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Problems of Teaching English
at College Level in India
|by Supriya Bhandari|
English is the 'Lingua Franca' of the world. With the IT Revolution and most of software and operating system being in English Language, a new utility for written and oral communication in English Language has emerged. English is said to be the world's most important language having communicative and educative value. English is used all over the world not out of any imposition but because of the realization that it has certain advantages. A very important reason for regarding English as a world language is that the world's knowledge is enshrined in English. It is a progressive language. It is dynamic and flexible. Over and above English is universally renowned for its power of expression and its rich literature.
We are going to have children in other parts of the world besides England, speaking English as their first language. But the gap still remains like those of the haves and have-nots, developed and developing, urban and the rural. Much is required to be done by the linguists, the polyglots, the scholars and the teachers to bridge the gap between the English literate and the English illiterate population of the world. We have to go into the intricacies of the English language and simplify the methodology.
Whatever English now represents or has represented over centuries of colonization, it belongs to every one. It is a global language, the first of its kind. The Australian poet Peter Porter emphasized the point in a World Conference Welcome Poem, published in the Times Literary Supplement (28th February 1992) to the effect that:
'Everything will be exposed in English
Education has been the primary factor in the more formal transmission of English around the world. There developed an indigenous, modernizing, reform movement in Bengal during the early decades of the nineteenth century. It was led by Ram Mohan Roy. When Macaulay in his famous 1835 'Minutes' set out the case for the intellectual improvement of the country; arguing that, while he himself had not knowledge of the indigenous languages, he had never found an Orientalist 'who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia; and that henceforth available funds should be employed in imparting knowledge of English literature and science through the medium of English language.' (1) Not only were schools and colleges set up as a result of Macaulay's initiative, but English replaced Persian as the official state language, and more gradually, English procedures and assumptions replaced Indian in law and administration.
English symbolizes in Indian minds, better education, better culture and higher intellect. In present times, English is the most preferred language. The Indians and the Indian English language press uses many words derived from Indian language. Indian accent is sometimes difficult for non-Indians to understand. Actually English has co-existed in the Indian sub-continent alongside thousands of local languages. It has remained at the heart of the Indian society. According to recent surveys, approximately 4% of the Indian population use English. That figure might seem insignificant, but out of the total population it represents 35 million speakers. It means India is the largest English speaking community outside USA and the UK. As India celebrates its 60th year of independence from British rule, English continues to expand its empire. English is virtually the mother-tongue for many educated South Asian, but for the vast majority, it remains second language. So English, spoken by such speakers is heavily influenced by speech patterns of their ethnic language.
Language learning is a natural process for the natives. The approach to this learning process is called the 'behavioristic approach'. But for the students of other languages, deliberate efforts are required to learn a foreign language which requires a 'mentalistic approach'. The students of rural and semi-urban areas in India face such problems because English is not their mother-tongue. It is neither instinctive nor intuitive. Language acquisition seems to be a process of both of analogy and application, nature and nurture. Teachers of language have adopted and invented a variety of methods to teach English. Edward M. Anthony says in 'Approach, method and Technique-Teaching English as a Second language', "Method is an overall plan for the orderly presentation of language material no part of which contradicts and all of which is based upon, the selected approach. Approach is axiomatic and a method is procedural. '(2) The orderly presentation of language to students is influenced by several factors. The teacher has to keep in mind the age of the student, his native language, his cultural background and his previous experience with English. The experience of the teacher and his level of English mastery are equally important. To achieve the desired effects, the goal of a course much be kept in mind-whether it is aimed at reading, fluency in speech, inculcating translation skill. All these objects shape methodology.
Students of the rural colleges face a number of problems. English is their second language. Learning a second language means acquiring a system of rules, but just as a very little is known about these rules, even less is known about how such rule systems are acquired. Students find themselves unable to express in English. They have no idea of proper sentence structure. They do not know proper pronunciation, spellings and grammatical rules. The sole objective of the teacher and the learner remain to clear the exams. The students never realize the importance of learning English as a language. In the past, in rural areas, English was introduced to students in the fifth class. But now there is no dearth of English medium schools in such area yet the standards of English are falling rapidly. If we compare a graduate of present time with a graduate of the past, the result is shockingly amazing. The emphasis on passing the exams lies so heavy on the students that they opt for the cramming method. Such an approach helps unscrupulous elements to flourish. They help the students in achieving their goals of passing the exams. The inter-disciplinary relation of teaching and learning process brings home the fact that the problems of the teachers can be solved if we concentrate on the causes of the problem of the students.
The changing times have witnessed the growing importance of English language in all walks of life. It does not seem that we are using English language as non-native speakers or as a second language. Conscious and unconscious use of the words in our everyday conversation from the English language bears evidence to this fact. Even the English illiterates in the rural areas use such words effortlessly. May be that is the flexibility of English language to let foreign, cultural influences mould, and shape and enrich it. The result is that we have about 40,000 words from the Hindustani incorporated in the world famous dictionaries like Oxford English Language Dictionary, COD, Collins Cobuild English Dictionary. To cite a few examples of such words we may say;
'Kachha, pucca, Thug, Thuggee, Jungle, Stations, School-bags, Computers, Television, Programme, Malls, College Convert, Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast, Airport' and even in our own people settled in European and America Countries :
Pump, Agriculture, Medicine, Medical college, Construction Building, Readymade Garments, cupboards, Jewellery, Tailor, Master, Library, Pictures, CD, Cell phones, .............' We may continue to add to the common usages from the English Language as a part of our daily conversation in the rural, semi-urban areas. Even the designations of officers are political authorities are frequently used. It is quite ironical that in spite of such a good store of English Language words our students and in some cases even teachers cannot either write or speak English language properly.
Because of the rapidly increasing web of Educational facilities, the rural areas have been enjoying the facilities of the convents. But it has neither helped in raising the level of the students, nor made them learn English as a language. The infrastructure of such schools is weak. Some teachers have good accent, but they do not posses a good command over the language. Now In the rural and semi-Urban areas, study of English language begins at an early age, at the KG level, it continues up to Senior Secondary or first Degree level. Even in the Professional Courses, the teaching of English as a communication skill is an integral part of the curriculum or the course obligations. It is quite unfortunate that whatever our English language teachers gain in the completion of their course or education as eligibility for seeking a job or an employment, it stays there and the teaching learning stagnates. The process of teaching is not updated even after the passage of years. So much so as the experience shows in many cases, they have no idea of good dictionaries meant for the students or for themselves or even for the office managers or Administrators. It may be pertinently mentioned here that to cater to the tremendously growing demand for English Language teachers and learners, there exists 'the bank of English" with an envious corpus of about 400 million words of written and spoken English. For this purpose, they are using a wide range of different types of writing and speech from hundreds different sources: Newspapers, Magazines fiction and Non-Fiction, Books, Brochures, Leaflets, Reports Letter Radio, T.V. Airports. Informal spoken language is represented by recording of everyday casual conversations, meetings, interview and discussions. (3)
Students of the rural areas do not realize the importance of English as a language of communication whereas this is the most important aspect of this global language. They lack the confidence to speak in English; expression in the language is weak. First reason is that they have been taught English through Grammar-Translation Method. This method makes them dependent on their mother tongue. Whatever they read, they translate it into their own vernacular. During the time of exams, they cram the expected questions because they cannot write one original sentence of their own. Because of GT Method, they have no vocabulary of English words. While writing, they depend on the cheap material from the help books.
The hackneyed, stereotyped and traditional pattern of exams aims at clearing English not as a language but as a subject. The students, therefore, are guided to practice pick and chose method from the sub-standard material available in the market. So that students merely pass the subject far from learning any level of the Language. It is more shocking to learn that even the questions that students are supposed to answer are told to learn through translation from English to their own vernacular. Poor performance in translation, lack of proper vocabulary, no knowledge proverbs all are results of a casual approach. Even after reading English for 14 or 15 years the level of the students remains poor.
To solve all the problems, a systematic approach should be followed. The teachers should aim at teaching primarily, not knowledge but skill, the different skills required for good Listening-Speaking-Reading-Writing. Teachers should find some way of helping pupils to enjoy their language activities, and of building their confidence. A teacher who tries to help his pupils in this way has rightly rejected the image of the teacher who acts as the arbitrary dispenser of all knowledge. As children learn by way of imitation, similarly, the students tend to follow the example set by their teacher. The English teacher should have the wide-ranging enthusiasm and Imagination, It can make English course 'a sort of clearing house for ideas and interests which branch out into all the other subjects that the pupils are studying in school, and beyond them.'(4)
To tackle with the problem of lack of vocabulary in the students, Productive and receptive Use of words should be kept in mind. The students should be made to learn simple words. This will help in inculcating a habit of learning new words in them. Their newly learnt words will become a part of their own vocabulary and they will be in a position to use those words. This is the natural process of movement at need from receptive to productive use of the words. This enhancement of vocabulary will result into better expression. The common errors made by the students in the different usages of the same word can be cured by this technique. Normally, the students can not differentiate between Noun and Verb, adjective or adverb. They should be clearly guided about the difference between the parts of speech by practice. They can be made aware of the different parts of a word; root, suffix, prefix and how can they change the total meaning of the word by adding suffix or prefix with the root i.e.
(i) Nouns related to verbs and marked by suffix:
a) Deny (verb) Noun: Denial
(ii) Nouns related to adjectives and marked by suffix:
a) Frail (adjective) Noun: Frailty
Such practices will help them enjoying their play with words. They can understand the importance of suffixes and prefixes. They can be given exercise of making words negatives from positives by prefixes for example: dis as a prefix changes the meaning of the word : (all the following words are negative in meaning)
'dislike, disobey, displeasure, disorder, disloyal, disprove, dishonorable',
They can enjoy these exercise and they can also strengthen their vocabulary. It will help in breaking the monotonous routine of the class. Regular tests can be held to evaluate the progress of the students. After laying stress on their vocabulary building, students should be given exercises of Reading. Books provide most pupils with the situations in which learning take place. Reading is the core of Language learning. Students can acquire the speed and skills for practical purposes. In our literate society, professional competence depends on reading skills. Practice in exact reading should occur frequently, at least once a week and preferably twice. The vocabulary drills can help them understand the usages of words in the books. They should be made to underline the Noun, Verb, adjective, and Adverb, in the given passage of reading. Similarly, they can be taught the proper usage of Articles, Determiners, Proposition and Conjunctions.
They should be guided to mark the idioms and how the use of idioms makes the expression better. They should notice the difference between.
Put up, Put of, Put on, and Put with'
By noticing all such components of the language they can enjoy the richness and flexibility of language. Once their interest is aroused, they will show tremendous improvement. Reading can also help them in making aware of spellings. When the students have practiced different uses of words and have developed habit of reading, they can avoid the common errors of Translations. In rural areas, the students tend to choose the literal way of translating the sentences from Hindi or Punjabi into English. Some examples need consideration here. Students make errors while translation of the following sentences:
1. He is my underwear friend.
Such problems arise because of translating each word of English into Hindi or Punjabi and vice versa. Whereas the students should be made aware of the fact that it is impossible to find an exact equivalent for every English word.
After the usages of all such practices in the classrooms, the students should be given exposure. There can be no learning without exposure. Group discussions can be arranged. Texts should be read loudly by the students. Simple usage of words will become a part of their speech only when they are exposed to deliver a speech and express their own ideas. The zeal for learning will help them in their own advancement. The problems of the students and the teachers are inter-related. It is necessary to assure that the learner makes a tremendous contribution in the process.
English has been successfully taught through literature for many years. But now when the students are taking their exams of other subjects of post graduation i.e. History, Political Science, Economics etc. in Hindi or Punjabi, their interest and efficiency in English is decreasing. Even those students, who have passed their post graduation in English, are not able to write and speak it accurately. Whereas the fluency in the spoken language should be stressed. Teachers should aim at teaching of pragmatics. Pragmatic competence is central to Communication 'the ability to use language effectively to fulfill intentions and goals'. (5) Different languages use differ strategies. It is important that the learners of English are given such information as possible the ways in which to use their language. English should be taught as a language, not as a subject. The course material should be designed in such a manner that emphasis on language should be there. For example while teaching a simple poem like Daffodils by Wordsworth to the students, the teacher can ask the student to underline the different words used by the poet for the expression of happiness.
'Sprightly, glee, jocund, pleasure'. Similarly cryptic, pithy, terse and valuable lines of Pope can be taught to them. Students will make those lines a part of their memory. Teaching can be enjoyed by both the teacher and the students in this manner. Students do enjoy poetry and drama provided the feed back is given in the same spirit. The enthusiasm, the zeal and interest of the teacher can kindle the spark of learning in the students. Presentations by the students can help them enhancing their level of confidence. Teacher can change subject matter from prose to poetry, from essay writing to letter writing to prevent the class from monotonous routine. Audio-Visual aids can add to the presentation of the topic. Students can be encouraged to listen to English news and English commentaries broad cast on Radio and telecast on TV. Motivation in the initial phase, proper methodology in the next phase should be followed. Teacher's own personality and command over language counts a lot. Faculty improvement programmes should be held. Teachers should be made aware of the latest techniques and methods. An English language teacher should be capable of arising the interest and imagination of the students. As a seasoned teacher of English once warned a callow colleague: 'Never forget, my, boy that the English teacher's business is with the imagination' (6). If the students enjoy literature, only then they can quote from it. Literature taught in such a way will be enjoyed and remembered for a long time.
If we take into consideration the role of teacher and learner in acquiring the knowledge of a language; the problems can be solved effectively. Only then the students will realize the practical use of English language. English will be used by them as a medium of expression. They will be able to use English as a language of communication. Fluency in the speech, proper knowledge of sentence structure, confidence of speaking in the public will make them able to keep their pace with the developing world. It will also help in raising the standards of English as a language at the college level. On the basis of suggestions given above, the critical situations in the teaching of English can be checked from further deteriorations. Decidedly one or two persons can't do anything solid. Let everyone concerned with it take the responsibility. Only then we can create a congenial environmental & we can be able to achieve better results in the teaching and learning of English.
|More by : Supriya Bhandari|
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