May 2011

English in India: Some situational and pedagogical considerations

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*Article first published in FORTELL 2011

The teaching of English in schools in India is in a pathetic state. I also contend that the status of English is similar to a “foreign language” in a non-metropolitan/non-urban domain and a “second language” in urban/metropolitan domain. We can perceive India as a Janus with double facets– one, the urban India and the second, rural India. In the urban areas, the teaching of English starts from the primary level. On the other hand, in the semi-urban and rural India, the government schools start teaching English from class 3, 6 or 8, depending on the policy of the individual state.

Moreover, more often than not ill-equipped/untrained teachers in a foreign language situation, abound in rural/semi-urban India. An urgent need is a training in methodology and ELT for these teachers. The syllabi designed are also based on outdated knowledge of pedagogy and perception. Furthermore, the teacher has to teach English, a foreign language, in a negative environment like large class, pupils without texts, lack of motivation among the students towards learning English, traditional and ineffective teaching methods and the only teaching aid available is the blackboard. In non-urban schools, the exposure to English language is limited to classrooms and that for an hour a day at the most. It is important to note that language acquisition or learning is a gradual process and very different from the study of subjects like History, Political Science, Physics or Chemistry. In these subjects the students have to understand the concept, whereas in language learning one has to learn how to use it to communicate in a variety of forms like letter, essay, story, poem, memo, report or interact/transact with people in different situations in daily life. There is no shortcut method to learn a language, it is a gradual process, so a graded syllabus is required from class one onward.

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Retrieving Activity Based Material: Relevance in the Contemporary Context

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This paper is based on some activity based English Learning materials that were published in the 1950s and 1970s.  The material is almost archival in nature but such past materials help us to reevaluate and reassess our present methodologies.  It is also argued that it is not always necessary to attempt something ‘new’. Materials from the past also act as pedagogical tools and suit contemporary English Language learning. The book is:

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Using Newspapers in an English Class

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* Article first published in FORTELL May 2011

The following article is an attempt to promote the use of newspapers as an effective teaching tool for developing the basic skills needed for English language acquisition. However, the focus would be more on developing writing and reading skills of the learners although there are many activities which can cover all the four areas i.e. reading, writing, listening and speaking in an integrated manner.

Teaching English in an Indian classroom can be considered a bit of a challenge for any ELT teacher worth his or her mettle. The biggest problem is breaking through the mental barrier that students have against speaking the language in and outside the classroom. Most of the students come from backgrounds where English is not even the secondary medium of communication and, therefore, their usage of the language remains restricted to the 40 minutes or so of the English class. Coupled with that is the fact that most learners do not like to use English as lingua franca amongst their peer groups, making it an uphill battle for the English teachers to generate a feel for the language in the learners.

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English Studies and Linguistic Proficiency: Pedagogical Concerns of a Relational Nature

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* Article first published in FORTELL May 2011

Much work and debates have taken place on the nature, role, and politics and so on of English studies in India. Amidst all these issues, it is obligatory to ponder over the linguistic competence of students in English. From the perspective of linguistic proficiency, teaching English literature to Indian students is one of the most exigent and challenging tasks for primarily two reasons: culturally English language is still ‘foreign’[i] to most Indians, barring the urban elite who had/have public schooling; the education system in India provides less scope for teachers and students to go beyond the customary/conventional/traditional/conservative ways to internalize the language to the extent of mastering it to enjoy and value literature. Therefore, it becomes essential to distinguish the difference between teaching English language as a tool of communication[ii] and teaching language to appreciate literature written and translated in English language.[iii]

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To Teach or Not to Teach Grammar

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* Article first published in FORTELL May 2011

Introduction

The controversy whether ‘To teach or not to teach Grammar’ has been there in the ELT or educational circles for nearly more than three decades now. The advocates of both the positions have very cogent reasons to defend their respective positions. Although after listening to them one is confounded in the beginning, yet on closer scrutiny of both the positions, one discovers that their positions are not irreconcilable.

A brief overview of grammar teaching

Before Chomsky

According to Rutherford (1987), teaching grammar has been central to and synonymous with teaching foreign languages for the last 2500 years. In fact, prior to mid 1970s, no one even challenged the centrality of grammar as the content for foreign/second language teaching or as the organizing principle for materials development. Since the primary emphasis in foreign language teaching had been on writing and not the spoken language, it was taken for granted that formal grammar improved a student’s ability to write. The ability in the foreign language was measured in terms of the reproduction of rules and translation from the foreign language to the mother tongue and vice versa. Thus, students were taught grammar as part of the effort to improve their writing ability.