Introduction Imagine this situation. It is day one of the under-graduate class in a semi-rural setting, in an upcoming district of Tamil Nadu. The name of the college is not mentioned here, on the request of the innovative teacher. What did he do?
Simple. He gets to know each student by name and their backgrounds. Almost 80% are first-generation learners from farmer families. Even outside the class, most parents had made only one request; please allow my son or daughter to speak very good English within the next three years. This happened in the year 2014. The next three years were a sort of adventure for both the teacher and the students.
After the initial introductions, the teacher gets the video clipping of a famous Tamil Rajnikant movie, where he would talk something like this, "I talk English, I walk English". All the students enjoy it. The teacher goes on to explain, "if our superstar can understand the language, why not you?". The next few days are spent on a few sentences in Tamil and the teacher goes on translating the sentences into English. He notes down the email address of every student and arranges group study, outside office hours by innovating in terms of communicating to parents in a particular locality. He does even the home visits and gets the buy-in from the rich parents to help out for the local classmates, who may not have the laptops or the internet. Overwhelmed by the interest of the teacher, the parents respond very well. The students are very much excited too. They listen attentively to whatever the teacher does and teaches in the classroom. In the second year, some public speaking classes are conducted. For the University examinations, the teacher gives his own notes. This is the B.Com degree course of the college.
Quite simply, the teacher has been quite innovative in securing the buy-in of the vital stakeholders. Not a single day was boring, according to the students. When I conducted a personality development course for the students in the final year, it was interesting to note that the students were able to speak in quite good English. The teacher is now engaged in conducting online classes. It should also be noted that English can never be taught through cramming. It is a global language that is also the fastest growing in the world. Even the Japanese have started realizing this. The Chinese are fast forward in this respect and have gone far ahead in learning English as a language for communication with the wider world. In fact, the demand for qualified English teachers is the highest in the world. The pitfalls of cramming have been clearly explained in a recent article the pitfalls of cramming as a method of learning that sought to demolish the impression that only cramming leads to success. Similarly, the resources available on this website that is purely academically-oriented with an entire package of services is also inclusive of an exclusive section on Learning English, where hundreds of members contribute in small little ways to explain common usage of words with a number of examples. To give just two examples, the two meanings of jaundice and Difference between undeveloped and underdeveloped , that sought to explain the two meanings of the word jaundice and the difference between undeveloped and underdeveloped. This resource is a fountainhead of knowledge that can be accessed by readers. However, it is recommended that the reader also becomes a member of this prestigious website, as this is is a free registration process and then go about learning every day.
Non-English medium students can be taught English by and through a) Innovating simple learning tools through the mother tongue b) Gradually increasing the participation of students c) Getting the parents involved and removing all fears d) Making English the focus of job-orientation and e) Making English a very interesting subject.
Innovating simple learning tools through the mother tongue What did the aforesaid teacher do? Quite simply, he had made learning the English language easy and a good learning experience for the students. Nothing can happen in a day. The trick is to teach through the mother tongue and then make the student answer and listen in English. Once the English language equivalent words of most of the commonly used words in Tamil or any other Indian language including Hindi, is clear, the students will naturally respond better. English is not a foreign language in India. It has been deliberately undermined by some people. The idea is to reverse the process of learning and make English learning, an end in itself. This method of teaching, with some variations to suit the need of particular target groups of students is reportedly in use in a Chennai-based college, Srimathi Dn Vaishnav College for Women. Among the engineering colleges, in Coimbatore, the Sri Eswar Engineering Colleget is well known to be giving maximum importance to the personality development of students, with a special emphasis on learning English the correct way. It should be noted that among literally all other engineering colleges in Coimbatore, a good majority of those who study in Coimbatore are all students who come to the city to study from various parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Hence, the college, among several others, realizes the importance of making their students ready to face the industry challenges.
Gradually increasing the participation of studentsThis is important too. Take the case of the English language teacher in an engineering college in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. The name is not mentioned here on the request of the teacher concerned. This teacher also used to teach only through Telugu in the initial stages. After six months, he invited the former students of the college, now gainfully employed in an organization at Tirupathi, as to how they learned English. This "Saturday special" became a big hit. The students were given free lunch by the Management, and the attendance went up automatically. The students looked forward to learning from others. Of course, such learning experiences may not be enough. However, when students start becoming interested, then the new possibilities for better participation opens up. This happened in this college in 2019.
Getting the parents involved and removing all fears When the parents become involved and start understanding that learning English by their children is a big boon for their career prospects, everything starts falling in place. The students will also play ball since the motivation of parents will add to their enthusiasm. Look at the methods followed by the first teacher. He had visited the homes of the comparatively rich parents convincing them that the group study involving the other relatively poorer students was essential. He had done the extra bit of work that becomes essential today. Merely teaching the syllabus and making the students do that cramming to just secure the pass mark in the English language is not the end at all. The sooner the teachers realize this fact, the better.
Making English the focus of job-orientation To stay relevant and to really make the students industry-ready in terms of knowing the language quite well, the trick is to make English teaching, particularly relevant to changing needs. For instance, hundreds of colleges throughout Tamil Nadu are collecting special fees from the students but organizing the personality development courses through external trained experts. The main aim is to make the students speak in the English language to the maximum extent possible and then take on the industry challenges. The basics of the interview process are explained in big detail and the spoken English skills are given a thorough focus, all through the three or four years of study. Perhaps it is being done in other places as well. This is exactly what is required, all over India.
Making English a very interesting subject In each of the aforesaid experiences, the objective was to make the students enjoy learning the English language as an interesting experience and not a mere ritual. Once the fears are removed, the actual learning was reportedly far better. In fact, when I conducted a personality development program for the students, I was surprised to find many students pick up the basics so quickly and respond very well.
All this was possible because the particular teacher had innovated far beyond merely teaching the syllabus. This "stretch target', as we normally call it in management jargon, was worth it.
Conclusion Gone are the days when English was considered a foreign language. In this era of globalization, it is the only truly global language that continues to dominate the technological scenario in every part of the world. It opens up many possibilities and careers. We need to be really focused on teaching English in a very interesting manner to all students. The action should start right away.