Learning language effectively

Learning language effectively

 Is it right to follow the policy of ‘speak only in the regional language,’ while learning it as a second language, in the classroom? asks Srijaya Char.

Most of the teachers believe that it is only ‘right’ to speak the language to be able to learn it. Of course there are some exceptions to this method of teaching them to speak in the language that is taught. It may be true that students will learn their second language by speaking that language in class. Many language teachers believe that if the students are allowed to speak in English while in their language classes it distracts them from learning the language that they are supposed to learn. The only way to become fluent in a language is by being immersed in the language at least for an hour per day. It is supposed to help the students in negotiating the learning process in the second language.

This may be a valid argument. However, if the students are not well versed in the language, the teachers need to give them a leeway as otherwise those that are not fluent in the language will never participate in any classroom discussions.  If the teacher is generous enough to allow the students to fill in the gaps in English they will be a little free to communicate. If the teacher keeps saying, “Don’t speak in English”, the atmosphere becomes a little tense and will not be conducive to learning. A second language teacher cannot become a ‘police’.

Progressive submersion

This terminology is used in the website ‘Effective Language”. “It is a language learning strategy based on the natural approach to communication that bilingual people really use.” Children mix languages in a way that they can understand if they are forced to be bilingual. This is called ‘Progressive Immersion’. When my son was just learning to speak we were in Hubli. One or two of our helpers who would always be with him spoke different dialects of Kannada. Whenever one of them spotted a monkey on a tree, he would point to it and tell my son, ‘Alli nodu, kothi’ (Look there is a kothi there). While he was with another helper, she would say “Nodu maga allondu manga”.

So, my son had two terms for the same animal. One day while I sat him on my lap in front of our house, he spotted a monkey on the roof of our house and exclaimed, “Amma, see, a kothi-manga.” Of course there is nothing wrong with learning it in this way. It is very interesting to watch how children learn languages. They are more at ease with it than adults because there is no pressure and they are not embarrassed when they make mistakes. It is only when they start schooling and teachers become rigid with language rules that the joy gets lost.

Learning and communication

Communication and learning should fit together for effective learning of a language. When the teacher of a second language restricts the students’ speech only to that particular language, even very bright and creative students become stunted and refuse to speak up or participate in classroom discussions. They may create trouble. They may lack confidence in the language, but they will have enough confidence to create trouble. It may be good to speak only the language that is being taught - human brain needs to really get immersed with the language in order to learn it well.  It is something that is called ‘progressive submersion’.

If the focus of teaching a language is on ‘grammar’, the end result will show no improvement in communication because it is not the way that a language should be taught. It becomes just an academic field of study where the ‘nuts and bolts’ of grammar become more important than the language itself. Students will learn to memorize the definitions of grammar and the inflections of the verbs just to score marks in an examination but will not learn the language for communication.  If the language learning process is not enjoyable, the learner may give up.

Learning by practice

It is a good idea to try to speak in the second language with friends who are good at it; but only when it is in the comfort level. Straining oneself to speak the language is the best way of learning.

If we know that it is okay to mix the language that we are comfortable with along with the language that we are supposed to be learning, then we feel more comfortable and will like to continue speaking in the second language.  Urban Indians have become more comfortable interspersing the native language with English very conveniently. We do not think twice before using words like table, light, book, phone, movie etc.

When we restrict someone to using these common words, it becomes rather uncomfortable for communication.We all know that English has become the ‘de facto’ language in many countries, specially so in India .  Many of our children know English better than their mother tongue. It is very common for everyone to mix two languages interspersed with each other with ease.

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