Enabling effective communication
Whatever knowledge or information one has, if s/he is not able to express it effectively, his knowledge and information are meaningless and s/he becomes equivalent to any other ordinary being with minimum awareness. In this fast moving world where seconds are counted in terms of dollars and corporate companies chase young people with high potential in communicative skills, verbal communication has a very important role to play. India is one of the most potential countries that can considerably profit from the concept of intellectual outsourcing.
But in the present scenario, we see young people struggle a lot when it comes to communication though they have highly commendable academic records. This owes a lot to the two-fold irrational and deplorable belief that our society held on to until recently.
*Golden silence: Our society is rooted in a tradition that did not encourage open communication. We believed silence to be the ornament of a genius and encrypted in young minds that it is not good to talk freely or express one’s ideas in front of others. Talking is the business of low minds, we believed, and used silence coupled with false seriousness as a means to keep up the decorum and status. For centuries we tried to control communication for good or bad.
* Unwanted fear: We, Indians, are highly afraid of committing mistakes. For minor mistakes also, we were thrashed mercilessly. We have passed a long period when the elders were not ready to over look a minor mistake committed by a child. Teachers went to classes with long canes. We never allowed a child to use his imagination when he said one plus one is another big one. (We elders failed to understand that two is another convenient name given to that bigger one. Courtesy: Vaikom Muhammad Basheer.)
As a first step we have to create an atmosphere where children can speak without hesitation and overcome the fear that overpowers them. They should realise that there is no problem in making slight mistakes in practising a foreign language. We need to say goodbye to that attitude which tends to criticise a small child who speaks in English as the representative of a derogatory mummy daddy culture.
It is highly useful to know another language, and when that another language is English, an international language, it is really advantageous.
Language, a habit
The way we acquired our mother tongue is applicable to the process of learning a second language also. In the case of mother tongue first we learned to listen, then speak and then read and write. One can easily understand that writing comes last in the order, and speaking comes early. But this fact we overlook in the case of the teaching learning process of English language. We find quite a number of students who can effectively communicate in the written form, but fail miserably when it comes to speaking. Hence emphasis should be given to oral communication from lower classes onwards.
Experts opine that learning becomes more effective when taught in the mother tongue. Hence what is possible is to equip the child with the minimum vocabulary and sentence patterns in English in lower classes itself. S/he must feel that English is yet another powerful medium of expression with unlimited possibilities, like his own mother tongue, and not something to be feared.
Catch them young
In lower classes, testing and evaluation should be minimised to oral communication. If at all needed, let children write a few words. Again these words are to be introduced to him in a situational way. Words when separated from life lose their meaning to a considerable extent. Let them master a few sentence patterns and sentences relevant to his life other than ‘Rama killed Ravana’ or ‘Ravana was killed by Rama’. Let him simply say, ‘I like ice cream’.
Communicative skills may be well developed at a tender age since this ability is very much related to one’s confidence level, personality and attitude.
Towards a collective effort
From fifth standard onwards let children learn simple scientific principles in English. But it is found that the text books of science and social science abound in very difficult phraseology and vocabulary. The text book writers should keep this in mind while preparing study materials for lower classes. However, the teachers should be able to explain the concepts in simple English for the young students. Hence, it is a must for all teachers to be proficient in English irrespective of the subject they teach.
The English teacher goes to the class only for one hour or so - the rest of the time the child is in the atmosphere of his mother tongue. In his own house the child will invariably speak in his mother tongue. Hence the only place for him to practise English is the school. Thus it should be a collective effort from all the teachers to equip the children with the required communicative skills.
Breaking the ice
English seems to be funny to a beginner with its strange spelling and pronunciation. The example of ‘but’ and ‘put’ will explain this aspect. Besides, in English the structure of a sentence appears to be reversed with reference to any Indian language. In English, the structure is, Subject + Verb + Object, but in an Indian language it is Subject + Object + Verb.
This reverse order is to be clearly understood by the students. Otherwise they will end up with faulty constructions and sentence patterns.
Most of the beginners find it very difficult to adapt themselves to this and write English sentences with regional language structure. These kinds of complexities puzzle them and they tend to develop a kind of aversion towards English, which poses unnecessary complications for them. Once this primary dislike is negotiated, it will be easy.
Children feel detached when they are asked to write very dry answers based on the uninteresting lessons they are compelled to study. We need to beyond text books and provide students with something interesting that every day they wait for the surprise in the English class. Let them not be detached and passive witnesses, but active participants. A teacher’s role is that of a facilitator, helping students soar high, and that is his/her success too.