Best teaching practices in English

Best teaching practices in English


Despite widespread use of the language in the country, why are most students failing to speak fluent and grammatically-correct English? S Srinivas lists his reasons

IN CHECK Words that a child hears constantly help him/her grasp the thumb rules of the  English language.Recently, I came across a video tutorial titled, Learn to speak Sanskrit, on Youtube. Within half an hour, I was able to frame sentences like ‘What is your name’, ‘My name is Xyz’. This was incredible because, what I could not learn for seven long years in school, I had learnt within half-an-hour through an online clip. This made me regret the years I had spent in a classroom, trying  to study Sanskrit with little or no knowledge of the subject. The main reason, I have come to believe, is the formal method of teaching which involved writing down answers in English  for questions framed in Sanskrit and being  forced to learn the grammar by rote.

The same can be said of the way English is taught in Indian schools. Most institutions, especially those that use regional languages as the medium, make passing the examination in English, a daunting task. For example, the teacher reads a sentence or two from the book and translates it  to Kannada. In the present method, the English language is taught first by introducing alphabets, grammar and then literature, which a student learns mechanically by rote method. But the best way to learn a language is through careful listening. This is how children learn a language. Words that a child hears constantly help him/her grasp and identify the dos and don’ts of the English language. By practice, the child begins to frame grammatically-correct sentences without being taught what a pronoun, tense, verb or gender is.

Instead of loading the syllabus with poems, essays and grammar, students in language classes should be taught how to converse in English.

Classroom sessions should be dynamic, with equal participation by the students and teacher, instead of the former being passive listeners, as is the case with the present situation.

The topics for conversation should be contemporary, be it cricket matches, the latest hit movie, gossip about celebrities, politics or issues in debate. Unlike literature, of which the students may lack information, this method keeps them aware of the developments on the above-mentioned topics and they can participate in interactive sessions and discussions.

The teacher should not only be thorough and have fluency in English but also in the regional language spoken by a majority of his/her students. By instructing in the language in which the students are familiar, the teacher can quickly connect and establish a trusting relationship with them and put them at ease. This would also help students understand grammatical concepts easily and encourage them to get their doubts cleared without any inhibition.

Similarly, teachers should start debating forums, wherein each student is given an opportunity to speak on a topic of his/her choice and is given feedback on pronunciation, presentation, grammar, if he/she makes mistakes, by their peers and teacher.       

At least once a week, students should be allowed to bring a book, magazine or newspaper of their choice and be made to read it aloud in class. This would enable the teacher to correct their pronunciation and provide meaning to new words.

What expressions to be adopted while questioning, expressing anger, joy or surprise or other such feelings could be taught by organising plays. offers excellent lesson plans for those eager to learn spoken English. Their teaching practices could be emulated and adopted with suitable changes, according to the specific learning environment.

Literature should be introduced only when the student has gained certain proficiency in communication, both written and verbal. This could be done at the undergraduate or postgraduate level.

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