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English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

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Making Engineering Students Speak:

MAP Formula and Commutainment Activities

Albert PRayan


A successful teacher of English empowers his/her learners by enabling them to communicate effectively and leading them from dependent stage to independent and interdependent stages. This is possible only if teachers are active and creative and the learning environment is non-threatening and fun.

Commutainment, which refers to communication through entertainment, is essential in the English as a second language (ESL) class as it creates such environment. It has been found that commutainment activities such as role-plays, puzzles and problem-solving exercises promote meaningful communication, provide fun, develop team-work, foster creative thinking and create opportunities for learners to interact with one another.

In view of the underlying roles, such commutainment activities play in the ESL class, as an experiment a class of students of engineering was split into a number of groups and each group was asked to work on different role-play situations. The experiment had different stages from conceptualizing situations to enacting them. Besides role-play exercises, funny anecdotes and jokes were also experimented in the class with the objective of facilitating learning.

This paper defines the role of an effective teacher as the one who follows MAP formula, describes the translation of the formula through commutainment activities, explains different types of these activities, focuses on role playing games, offers justification for using them in the English class and also expounds the process of involving the participants of the experiment in different activities.

Key words: Communication skills, communication games, commutainment, humour, language games, MAP formula, motivation, role-plays, problem-solving exercises, puzzles


Communication trainers and teachers of English who are involved in developing students speaking skills often get frustrated because some students do not attempt to speak at all. When the teacher wants the students to be active in the class they prefer to be passive or certain factors cause them to behave in that manner. The teacher faced with a serious problem of passive students looks for a solution to make them active participants in the teaching-learning process but doesnt succeed always.

In a typical classroom environment it is quite common to have students who are highly motivated or semi-motivated or unmotivated. Sometimes even motivated students decide to be passive because the activities meant to make them speak do not enthuse them. At times, a teacher may have motivated students and give good speaking tasks / activities but the teachers attitude and approach may put the students off.

As a teacher and trainer, I too have faced the problem of passivity; my colleagues at different institutes in India and abroad have faced the problem. It is a universal problem. We have discussed the issue and tried various strategies that have worked in different contexts.

How to motivate the unmotivated or semi-motivated learners and make them speak? What are the factors that contribute to learner interest and involvement in the English class? What are the characteristics of a teacher whose classes students enjoy attending? What strategies does the successful teacher follow? In general, how to teach English in an interesting way and make students fall in love with the language?

During the process of finding answers to the above questions that emerged and reemerged in various seminars and conferences, I devised the MAP formula to make all students in a class speak without inhibition. MAP is the acronym of Motivate, Activate and Participate. The MAP formula was translated into action by introducing commutainment activities such as role-plays, puzzles, problem-solving games, jokes and funny anecdotes in the English class.


MAP formula

1. Motivate

According to Encarta dictionary the word motivate means to make somebody feel enthusiastic, interested and committed to something. A great teacher is a person who can motivate their students. Based on my years of experience as a communication professional and teacher trainer and my interactions with professionals in the field of English language teaching, I suggest the following points to motivate students:

  • A great teacher is a motivator. Before they motivate others they should motivate themselves. It means they should be enthusiastic
  • A great teacher is a role model to their students. If they want their students to speak well, they should be articulate. They should possess 5 Cs: Confidence, Clarity, Conviction, Commitment and Courage. They should inspire their students
  • A great teacher establishes a rapport with their students. They should attract their students towards them. The more the students like the teacher, the better they learn and participate in activities
  • A great teacher is a friend but not a philosopher. That is, they dont sound abstract when they speak to their students. They give concrete examples.
  • A great teacher generously gives a pat on the back. Use phrases such as Well done. It is a good attempt. I liked your argument very much. It is a good point. You have been very creative.
  • A great teacher always sounds positive. They instill confidence in their students. They tell the students that it is easy to develop their speaking skills and make them believe it. They make the students believe that they have the potential to express themselves clearly in the target language.
  • A great teacher uses strategies that do not threaten the students. It is very important to learn and practice a language in a non-threatening environment.

2. Activate

The word activate here means to make someone active or to cause someone be productive. I came across this statement from a book: Ignite, fuel, sustain a fire in the mind of your student.

The students can be activated in a number of ways:

  • By creating a friendly and conducive environment for students to speak and discuss topics and issues. The layout of the classroom, for example, matters a lot.
  • By making students feel comfortable discussing any topic. Some topics may not arouse their interest at all. Recently, I gave the following controversial topics for group discussion:
    1. A Baby boy is a blessing and a baby girl is a curse
    2. Money is more important than values
    3. Smoking in public places should not be banned
    4. Most engineering students in India lack critical thinking skills.
    5. Ragging promotes friendship and unity among freshers and senior students and so it should be encouraged
    6. Caste system is a blessing in disguise and so it should be strengthened
    7. Success in life comes from money
    8. Collecting capitation fees is the right of self-financing colleges
    9. Brain drain should be encouraged
    10. Politics and corruption do not go together

The controversial nature of the topics listed above made most students express their views. Even students with low level of proficiency and shyness came forward to speak. The students attributed their spontaneity to the controversial topics.

  • By encouraging free discussion. The objective is to make your students speak fluently. At a later stage, you can train them to be coherent, logical, etc.
  • By tolerating students grammatical errors and correcting them later.
  • By allowing judicious use of certain words and expressions in the students native language when they struggle to find the equivalents in English.
  • By encouraging pair work and group work.
  • By making students sit face to face during group discussion. Direct eye contact helps students develop their communication skills.

3. Participate

The third principle is to participate. It means to take part in an event or activity. It implies that the teacher should come down to the level of students. It is possible only if they undergo a paradigm shift and have a positive attitude towards their students and adopt a result-producing approach.

The teacher should mingle with their students and participate in activities such as group discussions. This is a motivating factor for students with whom the teacher has established a good rapport. Such participation helps the teacher know the strengths and weaknesses of the students and take necessary action.

Translating the MAP formula into action through commutainment activities

Communication plays an important role in everyones life. A human, being a social animal, cannot live without communicating or being communicated to. An effective communicator is the one who communicates his / her message in a very clear and effective manner and tastes success in his / her intention of communicating the message to the receiver of the message. Those who have fairly good communication skills possess these fives Cs: confidence, commitment, conviction, courage and clarity. Such persons demonstrate their ability to speak; they express their views confidently, courageously and clearly; their desire to speak English well exhibit their conviction and commitment; their utterances reveal their clarity of thought and clarity of expression.

The fact that even students pursuing their studies at the university level do not have adequate English communication skills in spite of having learnt the language for more than a decade makes ELT professionals raise a number of questions related to the gap between the training imparted by teachers / trainers and skills learnt or proficiency demonstrated by students.

How to develop students communication skills? What strategies should the teacher of English follow to invigorate their teaching? How to bridge the gap between the teaching and learning of English?

A lot of changes have taken place in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). The traditional way of teaching the language took into consideration only the intellectual aspect. Language is not merely an intellectual matter. A human is a bundle of emotions and therefore this aspect also should be taken into consideration while teaching a language to learners. There is a need to entertain the learner to enhance learning.

Commutainment activities

The word commutainment refers to communication through entertainment. Commutaining implies facilitating communication through entertainment. Commutainment activities can be interchanged with the terms communication games and language games. Such activities, if properly planned, prepared, practiced and executed, can provide fun, pleasure and entertainment and can be used to improve the communication / language skills of learners. Communication games which are participatory in nature can create a plenty of opportunities for learners to interact with one another. What is a good language game?

A good language game requires little or no advance preparation, is easy to play and yet provide the student with an intellectual challenge, is short enough to occupy a convenient space in the conversation programme, entertains the students but does not cause the group to get out of control, and requires no time consuming correction of written responses afterward (Byrne, 1980).

Communication games improve students fluency in the target language and enable them to develop their spontaneity and creativity. Communication games help teachers teach the target language in a meaningful manner and the use the language in a proper context.

Communication games are very useful in building up relationship with the group. The members of the group come closer to one another. Linguistically disadvantaged students are encouraged by the advantaged ones to speak freely. Jill Hadfield (1987) says:

The inclusion of games as an integral part of any language syllabus provides an opportunity for intensive language practice, offers a context in which language is used meaningfully and as a means to an end, and acts as a diagnostic tool for the teacher, highlighting the areas of difficulty One of the most important reasons for using games is simply that they are immensely enjoyable for both teacher and student.

What should be the role of the teacher who uses communication games? They should get answers to the following questions before they use any game.

  • Are the students interested in playing a particular game?
  • What is the proficiency level of the students? (Elementary / Intermediate / Advanced)
  • What are the objectives of the game?
  • What language skills and items are to be taught?
  • Has the game been field-tested?
  • Is the classroom environment conducive enough to conduct the game?

The language teacher plays the role of a facilitator. Maley and Duff (1982) states that the teacher must observe the following norms to use a language game in a very successful manner:

  • Before trying out a new activity ask the student to suspend judgment until it is over
  • Give precise and unambiguous instructions for each activity; make sure students know who their partners are, which group they are working in, what they are expected to do
  • If materials (such as pictures, objects) are needed, make sure they are provided
  • Keep close control over the time; avoid the temptation of letting an activity outgrow its own limitations; the saying that one should always leave the table feeling one could eat more is relevant here as well it is better to stop too early than too late
  • Decide what your role is going to be; how much you are going to intervene (if at all)

Types of commutainment activities

There are different types of commutainment activities that a teacher can use in the English as a second language (ESL) class. I used the following activities in the class to develop a group of engineering students communication skills:


         Humour / Language jokes

         Funny anecdotes

         Problem-solving games


The focus of this paper is only on role plays. What is a role play? Why should a teacher of English use role plays in the class? What are the salient features of a good role play? How does a role play work? These questions are discussed in the following section.

Role plays

According to Crookall and Oxford (1990), there is little consensus on the terms used in the role playing and simulation literature. A few of the terms often used interchangeably are simulation', games, role play, simulation-game, and role play simulation and role playing game.

A role playing game is an activity or a language game in which the participants or students of a language course assume the roles of some imaginary characters and as a team create a story based on a situation and enact the play in front of an audience.

The objective of role-plays is to help students practice certain language functions and learn speaking skills. Here is a sample situation:

You are a software engineer working in Mumbai. A pickpocket has stolen your purse and you have lost your train ticket, money and debit cards. The train to your hometown will arrive at the station in 30 minutes and if you miss the train you will have wait at the station for about 18 hours. Your brothers wedding is at your hometown the following day and your presence is very much required at home. You talk to a stranger and try to convince the person and succeed in reaching your town.

This role-play situation requires two persons to perform it. One assumes the role of the software engineer and the other plays the role of the stranger in the situation. The duo together creates a story based on the situation and plan how they are going to carry out the role-play.

If the main objective of asking students to enact this role play is to enable students to confidently use the language functions such as describing, explaining and persuading, during the preparation stage, the teacher can pre-teach a set of common phrases used to perform such functions. Then they are given opportunity to practice it.

Why should role-plays be used in the English class? It is not enough merely to provide students with opportunities to speak in English, as teachers we need to encourage students to speak in a variety of different situations, and hence help them to learn to speak with confidence. (Role Plays in the ESL Classroom, Instructions to the English teacher)

Role-plays can help students practice many language functions in an informal, natural and non-threatening environment and enable them to develop their fluency. In a class of 30 students, the teacher can put the students into ten groups of three members. In 15 minutes time each group can create a story and practice a role play. In activities like role-plays all students are given opportunities to speak and participate. According to, The effective use of role-plays can add variety to the kinds of activities students are asked to perform. It encourages thinking and creativity; lets students develop and practice new language and behavioural skills in a relatively safe setting, and can create the motivation and involvement necessary for real learning to occur.

Scarcella and Crookall (1990) elaborate how role plays facilitate second language acquisition. In three learning theories they discuss how learners acquire language when:

  1. they are exposed to large quantities of comprehensible input,
  2. they are actively involved and
  3. they have positive attitudes.

According to Krish (2001) role play encourages peer learning, and sharing of responsibility, between teacher and the learner in the learning process, takes place. Krish further states that language teaching can be an interesting challenge when teachers make the effort to explore a variety of approaches. Role play is just one of the many methods available for exploitation.

What are the features of a good role-play?

  • A good role-play is based on a familiar situation
  • The situation should pose a conflict
  • The group of characters does not exceed 2-3 members
  • It takes 4-7 minutes
  • It gives extensive speaking practice to the participants
  • It is based on real world contexts and allows students to speak naturally
  • It is interesting and enjoyable
  • It develops the participants creativity
  • It fosters their critical thinking skills
  • It breaks monotony and makes other students participate

The group of students with whom commutainment activities were experimented consisted of 35 first-year undergraduate engineering students. Most of them were from semi-urban areas and though 85 per cent of them had their schooling in English-medium, they were not comfortable expressing themselves in English. During their school days, they never had opportunities to speak in front of the class. The challenging task given to me was to motivate them and develop their speaking skills. When invited to talk on some familiar topics, only a few students volunteered and the others were reluctant. Their passivity was attributed to their lack of self-confidence, fear of making mistakes and being laughed at by their friends.

A motivating session helped them gain confidence. They were made to understand the deeper meaning of the following statements and personalize them:

It is my right to speak English

It is my right to make mistakes

It is my right to speak in front of the class

It is my right to express my views to others

It is my right to learn new things

Then the importance of role-play activities and how they would help them develop their fluency and other speaking skills were explained to the group. A few sessions were devoted to role-play games.

Given below is the account of how I introduced role playing games in the English class? The whole process was divided into three stages: i) Pre-role play, ii) During role play, and iii) Post-role play.

1. Pre-role play stage

At this stage of the process, planning and the execution of the plans took place. The following steps were followed at the pre-role play stage:

  • The objectives of role-play activities were explained to students
  • Required vocabulary and functional language appropriate to the situation and to the role-play were explained
  • The students were divided into groups of 2-5 members
  • Whether the students were familiar with the situation was assessed
  • Students were asked to discuss the situation and prepare a story based on the situation
  • 15-20 minutes was allocated to prepare and practice

2. During role play stage

At this stage role plays were performed and the participants performance was assessed.

  • Each team was invited to perform its role-play
  • Some students were asked to assess the performance of each group based on the criteria provided

3. Post-role play stage

The final stage included these steps:

  • The participants were asked to give self-assessment of their own performance
  • The assessors were asked to give their feedback based on certain criteria
  • Each groups performance was discussed and suggestions for improvement were given by the teacher

The following are some of the situations for role playing that were practiced and enacted in the class.

Sample role-play situations

Situation 1

You have passed your +2 exams and scored 92 percent. Your dream is to get a degree in information technology and become a software professional, but your parents do not have regular income to support your studies. You want to apply for a study loan. You along with your father go to a bank and meet the bank manager.

Roles: a student, a parent, a bank manager

Language functions: introduction, discussion, persuasion

Situation 2

You have opted for B. Tech Biotechnology and you want your friend also to join the same course. But he / she is interested in information technology. You should tell him / her the advantages of specializing in biotechnology. Your friend will highlight the advantages of getting a degree in information technology.

Roles: 2 students

Language functions: agreeing and disagreeing, persuasion

Situation 3

You are the only child of your parents. Your parents and a close relative of yours want you to join in a reputed college of arts and science in your hometown which does not have many industries or businesses. You want study in Chennai. You discuss the advantages of studying in Chennai.

Roles: parents, a relative, a student

Language functions: agreeing and disagreeing, persuasion

After a few sessions of role playing simple situations, complex situations with elements of conflicts were introduced in the class. The students were distributed role play cards and given a few minutes to prepare and carry out the role play. Given below are sample role play cards:

Role Play Card 1

Student 1: You have applied for the post of a programmer in a software company. You have been called for an interview. As per the advertisement, you are required to have 3 years of experience in a reputed IT company. But you have only 2 years of experience and that also not in a reputed company. During the interview you should highlight your strengths and convince the interviewer that you are the best suitable person for the job.

Student 2: You are the interviewer. During the interview through your questions you should find out the candidates family background, education, qualifications, skills and suitability for the job.

Role Play Card 2

Student 1: You want to go to US for your higher studies. You are required to take the TOEFL test. You dont have any idea about the test. You approach the career counselor of your college and discuss your plans with him / her and get details about the TOEFL test.

Student 2: You are a career counselor. You listen to the student and give guidance to him / her.


The students were asked to express their views on how role plays and other commutainment activities helped them develop various skills, what strategies and methodology a teacher of English should to facilitate learning in the class. The following is the summary of their feedback.

Commutainment activities:

-          broke the ice

-          boosted our confidence level

-          stimulated students interest

-          increased our participation and involvement

-          injected enthusiasm in us

-          engaged students in meaningful conversation

-          helped us develop social skills (turn taking, adjusting, etc)

-          cement relationship

-          kindled our imagination

-          nourished our reasoning skills (solving problems)

-          provided fun

-          created a conducive environment for learning

-          fostered our creativity

-          allowed natural conversation

-          developed active listening skills

-          encouraged cooperation among participants

-          promoted team spirit

-          motivated us to interact with one another

-          made the discussion lively

-          exposed students to real conversational English

-          strengthened our language skills

What impact did the new way of teaching grammar have on students? The students started sending me jokes and funny anecdotes by email, suggested materials that can be used in the English class and developed a positive attitude towards learning grammar. There was a healthy competition among students. The carrying out of commutainment activities had a catharsis effect on them. They expressed that role play games were instrumental in developing their communication skills.

Through the game, students practiced many language functions and learnt to work with others. Loui (2006) expressing his views on using cases in role-plays, agrees that role play exercises help learners collaborate with others to achieve wise solutions to difficult problems. Larsen-Freeman (1986) and Ladousse (1987) share the view that role play exercises give learners an opportunity to practice communicating in different social contexts and develop their fluency in the language, promote interaction in the classroom and increase motivation.


As discussed in the paper, language games facilitate learning and help learners learn the target language in a meaningful manner, but teachers of English belonging to the old school, who are not aware of the power of commutainment activities, may argue that playing games in the classroom will result in chaos and it will be difficult to maintain discipline among students.

They may not digest the motto of the new school play and learn. They may not believe in the principle communication through entertainment. But the proponents of commutainment activities should continue to advocate the principle what we learn with pleasure, we never forget. The clash between the traditional school and the new school will continue.

The new way of teaching English demands a lot from the English teacher. They should play a radical role, entirely different from a traditional teachers role. They should:

-          assess the needs of the learner

-          create a wonderful setting for students to enjoy learning English

-          amuse and entertain them

-          capture students imagination

-          bring language alive by introducing humour and using stories, jokes, etc.

-          motivate them to learn and be productive

-          develop their creativity and thinking abilities

-          play a non-threatening role

-          involve students in the learning process

-          make the class interactive

-          always get students feedback and modify their teaching methods to suit the taste of the majority of students.


The English language plays an important role in the career advancement of millions of people in the Indian sub-continent. It is an inevitable tool for those who aim at establishing a wide contact in the global village and climbing up the ladder of success. It is the responsibility of teachers of English to teach the language effectively. English as a second language can be taught and learnt in an interesting and at the same time effective manner through various commutainment activities. What is important is that language teachers should be ready to evaluate their teaching and get feedback from their students. If they did not achieve the result they had aimed at, they must be ready to change their teaching methodology and techniques. A certain amount of openness in the language teacher can really do wonders. They should ask themselves how to make English language teaching and learning more enjoyable and how to enhance students learning and maximize their productivity.

A teacher of English who does not laugh and allow their students to laugh in the English class cannot be a successful teacher of the language.


Byrne, D. (1980), English Teaching Perspectives, Longman, London.

Hadfield, J. (1987), Advanced Communication Games, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., Edinburgh. (2008), Role Plays in the ESL Classroom, Instructions to the English teacher, retrieved 28 Dec.

Krish, P. (2001), A Role Play Activity with Distance Learners in an English Language Classroom, The Internet TESL Journal, 7(7) retrieved 18 Dec. 2007 from

Ladousse, G. P. (1987), Role play, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

LarsenFreeman, D. (1986), Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Loui, M. (2007), Role Playing in an Engineering Ethics Class, Online Ethics Center for Engineering, retrieved 28 Dec. from

Maley, A. & Duff, A. (1982). Drama Techniques in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press, New York

PRayan, A. (2007), Master the 5 Cs, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 20 July, p.2.

PRayan, A. (2007), Making Students Speak, MAP Formula, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 24 Aug. p. 2.

PRayan, A. (2007), Role play games in the English Class, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 19 Oct. p. 2.

PRayan, A. (2008), Commutainment, Education Express, The New Indian Express, 10 Jan. p. 2.



A group of 4 students discussed the situation assigned to them and wrote the following role play. With their permission the role play, without any modification, is appended here.


A student along with her father approaches a bank for an educational loan.


Bank manager, Field officer, Parent, Daughter

Language functions:

Introducing, Asking for information, Discussing

Role playing:

Parent: Excuse me, sir.

Manager: Yes, please come in.

Parent & daughter: Good morning sir.

Manager: Good morning. Please take your seat. What can I do for you?

Parent: I would like to avail an educational loan for my daughter who is going to take up an engineering degree.

Manager (to daughter): How much did you get in 12th boards?

Daughter: I got 90% sir.

Manager: Have you got admission in any college?

Daughter: Yes sir. I have got admission in Jeppiaar College for Biotech course through the Anna University counseling.

Manager: We would be glad to help you. Let me introduce you to our Field Officer, Mr. James who is in charge of loans and he will tell you the exact procedure.

Officer (to manager): Sure sir.

Officer (to the customers): Good morning. To avail for the loan you will have to submit a copy of your marks card, admission letter, address proof, which could be, ration card or bank passbook, salary certificate of the parent and fee structure from the college. We also need two passport size photographs of both of you.

Parent: The total expense for the education is about five hundred thousand rupees. Will you release the full amount in the beginning itself?

Officer: No, the loan will be released year by year. At first we will release the first year fees by D.D to the college. For the second year the amount of fees will be released to the college after you produce her mark sheet of the first year. The same procedure is followed for the consecutive years.

Daughter: What is the interest on the loan sir and when should I repay the loan?

Officer: The interest is at present 12% per annum. The repayment will start six months after completion of the course. In case during the tenure of the loan the interest charged is serviced you will be given a concession of 1% interest.

Officer (to father): What is your take home salary sir?

Parent: It is approximately fifteen thousand rupees per month.

Officer: The bank will be charging interest every quarter. If the interest is not paid; this interest will attract further interest, that is, the interest is compounded.

Parent: Oh, then the loan burden will be very high.

Officer: No. You can repay the interest as and when it is charged by the bank. This way the compounding effect can be nullified. Further, when you get a large sum of money, say a bonus, you can credit this amount to the loan account. This way the loan balance is reduced and hence the interest charge will also be reduced. Hence, when your daughter completes her course, she can comfortably pay off the remaining loan.

Parent (to Officer): I am planning to put her in the college hostel. Will the bank reimburse the hostel fees also?

Officer: Of course, we will take care of the entire educational needs of the child. Dont worry, sir.

Daughter: After my BTech degree if I would like to pursue my studies will I be given a further loan?

Officer: Of course, if you score well we will definitely provide you with financial assistance.

Daughter: Thank you sir.

Parent: Thank you sir, we will come with all the necessary particulars tomorrow.

Parent (to Manager): Thank you, sir.

Daughter (to Manager): Thank you, sir.

Manager: You are welcome. We shall definitely help you out, as we are very keen in assisting deserving children to accomplish their goals. All the best for your future.

Daughter: Thank you, sir.

Manager: Have a good day.


A brief biodata of the authorAlbert P'Rayan teaches English for Science and Technology (EST) and English Communication Skills courses at

Jeppiaar Engineering College in Chennai. His areas of interests include English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course design, Web-based Language Learning (CALL), E-learning and Teacher Development.He has had diverse work experience: media education trainer, editor, teacher and teacher trainer. His recent work experience includes heading the department of English at the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management, Rwanda, East Africa, for five years from March 2000 to December 2004. He is also a freelance journalist and writer. He has contributed numerous articles on social issues to the international media. He contributes a weekly column 'English Matters' to Education Express, a supplement with The New Indian Express.He has presented papers at many English Language Teaching (ELT) and Media Education conferences in India and abroad.He is the editor of English Language Teaching Contact Scheme (ELTeCS) for the India and Sri Lanka region.Besides his full-time teaching and part-time writing activities, he is working on English for Engineering for his PhD.

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