Teaching a language needs more attention!

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Aside engagement of competent language experts, there is an urgent need to put an end to archaic and ineffective methodology applied while teaching a language- English in our schools.

BY: Hakeem Rouf

Recently, I had an interesting interaction with the kids of my cousins at a social gathering. It was not a mere interaction but a good learning experience as well. I was startled by the impressive proficiency and ample confidence with which the kids were conversing in English. The adequate language skills of these kids, enrolled in a not very renowned private school, not only fascinated and gladdened me but also left me pondering over how few years at a school instilled in them an exemplary confidence and imparted such fluency in English language. I also pondered why students of even upper classes enrolled in less privileged institutions lack the ability to converse and write in English without making grammatical mistakes. A bit more inquisitive interaction with these kids made me ascertain/gauge that the school does not have any magic wand to make its students effective speakers in a short period but the credit actually goes to the effective and applicative way of imparting language skills.

I realized the importance of the axiom, “Language is caught not taught” after coming to know that the school lays main focus on practical conversation activities by giving students ample opportunities to participate in real communicative activities besides routine class room teaching. The kids informed me that teaching of English language goes beyond the class room which innovatively equips them with basic communication skills motivating and encouraged them to converse in English outside the class room. This naturally instills in them the confidence and fluency without much laborious efforts.

Teaching language by making students practice real life conversation is an effective way of imparting spoken English skills but unfortunately this apt way of teaching is rarely adopted in most of our schools where language is taught in a way that hardly enables the students to use the language for communicative purposes, though it makes them capable enough to pass the examinations. The biggest malady that confronts teaching Communication skills is that most of our schools adopt a faulty and very ineffective strategy which is  more grammar centric and remains merely confined to the class room and text books.

Since I am in teaching job for last couple of years, I have been observing that the English language is taught as a subject but not as a skill both in elementary and higher classes. Instead of engaging kids in practical conversation activities/sessions ,  the students are bombarded/fed with complex grammatical concepts from the very beginning of their educational journey, which is quite ineffective and makes language learning a cumbersome and a boring process.

The students are rarely encouraged to use the language in their daily and real life situations. The main motive of teaching English as second language is to develop one’s communication skills which include speaking, reading , writing and listening  besides developing a literary taste among it’s learners . To fulfill the aim of developing communicative competence among the students, teaching English language  should be activity based aside routine formal classroom teaching. The more opportunities students are given to learn by practicing, easier it becomes for them to learn the skill of speaking.

It is quite upsetting that English texts like Short stories, dramas and Poems and other genres of writing are taught in a way that hardly help our kids to develop and improve their communication skills or develop literary taste. Instead of encouraging  kids in practical communicative activities  and motivating them to actively and creatively discuss and express the texts on their own , they as passive listeners  are fed with sentence wise word to word meaning of the text in Urdu , Kashmiri or any other language in most of our schools including government as well as the private ones. This doesn’t serve the main purpose of imparting communicative skills. This however is not true for all institutes there are schools, though small in number, which teach English language exactly the way it should be taught.

The ineffectiveness of this faulty way of imparting English language skills can be gauged by the fact that most of our high school and even college students don’t possess adequate, acceptable and impressive communication skills in English especially speaking, writing and even listening despite having studied English as a subject for more many years and having passed the subject with good grades. Aside archaic and ineffective way of teaching English language, the  lack of proficiency in English can be attributed to many other reasons like dearth of trained language trainers  and also the way the competence in this language is tested because a mere written test of grammatical rules doesn’t test the actual linguistic proficiency of a student.

Lack of proficiency among the students is a matter of serious concern which remains neglected. Poor communication skill is one of the major challenging issues that confront our education system. Lack of linguistic proficiency which is prevalent among most of students hampers  the overall academic performance of the students and puts impediments in their career development .It becomes the root cause of their abysmal academic performance in other subjects, encourages rote learning and also mars their confidence especially of the students studying in  linguistically diverse academic institutions. It

Having a good command over English Language is not only pivotal for the academic progress of a student but this language having the distinction of being a global language enhances the employability of the students. A good command over this language is a prerequisite for most of the jobs in government and corporate sector. English has become the language of opportunities.

The stark reality of abysmal communicative competence among the students reflects that the way language is mostly taught in our schools is quite archaic and moribund which needs urgent revamp. To address this issue of poor language skills among the students, there is an urgent need to overhaul the methodology of English language teaching especially in elementary classes, the stage when the kids possess sophisticated capability of imitating and grasping things, engagement of competent teachers for the task and also the periodical training of the language teachers is must. Aside this , we need to introduce the  culture of group discussions and debates in our schools. Group discussions debates play a great role to develop and improve, communication, analytical, questioning and expression and arguing skills. They bring out and hone the creative and innate talents of kids and aid in language learning. Language skills should be imparted/instilled in an enjoyable and playful manner so that the students don’t find learning it an encumbrance/burden. The kids should not be fed with the complex grammatical concepts but exposed and involved in real life conversation sessions and encouraged to speak in English so that  they gradually pick up the proficiency and fluency. Most importantly the evaluation of language skills should not be confined to tests of grammatical rules but we need to revamp the system of testing communicative competence of students and introduce a novel way of examining the overall skills of the students.

Our policy makers, educationists and the people who are at the helm of the department of education should take the issue of inadequate and pathetic  language skills among students with utmost seriousness and take appropriate remedial measures to address it. Government needs to employ and engage qualified and well trained language trainers in schools to impart spoken English training and also make it  mandatory for  the private schools. This will not only significantly uplift the educational standards of our schools but also ease teaching learning process , enhance job prospects of students  and also open vast  opportunities for them.

The writer is a Lecturer at Qamaria Higher Secondary Ganderbal and can be mailed at [email protected]

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