English Bites! By Manish Gupta – Book Review
The English language has a unique status in India. It is a measure of education, class, and accessibility to many things. Today it is fast becoming the de facto language of the youth. An integral part of colloquial local languages as well. But, till a couple of decades back most of us struggled with it, especially when it came to speaking fluently in English. At home, we spoke our respective languages. At school, we learn how to read and write English. But who was to teach us talking in English with its unpredictable pronunciation. As a generation that went to school in the 80s, we taught ourselves. We learned from here and there – we did not have the Internet or even TV except for news may be, and some of us took it more seriously than others. Manish Gupta, the author of this book English Bites is one of them.
I discovered that author was in the same city, studying in the same vicinity around the same time, he is probably a couple of years my senior. So, I related very strongly to his personal anecdotes, as the backdrop was as much mine.
This book is author’s biography in a way, seen through the lens of his English learning journey. It begins more or less when he steps out of his hometown to join an engineering college in Chandigarh. Where he discovers two sets of students – those who can speak English fluently and only speak in that. And those who cannot. He obviously belonged to the second category with a determination to join the first one. He starts his journey slowly by trying to learn the new words. And soon figures out that it does not really work. Then begins his journey to find new ways to learn new English words and phrases. He uses some known and some unknown ways to learn English words. And he shares his journey in an interesting way while making you learn a few hundred new words.
Half the book is footnoted explaining the words in bold. You could see the same definitions in the dictionaries. But reading it in the context makes you understand it easier.
He uses the words in various fields to learn in a systemic manner. For example words around Coffee and Conversations, so you learn all the words around coffee, going to their roots and the words that are derived out of those roots. In the process, he also enhances his and now his reader’s knowledge of that field as well. Note that he had chosen those fields that we interact with in our day-to-day lives. Moving chronologically, he traces his journey from being an engineering student to a Tata Steel employee, to an MBA student, to a banker in Mumbai and to a family man. A lot of people from his generation would relate to that journey as well. And a lot of examples he has quoted from his first encounters with many things will ring a bell in many hearts and minds.
English Bites is a book that you will have to read slowly, very slowly. This is the journey of the author with English. And somewhere it becomes your journey as well, as you end up learning few words at least. His story actually is a backdrop on which English learning is embroiled. You are amused at his passion for going to the root of words, still keeping it very simple. He reminded me of Anu Garg, of A Word A Day who has also made learning new words and making others learn new words a passion of a lifetime. I have been subscribed to his mailing list for more than a decade now and still enjoy reading it every day.
Read English Bites if you think your English can do with some help or you want to know how this generation trained itself for a language that is not their mother tongue.