English is the lingua franca of world communication. Despite the fact that today we have a large number of English medium schools in India yet the learning level of the learners in the language is abysmal and needs to be taken up for reforming, refining and improving to meet the requisite global needs and standards. Let’s see how:
Being a teacher of English language for the past twenty years I have witnessed a rapid transformation in the forms of teaching the language in the context of its objectives, methodology and approaches and have found that teaching of English as a subject has more to do with its curriculum purposes.
Teaching of English Now and Then:
We, as second generation language learners, were taught English by the teachers in our later classes and learnt English like other subjects like science, social studies, mathematics and had very little opportunity to use it functionally and practically in general vis-a-vis specific areas; besides bilingual teaching methods where teachers used L1 in teaching prose, poetry, grammar, drama remained in practice. In addition to these drawbacks, teachers had very little time to teach the language and learners got no environment to use the language in or out of the school in natural conditions either in written or in spoken form. But now this has dramatically changed and today teaching of English as language and subject has a wider platform in language learning, practice and usage across classrooms, homes, cross culture societies, and nations.
Major Language Learning Barriers:
Despite the fact that our schools are now well equipped with English teaching-learning techniques like audio-visual material, digital tools, besides qualified teachers, the level and standard of English teaching-learning in many reputed schools is abysmal. Last week while attending a week long Spot Evaluation of answer books of the examination conducted by CBSE, I came across many language learning problems our school children face.
Conventional English Language Teaching:
There is no argument against the fact that English teaching in Indian schools is traditional in methodology and teaching learning procedures of the language teachers are outdated. Many, if not all, schools have continued with the conventional methods. In many schools teachers transmit the lessons by self-reading, explaining, discussing without giving learners opportunity to make inferences of their own appreciation.
Excessive Use of mother language:
Though the use of mother tongue in teaching second language helps a child to get inferences to incorporate into targeted language, but excessive use of mother tongue tends to curb the naturalness of the process of learning a new language. Our teachers or parents while teaching the second language to the child translate L1 into L2 and this limits the scope of acquiring and learning of English faster and better.
Lack of Oral Communication
In many English medium schools teachers as well as students lag behind in oral communication. Before starting a lesson, teachers rarely engage learners in warm up activities. Direct teaching by teachers makes students passive listeners. Sometimes teachers do not teach for language development rather they focus on the examination the child has to qualify after completing a course or unit.
Lack of Grammar Integration in the Learning Process:
Regardless of the country or the language, grammar is the foundation for communication — the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likelihood of understanding the intent and meaning of the message. But in Indian schools English grammar teaching-learning has remained a major problem. Moreover, lack of structured integration of grammar in part or a whole is a very common learning barrier of English Language. In our schools we need to focus our efforts on strengthening understanding and use of correct English grammar.
Lack of using Teaching-Learning aids:
Teaching of English in all its skill domains needs appropriate use of teaching aids and learning materials specifically prepared by language teachers. But in many schools the use of technical devices, audio-visual aids, teacher made material is negligibly used even if readily available.
Lack of Practice and Learning Environment:
Other than the above constraints, the teachers have very limited teaching hours, mostly from three to six hours per week which are not enough to teach the language. Besides parents do not encourage their children to learn English through speaking with siblings, watching TV programmes, reading English newspapers, etc. Nowadays, children rarely do leisure reading which is very essential to develop language skills.
Strategies to Smarten up Children in English Learning:
Setting up of Teaching- learning Goals:
English language teaching in the Indian school scenario is quite different from that of other English-speaking nations. Our language teachers must equip themselves with teaching skills to bring them up to the global standards. Our school curriculum must be designed to enhance all the language skills (Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing) grade wise up to the learning expectations of learners.
Developing Metacognitive Skills of English Language Learners:
English Language learners in the Indian school education context have their specific learning needs. Our English language teachers try their best to fulfill these requisite needs through the school curricula. But the need of the hour is to provide the children study material and techniques to learn, for self-assessment, note taking, etc. Teachers must enable learners to be skilled in all relevant fields of language learning.
Contextualization of Learning:
It is a well-established fact that students learn better when they are familiarized with the instructed information with real experiences directly. In our schools I always advise my language teachers to teach language in real life like situations using and performing demonstrations, manipulative activities, repetition, dramatization of learning content. This gives children enough usage of language.
Teaching Through Schema Building:
Teachers cannot assume that a student has the same background experiences as his peers because they live in distinct learning zones. To help students learn new information, it is important to find out what they already know. This requires specific preparation to determine what their prior educational experiences were. A way to assess a student’s background knowledge is to brainstorm and cluster in small groups on a topic that will be taught. Given the importance of building background knowledge and helping them to create schema, various strategies can be implemented including: Pre-reading, Communicative Pre-Reading, Vocabulary Instruction, Visual Cues, Questioning Methods, Comprehension Instruction, and Appreciating their Culture.
Teaching English as language more than a Subject:
In Indian schools, English is still being taught as a subject more than a language to be mastered. The need of the hour is to make our young learners master the language skills.
Ashok Singh Guleria teacher of 19 years standing is a post- graduate in English Literature. He writes on pedagogical issues and children’s behavioural concerns. Currently,he is the Head of Department of English and Academic coordinator cum Teachers’ Trainer at the Akal Academy Group of Schools, Kajri U.P. He can be reached out at firstname.lastname@example.org