Learning and Teaching English in India

Ravi Sheorey. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2006. Pp. 227.
Reviewed by Periyasamy Dhanavel
Anna University

Ravi Sheorey s Learning and Teaching English in India is the seventh volume in the Research in Applied Linguistics Series from Sage Publications, India. The series aims to present research done in and about multilingual societies and to provide a new orientation to the field of Applied Linguistics through a careful investigation of multilingual societies (p. 2). Sheorey s book achieves this dual aim by applying well-established theories of second language acquisition to the multilingual Indian context with a meticulous and professional approach to the vast collection and insightful interpretation of data to provide a clear picture of English language learning in India.

The ten chapters in the book fall into three broad categories: i) the Indian context, ii) the Indian teachers, and iii) the Indian learners. The first chapter on the Indian context provides the background for the entire study of English language learning and teaching in India. It is an analytical history of English in India with a local and a global perspective. Sheorey gives an insider-outsider analysis of the often complicated enterprise of English learning and teaching in India, as he is an Indian working at an American university. This chapter uncovers the ground by reviewing well-known studies in the field, records the transition from the era of banish English to the current scenario of welcome English , highlights the empowering force of English for the vast masses, observes the attitudes of students and teachers to English, examines the type of materials and methods used and the kinds of examinations conducted to test proficiency in English, and points to the bright future of learning and teaching English in India.

Chapters 3 and 10 deal with Indian teachers beliefs about English language learning and their perceptions of the seriousness of grammatical errors committed by students, respectively. These two chapters indicate that Indian teachers beliefs and attitudes significantly influence students learning of English. Sheorey also offers the implications of these beliefs for teacher education in India. He hopes that the training of teachers with an awareness of their beliefs in the light of current theories in ELT will be helpful in developing more productive teachers of English.

The remaining seven chapters are devoted to Indian students of English who deal with such diverse aspects of their learning as their own theories of learning English, the strategies they use, their learning styles, the role played by their motivation and attitude, and the degree of language learning anxiety they experience while learning English. Notably, Sheorey is also able to give a comparative analysis of almost all of these aspects with reference to studies involving American, Korean, Chinese, Egyptian, and students from other nationalities as well as the differences and similarities in terms of male and female, rural and urban, high school and college Indian students to emphasize that Indian students are a hardworking and motivated lot with a firm determination to master the English language for their social mobility and professional enrichment.

The author s uncommon and abundant interest in students and their abilities reflects a paradigm shift in ELT from teacher-centered teaching to learner-centered learning. In fact, his research may be called learner-centered SL learning research. Though he has brought in many relevant postulates from ELT theoreticians, he prevents himself from falling into the trap of pure imaginative theory. Instead, he displays the age-old proven practice of listening actively to the students to arrive at a learning theory of English in India. He has been able to achieve this stupendous task by teaming with like-minded English teachers across India in developing the appropriate surveys for the studies reported, pilot testing them, and administering their final versions over a period of six years. Readers will notice that the data in each chapter are subjected to careful statistical analysis and interpretation, each chapter has a sound theoretical background with a review of relevant literature in the field, and above all, he remains a humble and honest researcher and never assumes authority for prescribing a course of action for quick results.

Despite the positive attributes, there appears to be two shortcomings in the volume. First, the word teaching does not really belong to the title as the book is almost entirely devoted to empirical studies on the learning of English. Secondly, a chapter (or an appendix) on conducting survey research would have been immensely beneficial to Indian research scholars. Overall, however, Ravi Sheorey s Learning and Teaching English in India is a welcome and commendable addition to the ELT literature in India. Teachers and researchers of English the world over will find this to book an invaluable resource of research findings about students and teachers engaged in the pursuit of English education in India.