Reviewed by Taimur Sabih
Perhaps only a handful would deny that the notion of a dictionary, complete with a plot, characters, social settings and a great deal more to offer the reader than mere words and their meanings, is atypical, if not completely inconceivable.
However, Manish Gupta, the author of English Bites!: My Fullproof English Learning Formula, has the audacity to break the shackles of convention as he sets out into a territory which has not been tapped into earlier: a story-based dictionary.
Before any further appraisal, and to get a vivid idea of the research and effort that must have gone into producing this work, one must fully comprehend the skill of the author that is manifested in the way he has amalgamated humourous stories with information about semantics, syntax and dialects without ever sounding didactic or insipid, which in itself is quite an extraordinary feat. In addition, Gupta not just expounds the meanings of words in pertinent contexts but also explains the semantic oddities that many words in English can at times contain.
The book’s 14 chapters deal with various aspects of learning the language and how it impacts the life of an individual personally as well as professionally. They address numerous pivotal factors such as the social and ethnic backgrounds of learners, the psychological barriers they face, the amount of effort they are willing to put into learning the language, and the role that English plays in helping people achieve certain things in life — a coveted job, a certain social position and so on.
English Bites! tries to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. There is something for every reader — a student who endeavours to learn English, a teacher or writer who desires to improve her skills, or even a scholar who dares to challenge her own knowledge. They will all find an event, a character, an incident or an experience to relate to.
The stories are told mostly in the first person as Gupta narrates his own experiences during the quest to learn English over a span of two decades. What makes his recollections a fantastic learning tool for others is the fact that since the author has himself struggled to disentangle linguistic perplexities, he is fully aware of the challenges as well as of many helpful techniques.
For instance, Gupta explains how language should be internalised through not just verbal practice, but also through memorisation, understanding and thinking in it rather than the vernacular. He also provides tips through which words can be associated with different objects to abet one’s volatile memory.
Lastly, one cannot overlook the humour that Gupta has incorporated in the engrossing text. His words are simply drenched in wit: “While sharing a cosy corner with her current heartthrob, Sarah suddenly held John’s hand and looking up, announced: ‘The firmament is azure, let’s go to the shore.’ At first, he was not sure what she was suggesting. And just as they reached the destination, the firmament began to roar, and they were caught in a downpour. While running to find some shelter, she suddenly stopped him and looking into his eyes, said, ‘Let’s get bedraggled.’
“Poor John was unable to decide if it really was a flirtatious overture (courtesy the ‘bed’ in bedraggled) or if she meant something else. By a mischance, he decided to go with his initial hunch, and the stinging slap he received ensured that for the rest of his life he would remember that to get bedraggled is to get drenched in water.”