Thursday, December 25, 2008

Module 2.1: O. Henry's Story

This story, "The Gift of The Magi," is about a couple, Jim and Della. They are quite poor and don't have enough money to buy Christmas gifts for each other. They love each other a lot and would love to gift the other a memorable present. Della only has one dollar and eighty seven cents, which she had saved after saving every pie. She is proud of her luxuriant hair. She sells them off and buys a platinum fob chain for Jim. On the other hand, Jim is proud of a watch that he had got as an heirloom but the leather strap is damaged and he feels ashamed looking at the time in public. However, Della had seen a pair of combs at a very expensive shop and she desires them. Jim sells his watch to buy her the combs. When Jim comes home, he sees that Della has cut her hair. Finally, both of them discover that they had bought each other very precious gifts but that those gifts were of no use as both of them had sold their prized possessions.

[In my next post, I'm going to discuss the story further. I'll focus on the vocabulary and some other elements. I hope you liked reading this wonderful story on the occasion of Christmas.]

Module 2: A Christmas Story

Module 2: A Christmas Story

This is a very famous story and all of you must have heard about it. I'm
referring to "THE GIFT OF THE MAGI" by O. Henry. I am going to quote the
entire story here. You can also read it at

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Title: The Gift of the Magi

Author: O. Henry

Release Date: January, 2005 [EBook #7256]
[This file was last updated on December 20, 2003]

Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

This etext was created by Susan Ritchie of Cincinatti, Ohio [8631 Darnell Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45236. email: (send mail to Susan care of this email address)]

Note: This title was first posted in December 1992 as a Christmas extra, but never got a PG etext number. To allow for complete cataloging, this text file has been created with etext number 7256.

by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And
sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two
at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and
the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent
imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied.
Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven
cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the
shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which
instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of
sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding
from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.
A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar
description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout
for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no
letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal
finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a
card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a
former period of prosperity when its possessor was being
paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20,
though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a
modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham
Young came home and reached his flat above he was called
"Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young,
already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with
the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully
at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.
Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with
which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny
she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a
week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had
calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for
Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for
something nice for him. Something fine and rare and
sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy
of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room.
Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin
and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a
rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly
accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had
mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before
the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face
had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled
down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham
Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's
gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's.
The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in
the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair
hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her
Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the
janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement,
Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed,
just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling
and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below
her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then
she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered
for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on
the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown
hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle
still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the
stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair
Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected
herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly
looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's
have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a
practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings.
Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores
for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim
and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the
stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a
platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly
proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by
meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It
was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew
that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and
value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars
they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87
cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly
anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch
was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the
old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a
little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons
and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages
made by generosity added to love. Which is always a
tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny,
close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a
truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror
long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before
he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney
Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I
do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was
on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her
hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that
he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair
away down on the first flight, and she turned white for
just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent
prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she
whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He
looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only
twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a
new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter
at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and
there was an expression in them that she could not read, and
it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor
disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she
had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with
that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way.
I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived
through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow
out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My
hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and
let's be happy. You don't know what a nice--what a
beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as
if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the
hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like
me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air
almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I
tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be
good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head
were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness,
"but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put
the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He
enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with
discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other
direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is
the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the
wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was
not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated
later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw
it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I
don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a
shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.
But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me
going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.
And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick
feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating
the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the
lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and
back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window.
Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled
rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.
They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had
simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope
of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that
should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was
able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair
grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and
cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it
out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious
metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and
ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find
it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day
now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and
put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away
and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at
present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your
combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise
men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They
invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise,
their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the
privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I
have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two
foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for
each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a
last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of
all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give
and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they
are wisest. They are the magi.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

E-learning Options and Tools

I am trying to see how to implement podcasting as a feature in blogger accounts. I don't think the feature exists. I would need to find out if it does and how to work it out. For beginners, podcasting means broadcasting of podcasts or audio/video files over the internet. Podcasting has been there for quite a while and it still has a pretty good future. However, merely transforming blog posts into podcasts is not a very intelligent idea at all. On the other hand, if e-learning modules on blog posts are supplemented by podcasts, it could enhance the reach of e-learning modules in a major way. If this cannot be done at blogger, I would keep my blogs here but post a remote link to the audio files that I record on my PC and host those audio files elsewhere. I love blogger services a lot. Blogger has a blog which gives updates about new features. I'll look it up and see what's up there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Module 1.2: Building Vocabulary

We are now going to look at Vir Sanghvi's article on Ratan Tata and pick out words that might seem difficult. The link is here:

So, here we go--

1. Admired: Past tense of 'admire'. 'Admire' means to like someone. Admire is a verb. It can be used as a synonym of 'like' but sometimes admiration can be more than mere liking.

(i) I admire you; (ii) Barack Obama is admired the world over

2. Unveiling: To remove the veil or to uncover something, or to unravel something, to bring something to light. Veil is to hide beneath or behind a veil. Veil is also known as purdah. 'Un' is a prefix. A prefix is something that is added in front of a word.

3. Satrap: Small king, small chieftain. I don't this word is Indian English. It was, however, used heavily to describe the rule of various kingdoms in Indian history.

4. Springing up out of nowhere: 'Spring up' is a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb may be made by joining a preposition and a verb in a compound word. Here, 'springing up' means mushrooming, taking birth. Using phrasal verbs makes your language look versatile, enjoyable and rich. It is a good tool to impress people in a short period of time.

5. Crises: This is the plural of 'crisis'. I have seen that many people flounder here.

6. Diminish: Diminish means to reduce. Diminish is a verb.

(i) In economics, the theory of diminishing returns is quite popular.

7. Derided: Criticized, condemned.

8. Scuttled: To spoil something, to stop something from happening.

9. Feted: To fete means to compliment.

10. Lick politicians' boots: The actual phrase is 'lick boots' or 'to lick boots'. Here, the boots are not physically licked. To lick boots means sycophancy of the last degree.

Module 1.1: Sanghvi's Article Continued

In the article, Sanghvi continues further. In the next paragraph, he says, "It was a time of change. New groups were springing up out of nowhere". He continues further in the fourth paragraph of the article:

At Tata headquarters, however, the crises mounted: record losses at Tata Motors, the much-derided plan to launch the Indica, criminal charges over Tata Tea’s alleged links with Assam militants, allegations of foolishness in the sale of Tata Oil Mills’ assets, a plan to launch a domestic airline with Singapore Airlines that was comprehensively scuttled and more. And many of us wondered if we were watching India’s greatest industrial group diminish before our very eyes.

The way he builds up the tempo, to use a term from chess, in the beginning of the article, in the first four paragraphs, makes it very clear that he is trying to show that when Ratan Tata came on to the scene, the Tata group seemed to be in doldrums and that Ratan Tata was the person who not only rescued it, but also transformed it into a giant. I do not disagree with Sanghvi but I'm trying to dissect his writing strategies. If you use similar writing strategies, you can also achieve similar effects.

This is one strategy of building up the tempo slowly as you go ahead in your article. It is an interesting writing strategy because it keeps the reader hooked on to the article till the end. So, I have had situations in my classes, where my students have disagreed with the contents of a couple of Vir Sanghvi articles but they have never faulted him for his writing style. I am sure this is something that beginners can inculcate.

In my next post, which would be a kind of follow-up and final post on this article, I would refer to various tough to understand and less commonly used words in the article and focus on their usage.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Module 1: Vir Sanghvi's Article on Ratan Tata

For those of you who haven't heard the names of Vir Sanghvi and Ratan Tata, they might seem like foreign names to you. Vir Sanghvi has been India's most prominent journalist and Ratan Tata has been a great capitalist. You will find below extracts from an article (a profile) that Vir Sanghvi wrote on Ratan Tata. This was published in a leading national English newspaper called Hindustan Times and this article was published on January 12, 2008, in both the print edition as well the web edition of the newspaper. This text is fully under the public domain.

The online link to the article is here:

This is an excellent article in terms of its language and the use of rhetorical devices. Look at the title and the first two paragraphs. See the way the article starts:

Ratan Tata: Then And Now

Nobody disputes that, during his lifetime, JRD Tata was the most respected — and probably the most admired — businessman in India. On Thursday, as I watched the TV coverage of Ratan Tata unveiling the Tata Nano in New Delhi, I was struck by a sudden thought: Ratan has finally inherited JRD’s title. He is clearly the most respected and admired businessman in India today.

And then, I thought back to that phase, 10 years ago, when the Tatas struggled to reinvent themselves in the post-JRD era. I thought of how Ratan was perceived then: awkward, untalented, unworthy of the job, out of his depth and full of vindictive anger against many of the satraps of the JRD regime.

The title itself reveals the positive and the eulogistic nature of the article. This article was written in the context of the unveiling of the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, in New Delhi. In the third sentence of the first paragraph, Sanghvi states that Ratan Tata is India's most admired businessman. In the second paragraph, he charts Tata's growth. Sanghvi also uses an informal style of language. Please note that he calls Ratan Tata as 'Ratan' and not as Tata, which is the formal mode of address in English. To bring out the great achievement of Tata, Sanghvi juxtaposes the adjectives 'awkward', 'untalented' and 'unworthy' with the phrase 'the most admired businessman'. This is a strategy that successful writers would use to emphasize the impact of something.

I would continue discussing this article in my next post. Hope you enjoyed reading the article and hope you liked this e-learning module.

Series on E-learning

Keeping in mind my commitment to e-learning as also the fact that I would like to spread education and knowledge in myriad ways, I have thought of a new series of posts that I am going to run on my blog. I hope all of you shall like it. These posts are going to be instructional in nature and I plan to take full or partial articles from various sources, keeping in mind the copyrights, and analyze them for their language, the rhetorical devises used, usage of different styles of English and the way in which these articles are able to demonstrate language with a flourish.

Various Modes of Education: Some Thoughts

There are various modes of education which are prevalent in a system, such as formal education, distance education, e-learning and homeschooling. Homeschooling could also include distance education and e-learning. The university where I work has yet another system, which is akin to the non-collegiate setting in many universities. They have some called a private student, which is a facility extended to girl students. So, these girls are not requited to take admission through the entrance test or face interviews during the time of admission, however, they are allowed to pay the examination fees when the forms are accepted for examinations and they are allowed to take the final examinations. Private students are allowed in all courses except professional courses, such as Bachelors in Education [B.Ed.], Masters in Business Administration [M.B.A.] etc. They get the same mark sheets and the certificates which are issued to other regular students. The only difference is that their certificate has 'private student' written somewhere, which doesn't make any difference in their seeking further education from the regular stream in any part of the country or in their seeking employment. This system is akin to homeschooling at the college/university level but it isn't known by that nomenclature.

E-learning made its mark in recent times after the advent of the information superhighway and the technological revolution. Access to internet and email made it easier for people staying in remote locations to seek higher education or get trained by studying specific modules. It is a cost-effective option as well for people who cannot get visas or cannot afford to study in certain 'first world' universities in the West.

I would like to discuss more about these issues later as well. I think these are very important issues and one should ruminate on them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

I was participating in an online network, where a professional colleague posted a question about the pros and the cons of homeschooling. There were a number of answers, some of which decried the concept, while some praised it.

My reply was somewhat different-->

I have never been home schooled myself. I went to a school and I went to regular college and university. I did not even take distance courses. However, I would like to give a couple of examples.

The first time, I ever knew of anyone who was home schooled was when I wen to the home of a major Gujarati poet. [Gujarati is one of the many Indian languages.] This person had two sons and he had not sent them to a formal school and both his sons were quite intelligent and were very well-versed in music and the fine arts. When I spoke about this person to another senior person, he kind-of brushed it off saying it was crazy. This was eleven years ago and in India, where we tend to be conservative, this was quite revolutionary and I believe, successful.

The second example isn't exactly a home schooling one but we had a student who studied in a school, which was known to have a number of issues, including horrible teaching standards and rowdy students. The University where I teach has a unique system, it has a nursery school and then it has a school that teaches students till the secondary level and then they get into the college. So, in the last thirteen years of my teaching there, I have never seen any student who passed out from the school on the campus and was academically brilliant. This girl was academically brilliant. I even asked her and she told me that it was because her mother spent a lot of time on her.

So, even if people say the formal system has benefits, it is clear that children need support at home more than anything else. I don't exactly support the socialization theory because the kid can always learn that from parents and the neighborhood.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

English for Academic Purposes: Full Time Position in Japan

[Note: I wasn't contacted directly by the employer. I have placed the job ad here for the benefit of the larger audience and this was posted at a mailing list of which I am a member. I am not responsible for any fraud, however, I have reason to believe that the job post is genuine because it comes from a very reputed organization's mailing list.]

The deadline for applications is January 5, 2009

English for Academic Purposes: Full-time Position

The English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Program at AIU is searching for qualified instructors who are prepared to teach courses in the following areas of our Intensive English for Academic Purposes Program (all skills), Composition I (introduction to post-EAP academic writing), Composition II (research writing), and a post-EAP cross-disciplinary academic reading course. We are looking for applicants who can teach a wide range of courses in the EAP Program, but especially value experience in the teaching of reading and writing from beginning level to advanced composition.

Please submit the following: a letter which outlines your philosophy of education as it applies to language teaching (not longer than 500 words), a résumé, copy of all graduate transcripts, copies of two publications (if available), and telephone and e-mail contact information for references. Application documents should be addressed to:

Committee of EAP Faculty Selection
c/o Division of Academic Affairs
Akita International University
193-2 Okutsubakidai, Yuwa-Tsubakigawa, AKITA, 010-1211 JAPAN
TEL: +81-(0)18-886-5938

Please also note the following:

1. The deadline for complete applications is January 5th, 2009.
2. After screening, selected applicants will be invited to interview (including teaching demonstration) at AIU during the second half of January. Traveling expenses will be paid.
3. We are considering applicants for all academic ranks, from lecturer to professor, depending on qualifications.
4. The salary will be commensurate with experience and academic background.
5. The appointment will start on April 1, 2009 with a renewable 3-year contract.
6. Generous benefits are also included as part of the remuneration, including partial housing allowance, health insurance, and a research fund allowance.

NOTES: International Candidates Will Be Considered. Employer will assist with relocation costs

Requirements Minimum requirements include a Master's Degree in Second Language Acquisition, TESL/TEFL, or a closely related field, and university-level language teaching experience. Preference will be given to those with experience at the post-secondary level with Japanese students in Japan, who have a Ph.D. or ABD. We would also value those with experience in language testing.

Employer Information

About Akita International University

Akita International University (AIU) is a Public University Corporation in Japan whose courses are conducted entirely in English.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Job Opportunities at the National University of Singapore

I have long admired the website of the National University of Singapore among university websites the world over. I have often admired their website for it's look and feel as well as it's ease of access for students. I just saw that the Department of English Language and Literature has advertised for teaching positions. You can find it under the link Job Opportunities on the Department home page at

Watch Your Language

I discovered a very interesting resource at the Cornell University website. This is called Cyber Tower and is accessible from It features videos by academics on a number of subjects. The latest lecture, which is a series of videos, was added this month and is called "Watch Your Language: Improving Communication with Non-Native Speakers" and deals with how 'native' speakers of English should relate to 'non-native' speakers of the language. This lecture has been presented by Stephanie Hanson who works at the International Teaching Assistant Development Program at the Cornell University.

I was unable to play the videos even though I have a broadband connection and I even tried to stream the audio through Quicktime as it is offered on the site. So, that was a bit of a dampener but I was able to go to the various sections of the lecture, which has been split into sections such as Speaking Strategies, Vocabulary, Listening Tips, English Difficulties and Culture.

The references are good and following them up, I was able to glean a couple of interesting tips. The first was an article published in The Newsweek and the second was an article published in The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ article was quite interesting because it spoke about a company which trains people in English communications for corporates and they received a strange request where one of their clients wanted to train employees in sarcasm.