June 2011

A Neglected Area of Language Teaching

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* First published in FORTELL, May 2011 issue.

Till the 1970s or even 1980s perhaps, teaching idioms and proverbs was an essential part of language teaching. No doubt, it was done in a rather boring and mechanical way and one had to just memorize idiomatic sentences often without really understanding the meaning of the idiom or proverb being used. Then, with the popularity of direct method and more recently of communicative method and computer-assisted language learning, the teaching of idioms and proverbs went out of fashion. This is not a plea to go back to the old method of teaching such expressions.

However, one must realise that the language used in a substantial part of our day today, is actually formulaic. If you analyze any piece of conversation or a written text, say a story by Prem Chand or Ruskin Bond, you will soon realise that a substantial part of the text is socio-culturally rooted and frozen in idioms, proverbs and such formulaic expressions as greetings, opening and closing turns in conversation etc. The problem with such frozen expressions is that they constitute a list that has to be consciously learnt as opposed to the rest of language which is generative in character and where if you have internalised one set of rules you can produce an infinite number of sentences. Again, the meaning of such idioms and proverbs is NOT compositional in character i.e. there is no way you can even remotely tell the meaning of the whole from the meaning of the parts.

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Using 4Rs for Speech-Effectiveness: An Approach

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* First published in FORTELL May, 2011

Do you at times wonder why some people are always the centre of attraction wherever they go? Why are certain people successful in collecting a mammoth gathering of people to listen to them, when some others fail to get even a small number of people despite all strategic efforts on the part of their organizers? It happens because of their widely earned reputation as mesmerizing speakers. They succeed because they speak from their heart and express their thoughts and ideas in a unique and inimitable style.

After all, what is this ‘speech-effectiveness’ that enables them to conquer the world?

The following are some of the most distinctive traits that intimately go with what is considered ‘speech-effectiveness’:

  • A commanding yet friendly voice of a speaker, giving a pleasant experience of listening to the listener(s) irrespective of the duration of speech..
  • Content and the vocabulary used for the thoughts and ideas presented are as per the mental level and interest of the listener(s).
  • There is a perfect clarity of thoughts and ideas expressed with the help of proper stress, appropriate pitch and right intonation as per the demand of the situation.
  • An effective speech is very often packed with anecdotes and checkered with wit and humour.
  • It always reflects the uniqueness of the speaker’s personality.

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English Language and the Media

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* Article first published in Fortell, May 2011 issue.

Words are but a means of communication…strung well, they make a good sentence; woven with skill, they hold the target’s attention. For the mass media, that target could be a newspaper reader, a television viewer, a radio listener, an Internet surfer or user of an advertisement, some or all of them. This convergence of media in the digital age has subtly changed the way we communicate, and language has been equally affected. Thus “bite” no longer denotes just a function of our teeth; we also have “news bites” on television or on websites. An effective communication comprises a good choice of words, the right syntax, a judicious placement of adjectives or adverbs, and maybe contextual imagery or an apt idiom to complete the picture.

The multiplicity of communication channels underscores the need to get this combination right in any piece of journalistic work. Often, a strong visual on television fails to impress because the accompanying commentary does not do it justice. A trained ear may detect the absence of, say, the correct verb and possibly lose track of what follows. For example, “impelled” cannot be used when the right word is “compelled”. This could put off a discerning viewer. His attention broken, there is a chance he switches channels, and you lose him.

Using Lateral Thinking Tasks to Enhance the Thinking Capacity of the ESL learners – A study

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* Article first published in Fortell, May 2011

There are many factors/reasons: psychological, sociological, pedagogical and linguistic, that could affect the oral communication of ESL learners. This paper primarily focuses on the psychological aspect, especially pertaining to self-esteem and the confidence level of the ESL learners. The paper is based on a classroom research (in ELT) experimented in one of the Engineering colleges in South India: National Institute of Technology, in Tiruchirappalli, South India.

A total number of 10 ESL students studying I year Engineering (could be rated at the intermediate high level as per the ACTFL speaking scale, 1999) were chosen for the study.  Initially they were given an oral communication task namely JAM (just a minute pep talk based on a topic). The topics were chosen in tune with the interest of the ESL students.  But they were not able to perform the task successfully.  To know the reason for their poor performance, they were personally interviewed by the researcher.  After the interview, it was understood that they lacked confidence in terms of getting ideas on the topic they spoke on.  This was also obvious from the key responses noted down by the researcher. 

Some of the responses by the participants are given below.

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