A Neglected Area of Language Teaching

* 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.

Using 4Rs for Speech-Effectiveness: An Approach

* 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.