A thoughtful contribution to the nation-wide effort to learn English

Book facts: Learning English Book II by D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke and Mona Gooneratne. Reviewed by Dr. E.A. Gamini Fonseka. Vijitha Yapa Publications. Price: Rs. 250

The year 2009 was designated by President Mahinda Rajapakse as ‘The Year of English and IT’. By this, the Government has set a goal of updating and upgrading the human resources of this nation. When the Government has thus established its concern about a major national requirement, the most effective way in which the intellectual community can respond to it, is to develop learning strategies in the respective disciplines that would help to create an up-to-date mechanism for realizing its objective.

In that respect what Emeritus Professor D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke, former Head of the Department of English at the University of Kelaniya, and Ms Mona Gooneratne, former Senior Instructor in English at the University of Kelaniya, have carried out in the field of English by publishing Learning English Book 2, is of tremendous significance. In November 2006, I introduced part one of this book Learning English Book 1 as a sensible approach to communication, and I would like to introduce this as a rightly defined extension of it.

Learning English Book 2 is clearly a progressive departure from its predecessor Learning English Book 1, which had taken into consideration the psychological, social, economic, environmental, and ethnographic challenges the average learner of English in Sri Lanka is faced with, and avoids most of the shortcomings that most textbooks in this category suffer in terms of corpus and design.

Mainly, it is precise about its function as an intermediate-level core textbook focused on supporting the learner with a wide spectrum of learning strategies identified in second language pedagogy in an advanced modern setting in any part of the world.

The book in that respect is on a par with an effective guide to the study of English published in any part of the world. But what is special about it in a Sri Lankan context is that it has concentrated on the needs of the average Sri Lankan learner struggling to master the language amidst numerous unfavourable circumstances and it has provided a set of new realistic strategies for developing communication with a higher degree of complexity than that was represented in its predecessor.

The design features of the 38 lesson units in Learning English Book 2 imply that they are supposed to build further the language ability of the learner based on the strong foundation laid through the 46 lesson units in Learning English Book 1. The corpus of staple materials composed of 11 dialogues, 3 poems, 7 narrations, 10 scientific descriptions, 4 letters, and 3 biographical sketches, covers a considerable area of real life language use. The authors have exploited these materials designed with a touch of authenticity, to present a reasonable number of grammatical, functional, and lexical items that any mature learner of the language should have internalised in order to communicate efficiently.

This can be understood well while analysing the materials from a pedagogical point of view. For example, the talkative lady’s character in Lesson Unit 1 uses language verbosely to suit the epithet given to her. The language sounds authentic as it is featured by contract forms, discourse markers, fragmented structures, functional devices, incomplete sentences, interruptions, etc., which differentiate the spoken from the written. Interaction with this dialogue alone is boosted by a variety of exercises that demand the learner to answer scanning and skimming questions, to judge statements on the text as right or wrong, to hunt for synonyms, to practise sentence patterns, to quote from the text expressions that correspond with various functional descriptions, to create new dialogues, to transform the dialogue into a narrative prose passage, and to fill in the blanks in report form accounts. All these activities which differ from each other urge the learner to act more creatively in comprehending the given language and produce new language to carry out a variety of tasks.

There are 11 dialogues composed with similar conversational strategies and the dramatisation of such dialogue would definitely assist the learner in practising conversational skills, while the language development activities help him or her to develop a good command of the language.

To match with this scheme of work, the other texts too present language within a precise pedagogical frame. The letters concerned with functions such as invitation, application for employment, and apology provide good models for similar activities and help to develop a knack in writing letters through a process involving partial production exercises leading to full production exercises, while the short texts, be they dialogues, poems, narrations, or scientific descriptions, present language in a pleasant style. They are all followed by a sufficient number of language exercises to enhance the learner’s reading, listening, comprehension, reflection, internalisation, retention, and application of the new language elements. Like the texts, the exercises also maintain variety.

The book as a whole does not have any loose ends, and presents language in a lucid spirit, which is crucial for a society like Sri Lanka. Moreover, the book presents an internationally acceptable standard variety of English, and may cater to not only Sri Lankan learners but also learners in other nations who are destined to learn English amidst difficult circumstances.

The attractive dust jacket carries a motif of a puzzle which is part of the learning paraphernalia presented in the book. In a symbolic sense it suggests the degree of complexity of the book as an intermediate-level guide to learning English. I recommend the book strongly as a thoughtful contribution to the nation-wide effort to learn English.

(The reviewer is Head/ELTU, University of uhuna, Matara)

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