they learn this art of hybrid communication is difficult to say or analyze. This is the tremendous impact of the astonishing developments in science, technology, computers and IT, means of communication etc. on the structure of written and spoken English. It has become a fashion also and, perhaps, it has strengthened the communicative competence and performance of all these classes!

But what has wondered me more is the depressing environment for learning language, communication and humanities in the speedily coming up of Engineering and Technical Colleges and Institutes in the rural and semi-urban areas. Learning process of Communication Skills in the Polytechnics and Polytechnic Colleges is still more negligible and even deplorable. May be such openings have resulted from the general policy of economic liberalization for achieving the fast-track social, economic, educational development, especially in the rural and backward areas of the country. With all the infrastructure, the learning and teaching of Communication Skills as a subject of course obligation and language have been suffering from cardiac arrest. All Engineering and Technical Courses are devoid of the teaching of Humanities. My serious and honest observation there has been that even the faculty and, in some cases, Principals/Directors need be given lessons, training and tests, at least twice a month, in Language and Humanities for it is my strong conviction that without interest and reasonable competence in these areas, they can’t do justice to their professional responsibilities. It has been shocking to find that they are, almost all, completely ignorant, and even disinterested, in raising the level of their awareness about significant historical, economic, political events and affairs. I remember that my Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Chemistry, Physics, Math, and even Hindi teachers were remarkably gifted in their vast range of knowledge and command over the Communication Skills. My Professors of English, Economics and Political Science could discuss anything under the sun because of their scholarship and their students proved their worth and enviable competence in high and very high positions. This is the miracle of Communication Skills finely clubbed with General Studies! And there was no teaching of CS in those days!

Given such a wealth of words from a phoren language we use in our everyday personal, social and professional life, extremely low level of communicative competence and general awareness, we need urgently to have a re-look at the learning and teaching process of CS, of course, English. It is well-known and understood that without communicative competence, the performance of personality remains low; in today’s situation, it is largely miserably low. Unless or until some meaningful inputs are provided in all earnestness, we may not ensure a reasonable and acceptable level of communicative competence. It has been painful to observe that the prescribed syllabus of Communication Skills in the Technical Universities is not only deficient but also irrational and needs immediate overhauling to cater to the professional requirements. Although there has been a considerable theoretical emphasis and focus on Reading Skills, Speaking Skills, Listening Skills and Writing Skills, negligible effort is made to make all these skills of any practical use. The background of a very vast number of students and their foundations and interest in the language/s, of course, Communication Skills, is pitiable, if not deplorable. The award system and the internal assessment are intolerably faulty. Even the teachers engaged in the subject or programme remain lax for reasons, personal and professional. At the M.B.A. level also in these institutions, there are no useful parameters to improve their Communication Skills, Executive or otherwise. These senior-level students have been seen to be low, if not miserably low, in their level of awareness of the pre-requisites of their tolerable success in future, although these students have diverse academic backgrounds. It further adds to the woes of the learners and teachers when they realize the fast increasing importance of these skills in determining their rate and level of success in the prospective managerial and professional responsibilities. Now when the MNC are widely spreading their net, the learning of other languages like Italian, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese etc. is also becoming essential in undertaking joint and collaborative ventures.

This may seem far-off presently in the fast developing rural and semi-urban academic environment. It needs a very serious and immediate look at the prevailing situation in the teaching of Communication Skills, with all the constraints of the workload of other subjects and the general environment. Spending 3-4 hours in different labs and workshops daily is more or less monotonous and killing and this load may be reasonably reduced to accommodate larger and long-term interests. Some specially compiled anthologies to suit the requirements of English for Specific Purpose with necessary added notes and tips for guided creative writing may be prescribed initially. Then the students be acquainted with the other components of CS. In the final year of their chosen course, a tentative list of great books can be prescribed for independent studies for detailed discussion by the teachers directing the students to write their own impressions and observations about what they understood and felt. This will be a big boost to their CS and partly to their personality development preparing them to readily face the interviews. This will further cure many maladies that downplay their hidden potential. The teaching of CS in these Colleges and Institutions must enjoy respectable status; the Department of Languages and Humanities be created there as it exists in the NITs and IITs so that the credential of their students also enjoy their own prestige.


More by :  Prof. R. K. Bhushan

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