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English has been taught in Jamia Millia Islamia since its inception in 1920. Syed Raouf Pasha, who taught English language and D. G. Ibsen, who taught Journalism, were Jamia's first English teachers.

The Department has been offering instruction for the award of the degrees of B. A. Honours (since 1975), M. A. (since 1983), M. Phil. (since 1993) and Ph. D (since 1988). It became a part of the Faculty of Humanities and Languages in 1985. In 1988, the department started teaching Certificate, Diploma, and Advanced Diploma courses in Russian and French. The teaching of Certificate in Italian started in 2001. From 2007, these languages are being taught at the Centre for European and Latin American Studies,

One of the major responsibilities of the department is the “General English” course. Undergraduate courses in all subjects, whether science, commerce or arts, include two compulsory English papers, one in the first year and the next in the second year of the degree programme. The department also offers special “bridge” courses and Communicative English Programmes from time to time.

At present, it is one of the largest departments in the University, with more than 50 students enrolled for research degrees like M.Phil. and Ph.D. Students come from all parts of India, including many from the north-eastern region of India – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. We also have a number of foreign students; i n the past there have been students from Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Khazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia. The Department has scholars from different parts and universities of India with specialisation in major areas of literary studies like Postcolonial Literature, Translation Studies, Literary Theory, Renaissance etc. It has native speakers of Assamese, Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Manipuri, Oriya, Tamil and Urdu, who also have expertise in foreign languages like French.

The main strength of the department is the bilingual (in some cases multi-lingual) competence of the members of the faculty. Translation include not only English translations of Urdu literature, but also translations into Urdu of English and Hindi texts, and English versions of texts originally written in Gujarati, Bangla and Hindi. Their translations have been published by leading publishers like Oxford University Press, Penguin India and Katha.

In 2004, the department was given DRS (Department of Research Support) status under U.G.C.’s Special Assistance Programme. The thrust area identified for the programme was “Translation of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Texts, Critical and Creative (from Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, etc.) With Complete Notes and Annotations”.
The focus is on translating all of Premchand’s short stories, and then his non-fiction. Now we are in the second phase of the UGC Special Assistance Programme, DRS II, from 2009-2014.

The Department publishes theme-based volumes under the series “Jamia Studies in Literature and Ideas”. The first volume Translation: Poetics and Practice edited by Professor Anisur Rahman appeared in 2002 and Literary Theory: Perspectives from Asia edited by Professor S.N.H.Jafri in 2004.

The department organises extra-curricular activities, in addition to lectures and interactive sessions with eminent national and international scholars and writers. The department has been able to nurture the talents of the students. Many undergraduate students have participated in exchange programmes, spending time in American universities. Every year, 2 or 3 students who have completed their M.A. are selected in the Fulbright FLTA (Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship) program, competing with students from all over India. They have successfully taught Indian languages at U.S. universities for one academic year.