The Text book Pedagogy and the English Language Teaching in India
(Published in The English Classroom, Vol.18, No.1, June 2016, RIE, South India, pp78-86)

Partha Sarathi Misra
Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

This paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency and suggests how English language teachers of the regional medium schools of the country can prepare authentic materials for teaching English in meaningful and communicative situations as demanded by their specific contexts. Advocating pedagogic autonomy for the English language teachers as material producers, the paper brings out the absurdity of teaching English with the help of contrived texts and pseudo communicative approaches.
Key words: English language teaching, Text book Pedagogy, Pedagogic autonomy, Multilingual pedagogy Language competencies, Authentic material

In spite of our love-hate relationship with English, we have been teaching English as a ‘second language’ in the regional medium schools of the country since independence hoping that a respectable competence in English will enable us to participate in national as well as international life. For a large section of the Indians, English is a symbol of empowerment and an indicator of their upward social mobility. Soon after the liberalization of the Indian economy towards the end of the last century, States after States started lowering the age in which English was to be introduced at the primary level. Though English language proficiency level of a large number of vernacular medium primary school teachers of India was abysmally low, the Education departments of all the States forced these primary teachers to teach English to the tiny tots along with their school language. The euphoria of English language teaching got a boost when the Position paper on English language Teaching of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 gave it a nationalistic coating stating that the “aim of English teaching is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich all our languages; this has been an abiding national vision”. (NCERT 2005:4).
Is English a ‘second language’ for the millions of the students learning this language in the regional medium schools across the country? Learning Kannada as a second language by a Tamil or a Malayalam or a Bengali student of Karnataka is not the same as learning English as a second language by a Kannada, Tamil or a Malayalam student. When I learn Kannada as a second language in Bangalore, there is no dearth of ‘comprehensible input’ in Kannada, but when a child living in Thoreshettan village of Madhur district of Karnataka, for example, ventures to learn English, there is neither the incomprehensible input nor the comprehensible input for him. The unspecified status of English in India has serious pedagogical implications for the teachers as well as the taught.
Keeping in view the prevailing English language teaching scenario of the country, the present paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency even when we have a well-defined curriculum, a well-designed syllabus, made in India English language text books, work books, teachers’ manuals and a large number of trained teachers across the country. It is intriguing to note that though many Indian children living in big towns and cosmopolitan cities can learn a number of languages spontaneously outside the classroom, they fail to acquire a very basic communicative competence in English even after spending considerable time and energy in the vernacular medium schools. Why can’t our English language classrooms replicate the universal success in the acquisition of basic spoken language proficiency that a child spontaneously achieves outside the classroom? A child’s natural propensity to learn a language is stifled, defiled and dishonored in many English language classrooms of the regional medium schools. English teachers should know how to capitalize on the children’s innate ability to learn more than one language by creating a metalinguistic awareness. (Misra 2015:6).
Text book Pedagogy
Language textbooks play a very important role in the teaching of both the first as well as the second language but when the second language textbook is used the way the first language textbook is used, the tragedy looms large for the learners. The form and content of the first language textbook and the form and content of the second language textbook cannot be the same especially when the so called second language is not extensively used outside the classroom.
Why does a language teacher need a textbook to help the learner to acquire a basic communicative competence in English? Language should be viewed as a dynamic ‘text’, the learners should have an exposure to the diverse occurrences of the target language in numerous communicative situations rather than a routine exposure to a predetermined English language textbook. The textbook pedagogy used in the Indian English classrooms is not conducive to the natural acquisition of a language. As Krishna Kumar (1986:1309) has very aptly pointed out, “In the ordinary Indian school, the textbook dominates the curriculum. The teacher is bound by the textbook since it is prescribed, and not just recommended by state authorities. Each child must possess his own copy of the textbook prescribed for each subject, and he must carry all the textbooks along with notebooks (popularly called ‘copies’) to school every day. The teacher spends most of class time simplifying or interpreting the textbook and familiarizing students with its content to the point where it can be easily memorized.”
The contrived language used in the English textbooks and the irrelevance of the materials used in these textbooks ignore the learner’s needs, creativity and the teacher’s autonomy. As the English textbooks used by the teachers in the Indian schools are the product of the State machinery, they follow the official wisdom of a select few who treat language textbooks at par with the textbooks of other disciplines. Sacrificing the basic objectives of presenting the target language in natural communicative situations, English language textbooks aim at projecting the dominant political, educational or cultural value system of a particular group of people. The ideological perspective rather than the language perspective gets the upper hand in the preparation of English language textbooks published by various text book production corporations or societies of the Indian States. Why should a resourceful English language teacher be enslaved by a language textbook? In order to facilitate the acquisition of the target language skills a teacher teaching English in the Indian context should go beyond the textbook. In this connection, Mahatma Gandhi’s observation on textbooks is worth quoting: “If textbooks are treated as a vehicle for education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of textbooks and has no opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the less textbooks there are the better it is for the teacher and his pupils.” (Gandhi 1939:4).
Language Competencies or the Values?
Language text books do not exist in a vacuum, they are the result of complex social, cultural, political and educational aspirations of diverse stakeholders. “The construction of language textbooks often emphasizes the uniqueness of a nation by invoking shared history, long-standing traditions and values to instill national pride and foster national identity.”(Curdt-Christiansen and Weninger 2015: 4). The selection of materials for teaching the first or the school language of the child should be in consonance with the tradition, culture and the social values cherished by the nation or the country to which the child belongs as these materials lead to the all-round development of the child’s personality along with development of his or her linguistic competence in his own mother tongue or the school language. That there is a correlation between the linguistic and the cognitive development of a child is an established fact and, therefore, a language textbook cannot and should not overlook the child’s cognitive development in a language class. But when it comes to the question of selecting materials for teaching a ‘second’ language like English in the Indian context, the overdose of values and the unimaginative addition of ideological issues to the English textbooks may derail the very purpose of teaching and learning of English. The revised Syllabus in English for classes I to X of Karnataka, for example, stipulates that the learners of English in the regional medium schools of the State should develop as many as 98 core values during the ten years of learning English from class I to class X. What is the primary responsibility of the English teacher? To help the learners in attaining a basic proficiency in the target language as is acquired in natural language learning or to ensure the teaching of 98 core values? The thematic textbooks can be used for teaching a second language provided the themes are used as means to an end.
Mismatch between the objectives and the Pedagogy
A Study on Teaching of English in Government Schools at the Primary Level in India commissioned by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in 2012 brings out the mismatch between the objectives of English textbooks and the classroom practice followed in a number of regional medium schools of India (NCERT 2012: IV). The following three suggestions of the said study are worth mentioning:
1. The concept of language teaching as teaching of skills and not only the content needs be drilled into the teachers.(emphasis added)
2. The textbooks need to incorporate activities and questions which give space, time and freedom for inculcating creativity and developing imagination of the child.
3. Teachers need to be more creative in the use of textbooks, as textbooks cannot give everything. Lots of oral and written practice needs to be carried out using material beyond textbooks. (emphasis added).
The third suggestion of the above mentioned study places teachers in the centre of curriculum construction and classroom transaction of the predesigned textbook or the language teaching material handed over to the teachers by a centralized agency. Unfortunately, the role of the language teacher is often underestimated or ignored by the curriculum designers or the textbook writers. Curriculum materials or the textbooks used in the language class room can yield the desired result only when we pay due attention to the process of curriculum enactment in the class room. (Ball and Cohen 1996: 7). The enacted curriculum jointly constructed by the teachers, learners and materials used in particular contexts can make the language learning experience communicative, creative and result-oriented not only for the teachers but also for the learners.
The D.Ed curriculum document published by the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Chattisgargh has very succinctly summed up the teachers role as material producers. “An effective classroom teacher needs to be able to evaluate, adapt and produce materials so as to ensure a match between the learners and the materials that they use. Every teacher can be a material developer, and therefore, should provide additional teaching material over and above the course book material. Just as a piano does not play music, a textbook does not teach language. The textbook is a stimulus or instrument for teaching and learning.”(SCERT 2010: 71).
The autonomy of the English Teachers
It is often observed that the majority of our teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India are not willing to explore the English text for meaningful communicative activities in the class. They are so conditioned by the activities presented in the prescribed textbooks or the workbooks that they rarely go beyond those activities. To take a specific example of a textbook, let us take the class IX English Second Language Text Book published by Karnataka Text Book Society. In this book, Unit 7 has one prose piece named The Will of Sacrifice and one poem, The song of Freedom by C. Subramanya Bharati as main texts. The Unit starts with a pre-reading activity:
Before you read, Read the following lines.
Blessed am I that I am born to this land
I had the luck to love her
What care I if queenly treasure is not in her
Store but precious enough is for me
The living wealth of her love

These lines are followed by three questions: Why does the poet think that he is blessed? What is very precious for the poet? Why does the poet value ‘living wealth’ more than ‘queenly treasure’ Discuss in groups.
Can anyone understand the objective of this pre reading activity? Teaching the value of patriotism? These five lines are the translated version of the first five lines of a Bengali poem entitled Sarthok Jonom Aamr by Rabindranath Tagore. If the purpose of the said pre reading activity is to create an environment which is conducive for an understanding of the lesson, The Will of Sacrifice and its theme based on the life of Bhagat Singh, a teacher teaching English in a Kannada medium school can use a well-known Kannada poem which invokes the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice for the nation. The truncated version of a Tagore poem given for pre reading is more difficult than the main lesson itself. During her field internship program, one of my students used the poem Halagali Bedaru prescribed in the class X Kannada textbook as a pre reading activity for teaching the lesson The Will of Sacrifice. She used the Kannada poem instead d of the incomprehensible Tagore poem as a pre-reading activity to arouse some kind of curiosity among the class IX students of a rural Kannada medium school and it worked miracle.(Priyanka 2015: 6). The poem Halagali bedaru speaks about five friends who wanted to get freedom form the British through revolution. Even though common people had asked them not to fight with the British, the five young men decided either to get freedom or to die for the welfare of the country. This pre-reading activity also resulted in a better comprehension of the theme, a lively discussion on patriotism both in Kannada and English, spontaneous code switching from Kannada to English and prompted the students to write a better letter about Bhagath Singh and his sacrifice at the end of the class. The use of the mother tongue for pre reading activities in an English class was a part of the multilingual pedagogy used for teaching English in a rural Kannada medium school. If the English teachers are given autonomy in their pedagogical practices they can make their pedagogical practices result oriented.
Authentic material and the textbook Pedagogy
Though unpleasant, it is often noticed that the materials used in the English textbooks prepared by many State Boards are far from being authentic. The theories of material production in language points out the paramount importance of using materials which are linguistically, culturally psychologically and pedagogically appropriate for the learners. Materials which are suitable linguistically may not be suitable from the psychological or cultural point of view of the learners. Again, materials which are suitable in all other respects may not be suitable pedagogically. Let us have a look at a contrived text used in the class IX English textbook mentioned earlier. In order to teach conversational skill, the following dialogue is given in the said textbook for role play and practice.
Prema: Why’re you late today, Sneha?
Sneha: Oh! I missed the bus and had to walk all the way.
Prema: Oh dear! Why don’t you buy a vehicle?
Sneha: Yes, I am also thinking about the same. But I’ve to learn driving.
Prema: That’s right. Why don’t you join driving school? Mayura Driving School is good one and it is near your house.
Sneha: Prema, how much do they charge to teach driving?
Prema: They charge Rs. 2000/ for ten hrs. But Sneha you should have learning license before you could start learning.
Sneha: Learning license! Where shall I get it?
Prema: The Driving Scholl will help you to get it.
Sneha: How much do they charge for it?
Prema: May be about Rs. 500/
Sneha: Thank you for the information. I’ll go and meet them tomorrow.

In his or her wildest imagination, a class IX student of a Kannada medium rural school will consider this text as an authentic one. The text is thematically, psychologically and legally inappropriate. A class IX student is planning to buy a vehicle and is going to apply for a driving license! Doesn’t he or she know the minimum age requirement for acquiring a driving license? Doesn’t this dialogue betray an urban centric class consciousness?


English teachers can overcome the limitations of the materials used in the English textbooks by creating their own materials suitable for their contexts. Too much dependence on the textbook culture and the textbook pedagogy goes against the objectives of teaching English in a non-native context. Can’t all teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India be good material producers having an autonomy of their own in their class rooms?


Ball, D.L. and Cohen, D.K. 1996. Reform by the Book: What is or Might be the role of Curriculum materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform? Educational Researcher.25 (9): 6-8, 14.
Curdt-Christiansen X.L. and Weninger,C. 2015: Language, Ideology and Education. London: Routledge.
Gandhi, M.K. “Text Books”, Harijan .September 9, 1939.
KTBS.2014. English Second Language Ninth Standard Text Book. Bangalore: Karnataka Text Book Society.
Kumar Krishna. 1986. “Textbooks and Educational Culture”, Economic and Political Weekly. 21(30):1309-1311.
Misra P. 2015. The Dilemma of English Language Teaching in India: Historical, Social and Pedagogical Issues Retrieved from dated 6 May 2016.
NCERT. 2006. Position Paper English Language Teaching. New Delhi:NCERT.
NCERT. 2012. Teaching of English at Primary Level in Government Schools. New Delhi: NCERT).
Priyanka, D. 2015. Integrating language and literature to teach English language, an unpublished MA internship Report. Bangalore: Azim Premji University.
SCERT. 2010. D.Ed Language (Second Language English) and Language Teaching. Raipur: SCERT, Chattisgarh.


On listening to the IATEFL plenary:Is English going to be a ‘syllable-timed’ language?


A tsunami has been changing the basic character of the English language. Lexically, grammatically and phonetically, English is not what it was when the IATEFL was established fifty years back!
David Crystal’s plenary on the first day of the 50th IATEFL conference held at Birmingham is an eye opener for the English teachers of the world who are obsessed with the question of the purity of English. With plenty of examples drawn from English as it is being spoken and written around the world, Crystal has made us aware of the magnitude of the changes taking place in the use and usage of English. That English is changing is not a news, but the magnitude of the change that has created a tsunami in the field of the English language is a news indeed!

In his plenary  at IATEFL, Birmingham, David crystal  dwelt at length on  the main changes in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary  taken place in the past fifty years and  pointed out the magnitude of the changes  that are likely to take place in coming days

All living languages change, only the dead ones don’t, Crystal pointed out. The expansion of the vocabulary of the English language makes us wonder-struck. What a creativity and what a novelty! Words or compound words such as ‘emoji’, ‘digital amnesia’, ‘dude-food, ‘skype-family’, ‘pocket-dial, ‘ride-hailing service’ or ‘mansplain’ are the latest coinages of this language. Like many other people listening to Crystal on the first day of the IATEFL Conference, I too wondered what does ‘mansplain’ mean in English. Quick came the meaning from Crystal, ‘mansplain’ means ‘the act of a man explaining to a woman what she already knows’! A former husband is a ‘wasband’!
Many English words have acquired new meanings too. The word ‘basic’ is not a neutral word any more. “Basic” means “unattractive” while “wavy” means “stylish, Crystal reminded us!
Dwelling at length on the processes of grammatical changes, Crystal remarked that the frequency of modal verbs is declining in English. ‘have to’, ‘going to’ are replacing ‘must’. The use of ‘must’ has been reduced by 50%, Crystal pointed out.
English static verbs are being used dynamically and the progressing aspect of the verbs is increasing day by day. (a) “I am loving it.’(b) I am wanting a new fridge. (c) It’s mattering to me greatly. Indian speakers of English will not be embarrassed anymore with the following utterances: ‘I am intending to apply for a new job.’ Or ‘ I’m knowing the answer’!
What is most surprising about the changes taking place in English is the phonetic character of RP. The development of ‘syllable-timed’ speech rather than the traditional ‘stress-timed speech’ is a very significant change taking place in the English language, Crystal remarked and and prophesied that “The future seems to be ‘syllable-timed.” Though English is a stress-timed language, days are not far off when it will be a ‘syllable-timed’ language and in that case each English syllable will have the same length. What a revolutionary change of English pronunciation!. How will the ‘native speakers’ adjust with this dramatic change of English pronunciation?
A good news for the Indian speakers of English whose first languages are syllable-timed. Indians often face problems recognising and producing English contractions, main and secondary stress, and elision. If ‘syllable-time’ becomes the norm of English pronunciation in coming days (thanks to the Global English) Indians can speak English more fluently and confidently without any inferiority complex.It seems that English has been changing its character to accommodate the global speakers of English!

Language, Sexism and Point of View

Black and whiteA man marries but a woman gets married (Chele Biye Kore, kintu Meyer Biye Hoy) !
(a) My friend’s son who is still unemployed has married a girl working in a company.
(b) My neighbor’s daughter, a highly placed software engineer has got married to a guy.
While we look at these two sentences, it is evident that man is always an active doer while women are destined to play a passive role. In Bengali, there is a saying “ Chele Biye Kore, Meyer Biye Hoy” A man marries but a woman gets married!
The question of ‘sexist language’ and the world view it reflects is a highly contentious issue that needs to be examined from diverse perspectives. It is often argued that sexist language conditions our gender sensitivity and perpetuates gender inequality. As language carries the ideology of a society and its people, a number kinship terms used in the patriarchal society are related to the subordination and the subjugation of women. Right from the day one of their socialization, women are linguistically exploited by instilling an inferiority complex that perpetuates gender discrimination and social exploitation.
While reading numerous reports on the International Women’s Day being celebrated today, I googled the net to find out the lexical meanings of words like ‘woman’,’ man’, ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ and was appalled by the gender insensitivity and gender inequality of a number of kinship terms used in our patriarchal society. The connotation of some of the words used in our woman-man relationship is objectionable and disgusting. The lack of gender equality is too pronounced in the kinship terms that we use in our day to day life.
The word ‘woman’ is derived from ‘wvfman’ which is a combination of the words ‘wvf’ (wife) and ‘man’. The word ‘husband’ comes from old Norse word ‘husbondi’ which meant ‘master of house’. The Bengali word for husband is ‘swami’ which means a master, a lord, an employer, a boss, an owner, a ruler, a chief or a leader. The other word for husband is ‘Karta’ which literally means ‘maker’ or ‘master’. The Hindi word औरत (wife) comes from the Arabic word ‘awrah which originally meant ‘defectiveness, faultiness, deficiency, imperfection. Another Hindi word for woman is अबला which literally means powerless or without strength.
It is really unfortunate that various patriarchal societies often failed to recognize women as persons having an identity of their own. They are always defined with reference to their male counterparts. She should be somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister, somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother. Can we define male human beings with reference to their female counterparts too? Think of the oft repeated cliché “women’s emancipation” used on the occasion for the International Women’s Day. The very word ‘emancipation’ in this context implies male domination. Lexically, emancipation means, “the freeing of someone from slavery”, or “ the process of being set free from legal, social or political restrictions.” You can emancipate someone who is imprisoned. The medieval knight rescuing and freeing the imprisoned damsel kept captive in a lonely tower!
“It is language which determines the limit of our world, which constructs our reality,” asserts Dale Stephender, the author of the provocative book entitlled Man Made Language. Dale Stephender,(1980) argues very forcefully how men literally ‘ made’ the English language and have never relinquished control over it. She points out that many everyday English words, motherhood for example, reflect a kind of ‘trapped’ expression as their meanings were fixed by men.
It is generally accepted that sexist assumptions are often reflected and perpetuated in the day to day use of a language. But finding fault with a language on the basis of the theory of linguistic determinism is rather too simplistic. Sexism in language should be considered from the point of view of a ‘functional view of language, not from the point of view of ‘linguistic determinism.’
Language is never a neutral medium of communication. When we acquire or learn a language, we do so in a cultural context and therefore, learning or acquiring a language is an ideological engagement ( Curdt-Christiansen, X. L and Weninger, C: 2015:1).

Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. and Weninger, C. (2015). Language, Ideology and Education, Newyork: Routledge.
Simpson, P.(1993). Language, Ideology and Point of View. .NewYork: Routledge.

‘Language Across Curriculum’: Need for a paradigm shift

While working as a District Elementary Education Officer in the nineties of the last century, I had the privilege of interacting with a large number of teachers teaching at the grass root level. Soon after reaching a school for inspection, I used to ask the teachers: “How many of you teach language in this school?” The common answer was: “ Only one us.The language teacher, Sir.” “What about others? Don’t you teach Language?” “No, Sir, I teach Maths, she teaches Social Studies, he teaches……” I pretended to be surprised. “But, don’t you think, all of you are basically language teachers?” I used to ask. They were visibly shocked. How ignorant a District Education Officer could be, they must have wondered!
Do we need a teacher specifically for a particular language when all teachers are basically language teachers? Isolating language from the overall learning experience of a child goes against the theories of learning. How can we forget that all learning during our childhood was through language itself?
Language plays a central role in the learning experience of the child. It enables the child to form concepts, explore symbols, analyze a given problem and to solve it, organize information and interact with his or her environment. Therefore, irrespective of the subjects they teach, all teachers should give due weightage to the centrality of language in the learning process of the child and any pedagogic intervention should recognize the role of language in the transaction of the curriculum. The concept of Language across Curriculum acknowledges the fact that language education does not take place in the language class alone, it takes place in each and every subject.
While discussing the goal of language curriculum, the National Curriculum Framework of India also advocated a language across curriculum perspective. “A language across curriculum perspective particular relevance to primary education. Language is best acquired through different meaning making contexts, and hence all teaching is in a sense language teaching” (NCERT,2006:4).
Language across curriculum is based on three basic tenets: (a) language is more than surface structure, (b) the entire school as an environment influences the learners’ language development and (c) language plays a key role in virtually all school learning. ( Fillion, 1979: 48). Irrespective of the subject area, learners assimilate new concepts largely through language. When they listen and talk, read and write about what they are learning in non-language classes, they use language as language and consequently, while increasing their concepts in non-linguistic fields, they enhance their linguistic skills as well. Therefore, all the stakeholders of education need a broad language perspective that integrates language and content learning ( Mohan,B.A.: 1986:18).
The centrality of language in the transaction of the school curriculum leads us to content-related instruction that provides cognitively engaging contexts for language practice and integrates language development with content learning (Curtain, H and Dahlberg, A.,2010:281).
Language is a major tool for a child to decode the world around her, it is also a tool for her to learn about the world. For a child, a language is not limited to the domain of social interaction, it is also a resource for her thinking and reasoning. Therefore, don’t make the child a victim of the compartmentalization of your curriculum, design you curriculum in such a way that the cognitive development and the linguistic development of the child go hand in hand. All the teachers are equally responsible for presenting the language with its panoramic view before the inquisitive mind of the child.

Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A. 2010. Languages and Children: Making the Match, Pearson: New York.
Fillion Bryant. 1979. Language across the Curriculum, McGill Journal of Education. Pp. 47-60.
Mohan, Bernard A. 1986.Language and Content. Addison-Wesley:Reading

In search of an interface between Language Perspectives and Language Pedagogy

What is language? How does it relate to the world and the mind? How do we acquire our first language? How should we teach a new language and what are the implications of teaching a language? How is language pedagogy conditioned by our a sociological and political perspectives? Do our views on language influence our world views? These are some of the issues that often agitate our mind academically and condition our pedagogic practices in the field of language education.
There is no dearth of courses on language and language teaching in India and abroad and universities and institutions often vie with one another in advertising their courses among the prospective candidates across the globe. But most of these much publicized courses are instrumental by nature, their primary objective is either to teach a language or to enable the participants to attain pedagogical competence in teaching a particular language. These courses rarely help the participants to explore the interface between language perspectives and language pedagogy.
In spite of the highly academic discourses available on the nature and characteristics of language and its manifestation as a cognitive phenomenon and a social dynamic, language seems to be an enigma to many stakeholders involved in designing and implementing language curriculum in the domain of education and human resource development. Language as a tool for making sense of the world is coterminous with our human experience and is used spontaneously in all the spheres of our personal, social, emotional and cultural engagement right from our childhood. Though language plays a very important role in our perception of reality and the sharpening of our cognitive ability, not only in the popular parlance, even in scholarly discourses, it is often viewed simply as a means of communication. “Language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntary produced symbols” Sapir (1921:8). But considering language from a purely utilitarian point of view is a travesty of the fact that language is a constituent of our human entity and an embodiment of our human experience. A child’s tryst with language begins with her birth and the language ‘acts as a subtle, yet strong force, shaping the child’s perception of the world, interests, capabilities, and even values and attitudes.”(Krishna Kumar, 1986:1).
Though the professionals involved in language education have a general idea of ‘what is language’ and ‘how it works’ and ‘how it is to be taught’, an in-depth understanding of language and its role in the cognitive development of a child’s ability to express herself and its pedagogic implication in concept formation and knowledge creation are often overlooked by them. Echoing this perception, the Position Paper on Teaching of Indian Languages published by National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi observes that “In order to appreciate fully the role of language in education, we must begin to develop a holistic perspective on language.”(NCE, 2006:1). But, in order to develop a holistic perspective we have to examine language in a multi-dimensional space.
As language can be considered from diverse points of view, theoretical linguists, applied linguists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologists and all other people interested in language have tried to look at it from their own perspectives. Consequently, the plethora of diverse perspectives originating from conflicting theoretical orientation often poses serious problems for the people who are entrusted with the task of teaching language or developing the professional competence of language teachers during various professional development programmes. Therefore, the interface between language perspectives and language pedagogy needs a systematic exploration for our own understanding and classroom practice.

Dimasa: a little known language of India

Today, I am writing this post just to put on record for posterity the reference to my work on a little known language of India. I submitted my thesis entitled, ‘A Contrastive analysis of English and Dimasa Phonology in a Generative Framework’ to the University of Calcutta in 1983. Soon after the submission of the thesis, my guide, Dr. Suhas Chatterjee, the then Khaira Professor of Indian Linguistics of the University of Calcutta expired and I became an orphan and my thesis submitted to the Calcutta University for evaluation became nobody’s business. After running from pillar to post for the evaluation of my thesis and the viva, I got my Ph.D degree in 1991. Those eight years of my life was a nightmare, full of agony and despair, and the inordinate delay of the great Calcutta University changed the course of my life. When I got my Ph.D. it was too late, it had no value for me for my career advancement. I was doomed.
Looking back, I have no regret. I pity the University that ruined my life, but I feel pride in the fact that I did a pioneering work on a little known language of India. As the internet was not known in those days, google is not aware of my work. When I read a dissertation submitted to the University of Florida by a young Indian scholar who worked on the tonal features of this language but did not refer to my work lying in the cold storage of the library of Calcutta University, I felt amused.

The book, ‘Indian Doctoral Dissertations in English Studies’ by M S kushwaah and Kamal Nseem published by Atlantic Publishers, NewDelhi in 2000, however, mentions my work. But who cares?  As a note on this book admits, “Indian Research In English Studies Has A Long And Rich Tradition. But, Unfortunately, it Has Failed To Make Any Notable Impact On The Academic World. This Is Largely Due To The Fact That Most Of The Indian Doctoral Dissertations In English Studies Lie Buried In University Libraries.”

Well, no more of this personal narrative! Let’s have a look at this little known language which gave me sustenance during my youthful days. My thesis on Dimasa is a response to my love for this language and is a testimony of my admiration for a vibrant community whom I loved, respected and adored during the period 1975 to 1983. I worked on this language for eight years… a little known work on a little known language!

My work was not just a conrastive  analysis of the phonological patterns of two languages, the ultimate objective was English language pedagogy. How to teach English to the marginalized pupils of a tribal community whose  mother tongue  was in the spoken form till then. These pupils of  a community of one lakh members spoke a language which was not used even at the primary level. Teachers who  could not understand a single word of their language used to teach them English. The /p/ sound of their language, for example,  is an aspirated sound  word initially, just as it is the case with the English  /p/ sound. The English  teachers speaking Assamese or Bengali had no clue to the phonological patterns of the mother tongue of their pupils and taught them English as if their mother tongues were Assamese or Bengali. In these two languages, there is a phonemic distinction between /k/ and /kh/, but in English as well as in Dimasa, the distinction between /k/ and /kh/ is allophonic, not ‘phonemic.’ Teaching English to the ‘doubly disadvantaged’ tribal pupils at the cost of their own language!
Dimasa, a branch of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, is spoken by the Dimasa people of Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills), Cachar, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts of Assam, India. This language is one of the oldest languages spoken in the north-eastern part of India. The word Dimasa etymologically means “Son of the big river” (Di- Water, ma- suffix for great, sa-sons). According to the 2001 Census of India report, there are 110000 native speakers of this little known Indian language.
According to the classification given in the Linguistic Survey of India, Dimasa belongs to the Boro sub-section of the Boro-Naga section under the Assam Burma group of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan speech family. To quote from ‘The Linguistic Survey of India: “What is called the hill dialect of Kachari is spoken in the North Kachar Hills and in a small tract in the south of Nowgong. This is commonly said to be a dialect of Bara, or at least it is contended that two are common dialects of one language. No doubt, at one time these two speeches were identical, but in the course of centuries, they have developed on such different lines that I prefer to call Hill Kachari, or as its speakers call themselves, Dimasa, the language of the people of the great river, a separate language of the Bodo group.”
The Dimasa Speech Community is a section of the large tribal group which goes by the name of Bodo Kachari and whose members are found scattered all along the Brahmaputra valley of Assam, parts of Arunachal, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and West Bengal in India. Some speakers of the Bodo group are also found in the north eastern region of Bangladesh. The major concentration of the Dimasas is in the autonomous district of  Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills) of Assam where they constitute more than 40% of the total population of the district. Till 1961 the Dimasa was treated as a sub tribe of the Kachari Tribe. In 1961 Census they were grouped as a separate tribe. They are listed in a special schedule issued by the Govt. of India and thereby they are entitled to special Govt. protection and constitutional benefits.
It is estimated that Dimasa branched off from the ancestral common language about one thousand years back. In its present form it is completely different from Boro spoken in the districts of Goalpara, Darrang, Sonitpur, Kokrajhar and Kamrup districts of Assam. Endle (1911) says, “Inter-marriage between the two races (the Dimasas and the Boros) is apparently quite unknown, indeed, the barrier of language would of itself probably go far to prevent such inter-marriage for although the two languages (Dimasa and Boro) have much in common, yet in their modern form they differ from each other nearly as much as Italian does from Spanish and members of the two sections of the race meeting each other for the first time would almost certainly fail to understand each other’s speech.”
Dimasa has three dialects spoken in the entire Dimasa speaking region of Assam. They are as follows: the Hill dialect, the Burman dialect and the Hojai dialect. The Hill dialect is spoken in the districts of Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills) and Karbi Anglong, the Burman dialect is spoken in the plains of Cachar and the Hojai dialect is spoken in the district of Nagaon.
There are sub-dialectal difference in the Hill dialect. Dimasa as spoken by the educated native speakers of the community at important places like Haflong, Maibang and Diphu has been taken as the standard form of this language. It may be pointed out that the Hill dialect and the Burman dialect are the two contenders for the position of the standard variety of this language. The process of standardization has been going on and Dimasa is likely to evolve an acceptable standard form eventually.
(a) Anybody interested in the grammar of this language, can read Dimasa Grammar by F. Jacquesson at
(c) The first book on Dimasa written by Mr. Dundus in 1885 is available in the National Library of Calcutta.
Hoping that someday someone may be interested in studying this language, I am citing  the following resources.
1. Burlings,Rrobins. 1959. “Proto-Bodo”, Language, Vol. XXXV, No. 3.
2. Bhattacharya, P.C. 1977. A Descriptive analysis of the Boro Language, Gauhati.
3. Endle, S. 1911. The Kacharis, London.
4. Grierson, G.A. (ed). 1903. The Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. III, part II, Calcutta.
5. Shafer, Robert, 1955. “Classification of the Sino-Tibetan Languages”, Word, Vol.II, No.1.

Continuing language learning: the role of L1 literacy in secondary L2 language and literacy development

Oxford University Press

Frustrated student at work in classroomMany secondary second language learners face numerous challenges as they develop language and literacy in a second language at the same time they are learning subject area content in that second language. Fortunately, L1 academic literacy is not separate from L2 academic literacy. They are both manifestations of a common underlying proficiency. In this post Dr. Marylou M. Matoush, introduces her forthcoming webinar highlighting the ways that academic language and literacy proficiency can be developed through active reading, writing, speaking and listening in either or both languages.

Secondary schools are commonly structured as if all students need the same type of instruction, for the same amount of time, across the same curriculum. While this is far from ideal, it may not seem too problematic in some second language and literacy instructional settings, such as foreign language classrooms, where second language (L2) learners share somewhat similar first language (L1) language and literacy…

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