Multilingualism in Action for Adult Learners of English

TEC 2015, one of the greatest ELT conferences on earth is coming to India next month. What is TEC? It’s ‘Teacher Educators Conference’ which is jointly organized by the British Council and the EFL University, Hyderabad every year. I had the privilege of attending TEC 2011, 2012, 2013 and missed the 2014 due to a mishap. Hope to attend it again in 2015. The temptation of attending TEC is irresistible, I should admit. New ideas, new experiments, new plenary speakers, new researchers and new directions in the field of ELT. You must attend TEC if you want to know what is new in ELT.
The other day I was going through the papers presented in the past conferences and came across one of my papers presented in TEC 2013. That forgotten paper entitled “Multilingualism in Action: Theory and Practice” tried to explore the theoretical as well as the practical implications of a multilingual strategy to English language teaching in the Indian context.
The paper was based on an experiment done with the teachers of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas of Rajasthan and the teachers of Windmills and Epsilon schools of Bangalore, Karnataka. Using parallel texts in two languages, the project tried to find out how the use of Hindi and English texts in Rajasthan, and Kannada and English texts in Karnataka helped the teachers of regional medium schools to develop their language sensitivity and communicative competence in English. How does cross language transfer of skills help multilingual adult learners in developing their language awareness in a target language?
Tota Kahini, A Parrot’s Tale originally written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore has been translated into English and many Indian languages. In order to find out the efficacy of using parallel texts in two languages, 21 teachers of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas of the various districts of Rajasthan undergoing a ten day orientation programme in ELT at Jaipur were asked to read the English and the Hindi versions of the story. After the reading the story in Hindi and English, they worked in groups to find out the lexical chain in the texts and the cohesive devices that maintained the continuity of the story thematically as well as structurally. Each group was finally asked to prepare a dramatized version of the text and to enact it before other groups.

Using parallel texts
1. Lexical chain in two languages
While reading the texts in Hindi and English, the participants were asked to find out the words related to the ‘bird’, the ‘cage’ and the ‘teaching’ of the bird used in the first four paragraphs.

तोता बहुत मूर्ख था
खूब उछलता था,
फुदकता था
उड़ता था
नहीं जानता था कि तहजीब किसे कहते हैं।
an utterly foolish bird.
sang songs
but did not read the scriptures
It flew
it jumped
did not have the faintest sense of etiquette

अपना घोंसला
ऐसे आवास में
पिंजरा
सोने का पिंजरा
पिंजरा ऐसा सुंदर बना
the tiny nest
a good cage
building the cage
The cage turned out to be so exquisite
the bird has got the cage

विद्या पढ़ाने बैठे
थोथी पोथियों
पोथी लिखने वालों को बुलवाया
पोथियों की नकल
इतनी विद्या

came to teach the bird
a few books won’t do
summoned the scribes
Learning is going to overflow
scribes got cartfuls of rewards.

2. Narrative Structure
The participants were asked to underline the sentences which had a teleological effect on the narrative structure of the story.

राजा ने हुक्म दिया, ‘‘इस तोते को पढ़ाओ
पण्डितों की बैठक हुई।
सबसे पहले तो यह जरूरी है कि इसके लिए कोई बढ़िया-सा पिंजरा बना दिया जाये।
सुनार बुलाया गया।
वह सोने का पिंजरा तैयार करने में जुट गया
पंडित जी तोते को विद्या पढ़ाने बैठे।
उसने उसी समय पोथी लिखने वालों को बुलवाया
पोथियों की नकल होने लगी।

He called the minister, and commanded, “Educate it.’
The scholars held long discussions
So, first of all, it was necessary to build a good cage for it
The goldsmith started building the cage
The pundit came to teach the bird
The nephew summoned the scribes
They copied from the books

3. multivocality

The participants were asked to note and discuss in groups the narrative openings in both the versions of the story. How do the narrative opening orient the readers by giving person, place, and tone and the authorial voice?

1 . देखने वाले कहने लगे, ‘इस तोते का भी क्या नसीब है !’’

2.जिसने भी देखा, उसने यही कहा,‘‘शाबाश ! इतनी विद्या को धरने की जगह भी नहीं रहेगी।
1. Some said, “Education indeed!” Others said, “Education or no education, at least the bird has got the cage! What a lucky bird!’

2.Whoever saw it, said, “Bravo! Learning is going to overflow!

The language pedagogy used in this experiment was oriented towards the process of developing language sensitivity and communicative competence, it did not insist on the results and this preference for the process ensured the participants’ motivation and participation. The task of preparing the script for the drama enhanced the participants’ understanding of the text and the dramatic situation. It also helped them to apply their linguistic and pragmatic knowledge of the first language to English for a better understanding of the way the target language is used for communicative purposes.

Story telling in a second or a foreign language classroom: Pedagogical considerations

That story telling is a very important pedagogic tool in a second or a foreign language class is an axiom. If you are a language teacher for young learners, you must be a good story teller. Story telling is the original form of teaching and there are still societies in which it is the only form of teaching. Story telling is a living art and like music and dance, it is brought to life in performance. A good teacher is a good performer, isn’t she?
What are the advantages of storytelling to young learners? Story telling develops children’s imagination, provides exposure to the target language and serves as a powerful communication tool ( Augusta Baker and Ellin Greene, 1977:17). Besides helping the young learners in developing listening skills, storytelling helps children to develop a sense of structure. The narrative structure of a story has a magnetic attraction for children and as language teachers of very young learners we should exploit this magnetic field. While discussing the characteristics of a narrative, Michael J Toolan has remarked, “Narrative typically seems to have a ‘trajectory. They usually go somewhere, and are expected to go somewhere, with some sort of development and even a resolution or conclusion provided” ( Toolan, M.J, 2001:4) The moment you start a story, children are impulsively drawn to its narrative structure. If you try to deviate from the normal structure of a story or its sequence, children will immediately catch you for distorting the structure or disturbing the sequence!
Story telling is conveying of events in words, images and sounds. It is an authentic and creative use of language. Colloquial or literary, traditional or modern, standard or non-standard, unaffected or flowery, prose or poetry…. the full range of language with its diverse manifestation is present in stories and therefore, story telling exposes the young learners to the language in its totality. Pedagogically, you may call it a ‘whole language approach.’
A resourceful language teacher can use stories for enhancing the linguistic as well as the cognitive abilities of her young learners. Story telling provides ‘experience with the interpretative mode for learners even at a very early stage of language acquisition’( Curtain,H and Dahlberg, C.A, 2010:73).
Depending on the age and the background of the young learners, I have used different techniques to make story telling pedagogically useful. For very young learners of English as a second language, the first choice is the use of stories which have songs or repetitive expressions so that children get a chance to participate in the story telling sessions. It’s a community event, you are a facilitator, not an all knowing narrator. Let the stories grow with the active participation of your young learners who may be more resourceful than their language teacher! Dramatisation, pantomime, using visuals and relia to illustrate the content of the story, supplementing the story with non-verbal expressions, relating the stories to their immediate experience… these are some of the techniques I used to make the story telling sessions a meaningful learning experience for my young learners learning English in a non-native context, Asking the young learners to express the story line with drawings and paintings and to role play the characters of the story using the target language is another useful technique.
To sum up, stories use a holistic approach to language teaching and they support natural acquisition of the target language. They help children develop critical thinking skills in a very unobtrusive manner. One story a day, make the language learning a play. Happy story telling!!

The theory and Practice of Curricular Material Development in Languages

I had my first class of the current semester yesterday. Though 18 postgraduate students interested in learning the theory and practice of curricular material development in languages had enrolled for the elective course called CMD(L), 14 students reported for the first class. A good beginning, I assured myself. On seeing the bright, inquisitive eyes of the boys and girls coming from as many as 12 States of India, I felt the same kind of thrill that I felt in my first class a few decades back.
As soon as the class started, I was glad to note that the students had gone through the course website and had studied the first chapter of the book ‘Developing Materials for Language Teaching’ by Brian Tomlinson. This augured well for a lively discussion on the issues confronting material development for language teaching and the relevance of the theory of language learning in the field of material production in language.

What’s so great about this CMD(L) course? Well, this course on Curricular Material Development in Language primarily focuses on the actual development of curricular materials and an understanding of the concept that is to be taught through that material. The development of curricular material in Language is not be an end in itself, rather it leads to a sharpening of the students’ ability to convert their disciplinary knowledge to pedagogical content knowledge. The two pronged strategy of the CMD(L) course helps the students to evaluate available textbook and to design a textbook as per their theoretical orientation and pedagogical inclination and conviction.
Curricular material development in Language is a technical skill. Material developers in language should try to achieve an articulation of their theories of language learning keeping in view the pedagogical implication of that articulation. Therefore, during this course, I intend to reinforce the students’ understanding of the nature and processes of languages and to show them how this ought to influence the making of curricular resources in languages. Other objectives of my course is to
• To familiarize and critically engage the students with a range of resources across different stages of the school curriculum and to differentiate school textbooks from textbooks and other survey materials used in colleges and universities
• To grasp the factors that condition the development of curricular materials in English or any other Indian language
• To understand the process of resource creation across different stages of education.
• To develop resources keeping in mind certain learning objectives and the vision for the teaching English in India
• To explore the possibility of creating resources for autonomous learning in the Indian context.

If you are to prepare curricular materials in a language, you should be familiar with the structural, functional and communicative functions of curricular materials, the scope and the comprehensiveness of the materials and the authenticity of the materials for pedagogical purposes. It’s a challenging task, no doubt, but it’s a rewarding experience too. Some useful books for anyone interested in exploring the theory and practice of Curricular Material Development in Languages:

Byrd, P. (ed). (1995). Material Writer’s Guide, New York, Heinle and Heinle.
Dewey, J, The Child and the Curriculum, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1902)
Diana, Hacker. (2009). The Bedford Handbook, Boston, Bedford/ St. Martins.
Freire, P., Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972)
Grundy, S. (1987). Curriculum: product or praxis? Lewes, Falmer Press.
Hall, Kathy, Patricia Murphy and JanetSoler. (2008). Pedagogy and Practice: Culture and Identities, London,Sage Publications.
Harwood, Nigel (2010). English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice,New York, Cambridge University Press.
Kennedy, Mary Lynch, and Hadley M. Smith.(2010). Reading and Writing in the Academic Community, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall-Pearson. 6
Rafik-Galea, Shameem.(2004) ELT Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice, Petaling Jaya, Sasbadi Sdn.BHD
Tomlinson, Brian. (2003). Developing Materials for

Multilingualism as a Resource in an English classroom in a non-native context

Why are our English teachers afraid of using a Multilingual pedagogy in their classes? How many English teachers use parallel texts written in English and the mother tongue of their pupils? Is ‘multilingualism as a resource in ELT’ a mere pedagogic slogan? Well, let’s consider the Indian case.
The aim of English language teaching in India, according to the NCF 2005 Position Paper of the National Focus Group on English Language Teaching, is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich other Indian languages. This vision statement of the Position Paper prompts us to examine the question of using multilingualism as a teaching strategy in our English classrooms. Multilingualism, which is defined as speaking two or more languages, is often viewed as an impediment to the teaching and learning of a second language. A survey of the ELT scenario across the globe indicates that the importance of the first language is often minimized in the second language classroom (Cook,2001) and it is no wonder that many Indian English teachers avoid the use of the mother of the pupils in their classrooms.
Taking note of current ELT scenario of the country, the Position Paper on ELT states that at present, “the mother tongue enters the English class as a surreptitious intruder” The Position Paper suggests that “ the mother tongue need not be an interloper but a resource” and it can occur in tandem with the first language. In spite of this unequivocal policy statement made by the Indian ELT experts ten years back, the immense possibility of the use of multilingualism as a resource has not been fully explored by the ELT practitioners of the country. Though the said Position Paper recommended the introduction of parallel texts in more than one language for a successful ELT pedagogy, little has been done till today to implement the recommendation.
Metalinguistic awareness, knowing about and being able to talk about how language is structured and how it functions is a special advantage of multilingualism ( Cook,1995; Jessner, 2006, Svalberg,2007). Multilingual children learning more than one language gain in flexibility because they can understand and analyze concepts using more than one language system. A lot of research work has been done to find out the correlation between bilingualism and cognitive ability (Peal and Lambert 1962; Cummins, 1984;Hakuta and Diaz 1985), but all these isolated studies were done with reference to the bilingual education of young children. How does cross language transfer of skills help multilingual adult learners in developing their language awareness in a target language? The role of bilingualism in academic learning in a context where the learners’ competence in two languages is of varying degrees seems to be an unexplored are of research.
There is no denying the fact that interpretative skills are transferable across languages and an exposure to the stylistic analysis of a literary text in the first language helps in the analysis of the same text written in a second language. Adult learners who are already familiar with a systematic interpretative study of a text in their first language can easily grasp the stylistic features of the same text written in a second language. By using what the learners already know of a text written in their first language, they can explore the text written in a second language without any inhibition. By comparing the way language is used in the text written in the first language as well as in the second, adult bilingual learners acquire a mastery of the second language unavailable to the monolingual learners.
L1 and L2 do not reside in two separate compartments in the mind of the bilingual learners. L1 and L2 are interwoven in the L2 user’s mind in vocabulary (Beauvillain & Grainger, 1987), in syntax (Cook, 1994), in phonology (Obler,1982), and in pragmatics (Locastr,1987). Therefore, ‘learning an L2 is not just the adding of rooms to your house by building an extension at the back: it is the rebuilding of all internal walls ( Cook, 200:407). The use of parallel texts written in L1 and L2, therefore reinforces a learner’s repertoire in both the languages.
I will be happy to know how many English teachers teaching English in a non-native context use parallel texts in their English classes.

An Interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, IATEFL BESIG Coordinator

Parthasarathy:

an eventful journey, a must read for people interested in their professional development in ELT

Originally posted on Vicky Loras's Blog:

Marjorie Rosenberg

Marjorie Rosenberg

Marjorie and I met two years ago, at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris. What impressed me about her was her enthusiasm about her work and her willingness to help out and run what was a great conference. She is extremely supportive to our teaching community and we are all very fortuntate to be connected with her. It is a huge honour to have her here on my blog. Enjoy our interview!

Vicky: Marjorie, thanks so much for this interview. It is an honour to have you on the blog!

Marjorie: It is an honour to be here!

Vicky: Let’s talk about your journey into education. It has been a really interesting one. Could you tell us more about it?

Marjorie: I actually studied music in Buffalo, New York and wanted to be an opera singer.  While finishing my Master’s I took teaching qualifications as well and…

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Revisiting Indian Sign Language

Is Sign Language a natural language? If it is a natural language, isn’t it an endangered one? Is orality an essential characteristic of a natural language? Why are we obsessed with ‘phonocentricism’? What’s the nature of linguistic deprivation suffered by deaf children? By denying an opportunity to pursue their studies in Sign Language, are we violating the linguistic human right of the children of the Deaf community of the country? (Mind that, the deaf population in India is 14 million! More than the total of many countries.) What’s its implication in the context of the Right to Education ACT ? These are some of the questions that disturbed me when I listened to Dr. Samar Sinha of Sikkim University talking on “Indian Sign Language: Problems and Prospects” at the Faculty Seminar held at the University yesterday.
Dr Samar Sinha teaches Linguistics at Sikkim University. His Ph.D. thesis ‘A Grammar of Indian Sign Language’, a pioneer work on Indian Sign Language, is a detailed grammatical study of Indian Sign Language and Indian Deaf Community. His research on Indian Sign Language has contributed significantly to our understanding of natural human language in general and Indian Sign Language in particular, and towards the empowerment of Deaf community in India.
Dr Sinha was very straightforward in asserting that the cumulative philosophical, historical, social discrimination has resulted in the suppression of Indian Sign Language and this has resulted in further violation of their right to education through mother tongue, a violation of linguistic and human rights.
Shabda Brahma. The theory of vibration through letters and their utterances often conditions our notion of language and we often find it difficult to think of a natural language without orality. But is orality a must? Why is speech so fundamental, why is it so sacred? “The traditional definition of language considers Sign Language as a language surrogate lacking the syntactic, morphological and phonological properties of natural language”. Dr Sinha opined during his presentation and pointed out the unique structure of Indian Sign Language. Some of his observations are worth quoting: (a) Indian Sign Language is an SOV language with asymmetry between embedded and matrix clauses in the information –neutral word order, (b) Wh-phrase is always clause final, (c) the facial expression, torso, tempo, contour, size and other dynamic parameters are used to convey various grammatical information.
The contemporary discourse on deafness needs a paradigm shift, linguistically, academically and socially. Like racism and sexism, audism , the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears, should be banned. Children using the Sign Language (+sign) are equal to the children using non-sign Languages (-sign) , the only difference is the absence or presence (+ or -) of orality.