Book review: A Handbook for Applied English
By R.S. Karunaratne
Language can be used for various purposes. Sometimes we give commands: “Bring me a glass of water.” When we wish to express our emotions we say, “You’re wonderful and you’re everything to me in this word.” Language is used in arguments: “If the world is really a flat disc, why is there no record that anyone has ever fallen off the edge?” At other times, language is used to make social noises: “Excuse me!” or “I beg your pardon.” We also need language to make inquiries: “Can you tell me the way to the museum?”
Dr. Jayasiri Perera’s latest book ‘A Handbook for Applied English’ is not a theoretical work on English grammar, but a practical book for the users of the language at different levels. He does not discuss grammatical rules as grammarians do, but tries to help the learner to speak and write good English.
He discusses most of the areas of the language which pose difficulties to the learner. This he does with vivid examples. The chapter on “Practice with questions” will be useful to beginners for most of them do not know how to ask questions. The main difficulty is the word order in questions. The author has given model questions and answers for the guidance of learners.
The chapter on parsing may be something new to most of the learners. Parsing is a technical term used to describe the grammar of a word when it is in a sentence. Or it can be the grammar of the whole sentence. When we were in school five or six decades ago, parsing was more or less a compulsory exercise. However, in modern classrooms, no attention is paid to parsing.
In a chapter titled ‘Spoken English’ the author discusses the eight parts of speech with clear examples. Anyone who reads the chapter will learn how to use nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, interjections, and conjunctions. Those who conduct popular Spoken English classes give sentences or phrases in English with Sinhala equivalents for the students to memorise.
Apart from introducing English grammar, the author has given useful hints on how to say goodbye, make apologies, introduce yourself and others, how to talk about time, give compliments, make complaints, invitations, offers, requests, suggestions and how to ask for information. Learners who may not know how to express their hopes and desires or how to ask for and give opinions will find the book very helpful. The author has included information about how to make appointments, how to make promises and express fear and anxiety and how to admit mistakes.
The chapter on writing includes useful information about planning and preparation, structuring sentences and paragraphs, breaking up long sentences and removing redundancies. The chapter explaining the differences between British English and American English will be useful to advanced students. Many American words have already crept into British English. Even educated people sometimes use American English words and expressions quite unwittingly.
Idioms are difficult to understand because the meaning cannot be deduced from individual words. Each idiom has a special meaning. As the English language is rich in idioms, the learner will have to make an effort to master the meaning of idioms. The book gives 100 idioms which is only the tip of the iceberg. The English language is full of pitfalls for the learner. Some of them are bizarre spelling and illogical rules of grammar. But the most common problem lies in understanding and using the vast array of idioms.
The author has thought it fit to include a chapter on English proverbs which are immensely useful to students and adults as well. Proverbs are pithy sayings which state a general truth or they give a piece of advice. Although there are many contradictory proverbs, they have enriched the language.
English learners will find the short list of palindromes, tongue twisters and quotations found towards the end of the book. The few poems and prose passages included in the book will stimulate young readers to learn and use English fluently.
‘A Handbook for Applied English ‘can be recommended as a useful book for learners, teachers and other users of the language.