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Freshman's Roadmap

While anyone could use this roadmap, it is meant specifically for the students in non-metro areas with limited availability of resources.

If your high school education was in English medium you can skip the following section.

If you studied Maths and Science in your mother tongue, you do not have to worry about your fluency in English language.  In fact, you have certain advantages that you might realize later in life in unique situations.  You can improve dramatically through college years if you stick to a simple plan and work diligently.  Don't be in a hurry to speak in English.  Here are some suggestions:
  • While reading a newspaper and watching TV in English might help, we do not recommend this approach.  In our opinion the content choice is limited and you are better off reading books - either technical or general ones. Learn to skim through the headlines and guess the article's content without reading fully.  You should not ignore your mother tongue.  You would be forced to follow the news in your mother tongue whether you take time to do so or not as the people in your family and college would be actively talking about the headlines.  If this is the case, you already know the news for the day.  Reading an English newspaper in this context would help you learn some vocabulary as the headlines have most of the message in any language.
  • Read - First priority is your subject books; second priority is to read some classics (not necessarily Shakespeare - if you have this much time, it's good). Refer to our reading list.  While you may have to use a dictionary, the sooner you stop using a dictionary the better.  Why? We explain that in other sections below. When we say subject books are first priority - we mean you should read them even before the subject is taught in a classroom.  It does not matter if you do not understand most of the information. At least you would see how the material is organized and how difficult a subject is if it is not taught by someone.  You will get a chance to do some homework - refer to the dictionary and familiarize yourself with the words you never heard before.   Refer to the spoken English material that is published in Eenadu over the last decade.

  • Write - Take notes. Write down rough / class notes when you are in a classroom setting or watching a video. Do not write full sentences.  Pay attention to the keywords and jot them down.  You should read any reference material suggested by the speaker. After you finish reading the related books once, you should write down fair / home notes using sentences that you may have marked as important while reading different sources.  This will be a slow process.  Hence most of the people do not do this.  This is the primary source of failure to learn the language and also the subject itself.  While a genius may not have to do this, we have seen consistent and dramatic improvement in those who have taken the time to follow this method.

  • Listen - Again do not limit yourself to the TV as the subtitles are displayed most of the time in movie channels.  Use some of the resources we suggested in the language resources page where you can control the subtitles.  Download mp3 files provided on the BBC site or other sites (links given in OpenCulture web site listed in the language resources page) and listen.

  • Reflect - After you read a lot of sources, write down some notes, and listen to different points of view, you should think and see if you can identify any patterns or larger themes.  You should evaluate others' opinions in their own framework and also against your current belief system.   This does not mean you should change your beliefs.   As you ponder all the different possibilities on any given topic, you would come to some conclusions.  Write them down.  At this stage, we have a suggestion that's very critical to follow: think in the language, English, in which you would be communicating your own ideas. When you do this you have enough references you can quote and express your own original ideas or summary of what you see as relevant from all the sources you studied.  You are now ready to speak your mind and not just respond with simple sentences memorized from some spoken English course.

  • Speak - If you do your homework early in life (through college years) as suggested above, your speech will be natural.  You would be able to participate in any discussion even if you are new to that specific topic.  The habits listed above would come in handy in long meetings where you are not the first speaker and you are expected to express your opinions half way through the meeting or at the end.  Our assumption is that you would have learned a lot of strategies to assimilate information and respond back in a composed manner if you practiced the above skills for some years.  It worked for us and others.

Improve your English vocabulary and usage

Two best resources that you must own and finish reading in the first year of college:

  1. Word Power Made Easy, Norman Lewis
  2. Basic English Usage, Michael Swan
Buy them online at flipkart at a discount rate and they will be delivered to your doorstep. You can pay cash at the time of delivery.  If you can afford, you may want to buy 'Practical English Usage - Michael Swan' as a reference (as it is difficult to read this dictionary style book cover to cover).

If you follow the above advice you are ready to stop using the dictionary as it is very inefficient when you read technical books.  You should understand the meaning of an unknown word based on the context.  This is not possible in early stages unless you think in parallel contexts naturally.  Here is an example - ecosystem. Look it up in the dictionary.  I doubt you would find any 'computer' reference in any of the meanings.  This word is used while explaining a lot of concepts and related technologies in computing technology industry.   You will run into a similar issue while reading any book on philosophy. 

There are other good books similar to these.  If you can lay your hands on them, try flipping through the pages to see if there is anything interesting that you did not know.

Computers, Internet and Programming

Irrespective of your background, if you plan to be a professional in the computer software industry, you should not remain as a simple consumer of technology.  Refer to this seven page document on what you could do.  While that document talks about different possible working environments that you can setup and use, here are some open/free courses that you can do before you get started with professional environment setup (that would be useful for courses in your college or as prerequisites for some of the online courses we might highlight in other roadmaps).  While it is not required we suggest that you skim through the 'Beginner - Computers' and 'Beginner - Internet' roadmaps before you get started with the following courses.

  1. Understanding Computers and Internet. Computer Science E1 offered at Harvard.  "This course is all about understanding: understanding what's going on inside your computer when you flip on the switch, why tech support has you constantly rebooting your computer, how everything you do on the Internet can be watched by others, and how your computer can become infected with a worm just by being turned on. Designed for students who use computers and the Internet every day but don't fully understand how it all works, this course fills in the gaps. Through lectures on hardware, software, the Internet, multimedia, security, privacy, website development, programming, and more, this course "takes the hood off" of computers and the Internet so that students understand how it all works and why. Through discussions of current events, students are exposed also to the latest technologies."  Refer to prior year materials also as they may have some interesting content that may not have been presented in the current year sessions (e.g. year 2006 has workshops also where as those are not present in some of the later years for this course).
  2. The Beauty and Joy of Computing. Visual Programming Course at UC Berkeley.  Learn programming concepts using visual programming approach. Do this before you join any college that has programming in C or Java as a requirement in the first year of your college.   "The real transformative and empowering experience comes when one learns how to program the computer, to translate ideas into code. This course will teach students how to do exactly that, using BYOB (based on Scratch), one of the friendliest programming languages ever invented. It's purely graphical, which means programming involves simply dragging blocks around, and building bigger blocks out of smaller blocks. But this course is far more than just learning to program. We'll focus on some of the "Big Ideas" of computing, such as abstraction, design, recursion, concurrency, simulations, and the limits of computation. We'll show some beautiful applications of computing that have changed the world, talk about the history of computing, and where it will go in the future. Throughout the course, relevance will be emphasized: relevance to the student and to society."  Refer to past lectures also as they may contain some interesting information.
If your internet connection is not good, get some of these via sneakernet.