Not the last word!

The article titled “The theatre of English Language” (August 2008) sounded tempting and with the hope of getting some insight into making English teaching interesting I started reading it. But the insensitivity with which the author has discussed the cases of people trying hard to communicate in English was very disappointing.

Language is a crucial component of any one’s personality. This is because it is not just a medium to communicate but also to express feelings. People are comfortable communicating in a language they are more exposed to. But, when it comes to communicating in another language it really takes time and a lot of effort on part of the learner; especially when exposure is limited.

We all understand our role in motivating the learner and scaffold him/her in the process of learning when the learner is an infant or a child. We respond even to meaningless cooing and babbling. We are thrilled when the child starts with two syllable words like mama and papa.

For all the people the writer has discussed about English is a second language for all of them. Obsession to learn English is not baseless our country where knowledge of English ensures you good paying jobs and allows you to access the culture of the elite. In our society not everyone is fortunate enough to get exposure to this “highly valued language” right from childhood and acquire it in a natural way. Therefore, many of us (those who do not inherit it) ended up attending coaching centers which promise to teach the language in a short period and in the money that most of us can afford to pay as students.

You are a tailor if you know the local language but the moment you can talk to your customer in “good” English, your shop is called a boutique and you, a designer. Every parent wants to send his/her child to a good English medium school but when the time comes to meet the teacher even many qualified parents hesitate if they are not fluent in English. In Delhi there are many institutes which arrange classes for such parents and prepare them for interviews (for children’s admission) and to participate in parent- teacher meetings. Recently, in my interaction with some teachers I was taken aback when they referred to non-English speaking parents as uneducated.

From job classifieds to matrimonial, fluency in English becomes a must for upward mobility. Let’s take the case of a teacher education institution which I attended. In a batch of 42, 10 students studied in Hindi medium. And in spite of the limited availability of the literature most of them performed quite well. But in campus recruitment none of them could get a job as they had the desired knowledge in a “not so preferred language”. Most of them could not apply for a master’s in their desired courses as not many university offer subjects in Hindi. This is not limited to Hindi but to most regional languages. As the level of teaching advances, not knowing the regional language and not making any effort to learn it becomes a cool thing. But for a college teacher, even if s/he is teaching a regional language, not knowing English becomes a stigma to the department s/he belongs to.

I agree with the author that understanding is more important than speech and therefore I think that there is a need to go deeper to understand the reasons behind the performances like the one cited by the author.

This Article was under the Last Word which I understand is meant for light reading but if it found a place in Teacher Plus it should have should promised at least some substance for teachers. Hope the message of the article has not been understood as “English is the legacy of few elites and others better not attempt to mess with it”.

Shikha Sharma, Bengaluru.

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