After reading Written and Spoken Communication in English, the book being used to teach English to more than 2 lakh commerce students in Mumbai's hinterland, one might be able to recite definitions of the gerund and infinitive but be none the wiser about how to ask for directions to the train station or leave a message for someone over the phone.
In an economic milieu where the ability to speak and write English confidently is essential for those looking to convert degrees and skills into well-paying jobs, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marathwada University has prescribed this theoretical tome, based on techniques that went out of fashion with bell-bottoms, for its 200 colleges —when Orient Longman, the book's publisher, has a rich collection of other, much more modern and effective English Language Teaching books.
The book comes with no audio material, and three-fourths of it is devoted to an exposition of English grammar, formal rules of composition and phonetic theory, while examples of real-life conversations are crammed into the last thirty pages.
"Communicative language teaching, which aims at imparting communicative competency as against grammatical competence has been proven beyond debate as the best method to teach English as a second language," said Rajan Shinde, who heads the English department in Aurangabad's Maulana Azad College. "The book claims to be based on this system, but makes a mockery of it."
So why has Orient Longman published such a book and why has the university prescribed it? Equally mysterious is the fact that the book has no author.
It is not as if the university's officials do not realise the importance of English. "It is the one stumbling block between a student's success and failure," said Dr Afzal Khan, a former teacher of English and director of colleges and university.
The only defence came from NA Lavande, arts faculty dean, who spent the better part of a an hour’s press conference talking in Marathi about the book's enthusiastic reception in Pakistan, where he said one university had prescribed it. Asked what method the book was based on, he was less sure. “I think it is communicative learning,” he said.