Five Megatrends Shaping the Future of TESOL: David Graddol’s Keynote address at Portland, Oregon, USA

David Graddol: Five Megatrends Shaping the Future of TESOL: Thursday, 27 March 2014,TESOL Conference,2014

Meeting David Graddol, the internationally acclaimed applied linguist, writer, broadcaster and researcher is always a source of joy, listening to him is a source of enlightenment and interacting with him is a source of academic and personal enrichment. The soft spoken David with his bright eyes and emphatic voice widens your horizon whenever you meet him and listen to him. It was indeed a pleasure to meet him during his visits to Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad in connection with ELT conferences and book launches. I was always impressed by his deep understanding of the ELT scenario affecting the future of English in India.
David’s scholarship is amazing and his interpersonal skill in any social gathering is captivating. It is no wonder that during the hour long key note address entitled Five Megatrends Shaping the Future of TESOL given at TESOL 2014, Portland, Oregon, David kept his audience captivated and spell bound. The dramatic suspense unfolded towards the end of the speech was indeed in David’s unique style. Though the title of the talk was five megatrends, David spoke on four trends and kept the audience wondering what could be the fifth!
David had a nice and unobtrusive takeoff. He quickly and briefly recapitulated how he had tried to study, analyze and understand the growing importance of English as a Global language. In The Future of English? (1997), David said, he tried to understand the growing importance of English as an international language and its role in globalisation. In English Next (2006), he positioned English in global education. English Next India (2010) was David’s exploration and analysis of the changing status of English in India. In Profiling English in China: The Pearl River Delta (2013) David examined public discourses and the linguistic landscapes of a part of China. His next book would be English Next, Brazil, David told the audience.
Out of the five mega trends shaping the future of ELT, David mentioned four: demography, economy, technology and politics and said that he would try to analyze how they interact with one another. What about the fifth? We wondered.
The world is fast changing demographically, David reminded the audience. People are living rather too long and there is a mismatch between the people in the workplace and the people who are not in the workplace.. Referring to the ‘dependency ratio’, David pointed out that we are in a very new kind of demographic environment which has an implication on the future of English as a global language. Demographic and economic trends in the Twenty First-Century are affecting Global English and language policies worldwide, David pointed out.
David stated that people in the non-English countries are no longer interested in learning English as a foreign language, they want to learn it as a basic skill and this has a very important implication for the future of Global English. What we find in the world today is that there are increasing numbers of English users, not English learners, David pointed out.
Do we need English teachers to teach English as a basic skill? Private players and corporate publishing houses are already ready with standardized ELT packages which cater to the needs of the new generation of English users across the globe.
How about the influence of politics? Showing videos of the Primary English Project in West Bengal, India, David pointed out how a very effective ELT project got discontinued due to political apathy. He referred to the Delhi success story of ELT. But again, politics can undo everything.
The paucity of time hunted David towards the end of his talk. He had so much to say, the listeners also wanted so much to know. But all good things must come to an end and David’s talk was not an exception!
Oh yes, David did not forget the fifth mega trend shaping the future of TESOL. We are the fifth mega trend, David assured his audience. We are to decide and act. The future of TESOL will be propelled by our collective decision and action. What a brilliant conclusion, David.

PS. David Graddol also spoke on the diversity of the English language, Kachru’s three Circles, Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

English? To Teach or not to Teach: That’s the Question

To Teach or not to Teach: That’s the Question

The demand for English in India is market driven, a command of this language is no more a status symbol, it is
now viewed as a survival kit for the millions of Indians who were traditionally the victims of the great ‘English divide’ that stood on the way of the upward social and economic mobility of the masses. The democratization of English in India took place so suddenly and unobtrusively that the policy makers and the ELT practitioners had little time to evolve suitable strategies to respond to the English wave sweeping over the country soon after the liberalization of Indian economy.
The National Curriculum Framework,2005 believes in a multilingual classroom. It believes that an Indian child enters school with not one but often more than one language and is thus capable of learning to communicate in several languages. With this conviction the NCF envisages a system in which the children’s other languages can strengthen English teaching/learning. The Position Paper, NCF 2005 raises a very pertinent question: “Can English language classroom replicate the universal success in the acquisition of basic spoken language proficiency that a child spontaneously achieves outside the classroom in its environment? If so, how?”
Agnihotri and Khanna (1995) have pointed out that we need to capitalize on the asset children have, i.e. fluency in two or three languages even before they enter school, by creating a meta-linguistic awareness, and translating the multilingual and multicultural ethos into concrete classroom transactions. The Position Paper on Teaching English, NCF 2005 has also recommended that teaching of English be woven into the texture of developing strategies of teaching in a multilingual classroom. The teaching of English and the teaching of other languages should play a complementary rather than a competing role in the regional medium primary schools of India.

An Early introduction of English in the regional medium schools of India

An Early introduction of English in the Regional medium schools of India

From a theoretical as well as pedagogical point of view, an early introduction of a second language is beneficial for the learners. Chomsky believes that children are born with an inherited ability to learn any language, they inherit a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) and the form of the language that is acquired is largely determined by internal factors (Chomsky, 1966: 64). Chomsky’s theory of LAD prompted Eric Lenneberg to popularize his ‘critical period hypothesis which states that if the language acquisition does not occur by puberty, full mastery of the language cannot be achieved. He claims that “After puberty, the ability for self-organization and adjustment to the physiological demands of verbal behavior quickly declines”(Lenneberg, 1967:158).
The core validity of the ‘critical period hypothesis’ merits serious consideration in the case of an early introduction of English in the Indian context. What are the benefits of starting English early? Doesn’t it affect the very young learners coming from a non-English speaking background? I am often asked by my friends. As a teacher of English, I find many benefits of starting English instruction early.
1. Young learners are more likely to achieve native like pronunciation than older leraners as they are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of a new language and enjoy repeating them.
2. Young learners are open to new linguistic experiences and are less inhibited than older learners
3. Young learners are more imaginative and explorative and they enjoy learning by doing.
4. Learning a new language is a performing art for the very young learners
I wish I had started English as a very young learner. Now, I realize that there was a decline in my ability to detect phonological contrast in the second language (Saxton,2010:114) when I stated learning English as an adult. In my mother tongue, /b/ is pronounced with the help of the two lips, in my English class, I was asked to pronounce /b/ with the help of the lower lip and the upper teeth. Again in my mother tongue, /s/ is always pronounced as /s/, but in English in plural endings, /s/ is sometimes /s/, sometimes /z/ and sometimes /iz/. In one of my first English class, I was severely punished for my inability to distinguish between the last sounds of ‘this’ and ‘these’, as I was unable to detect the phonetic contrast!
I am aware of the opinions of the experts who claim that ‘bilingualism’ can be an extra burden on young learners starting schooling for the first time in India. They are apprehensive of the fact that an early introduction of English in the vernacular medium schools of India may impede concept formation and lead to poor cognitive development. But is there any empirical evidence? I wonder. Isn’t it a story of Pride and Prejudice??

 The  teacher is  a hallowed entity,   a sanctified, consecrated and a highly venerated person. The notion of a teacher as a mystic figure often prompts us to forget  the person behind the teacher. Who is a teacher? According to the English lexicon,  a teacher is a person who   teaches, educates, instructs, trains, coaches  or  tutors.  But, in order to teach, educate, instruct or train others, we need a person, a human being, not a robot. A teacher is basically a person who  has personal traits that propel him/her in the right direction. It has to be acknowledged that the personal traits of  a  teacher play a pivotal role  in the conduct of his/her  business as a teacher.

The traditional notion of a teacher is that of an authoritarian ruler as portrayed by Oliver Goldsmith in his  poem  The Village Schoolmaster  who ‘even though vanquished could argue still.’ In all the societies, the very word ‘teacher’r invokes  an image of a seer to be respected  and obeyed by the high and mighty as well as the common people. As a person, he/she  is  supposed to be honest, upright, selfless and dedicated to the pursuit of  knowledge and the enlightenment of his/her pupils or disciples.

Though the teacher has always an  aura of holiness and enlightenment, his personal traits may often affect his   image  as  a teacher.  If he is not groomed in the right direction even before joining his profession he may create havoc in the lives of his  pupils.  A little wavering  on the part of a teacher  or  turpitude   is enough to cause ripples in the society. The questionable way in which the Mahabharata famed Dronacharyya succumbed to prejudice against  Karna belonging to a  lower caste is a metaphorical commentary on the personality of a teacher.  The content knowledge and  the pedagogy  can be acquired by a person if he wants to be a teacher, but  if he is deficient in  the  human qualities essential for  distinguishing him as a teacher  in a social  context, he is bound to be a misfit  in the  profession. Therefore, any policy decision on  teacher education should put special emphasis on the teacher as a person.

The personal traits, the philosophy  and the world view of a teacher are bound to be  influenced by the   norms of the society to which he belongs. In a consumer driven economy we cannot expect a teacher to adhere to the ancient Indian philosophy of  plain living and high thinking.  A teacher candidate born and brought up  in the midst of the  political and social turmoil of the last three decades  is already a victim of  social degeneration.  Rural  educated young men and women  for whom  one world is dead and the other powerless to be born are  often a frustrated lot. Even the urban youth exposed to  industrialization and globalization suffer from a sense of  alienation.

The assumptions and propositions  regarding  the  teacher as  a person are bound to be influenced by the social perception of a community or a nation. Why do we need teachers or teacher candidates? Do we need them  just to perpetuate a social ritual  called education or do we need them  to usher in a new chapter of  sustainable social development in consonance with  long term vision of our social engagement?  In spite of our high expectations, do we ever care to look into the inner landscape  of a teacher candidate who intends to join the  teaching profession?

Many psychologists have pointed out that in order to be a successful teacher  a person must possess emotional intelligence in terms of  self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation and  empathy.  As the teacher will be entrusted with the responsibility of enhancing the cognitive  as well the emotional development of the pupils, it is imperative  on the part of the teacher candidates to sharpen their emotional intelligence during their formative years.  Again, teacher candidates whose cognitive and emotional development is not up to the desired level may find it difficult  to help the pupils in the right direction. Therefore, instead of  selecting teacher candidates for  a course in education  on the basis of their academic performance, a test to evaluate their personal traits and emotional intelligence should be   administered as a screening test.

The teacher’s personality as a human being has the  most powerful influence on the children and therefore, it should be treated as  a basic competence for   the teacher- students. It has to be kept in mind that a teacher student is basically a common human being having a specific evolutionary history—-  psychological, behavioral, social and cultural. Her  transformation as a teacher does not necessarily obliterate her evolutionary history as a human being. Therefore, her readiness to balance her personal identity and the professional identity will  be the most crucial factor in her career as a teacher. It has to be kept in mind that a teacher’s personal engagement with her environment  and her personal world view  will have a very strong influence on the growth and development of her personality  as a teacher.

The present state of anarchy  plaguing the  English language teaching scenario   of  the vernacular medium schools of India calls for a sound pedagogical practice of  multilingual teaching suitable for the Indian context, not the Euro-centric multilingual pedagogy used in the USA or  the UK. A teacher teaching English in a multilingual setting should use a multilingual pedagogy  built on   her   awareness of the languages used by her pupils as their first languages. Based on  the teacher’s   awareness of the languages used by her pupils, a set of multilingual strategies should be  developed to nurture the linguistic competence of the pupils  in their  first language as well as in the target language.

An explicit knowledge  about  languages  available in her immediate neighbourhood and  an  awareness of the  language used by her  pupils and a  a sensitivity   to the languages of the learners …… these    are some  of the  prerequisites for  a teacher using multilingual strategies  in her English class room.  Soliciting responses from her pupils, a teacher  can promote  questioning about language to develop linguistic understandings of her pupils. A  teacher teaching English and the regional language at the primary level should try to find out ways  of  creatively exploiting  the different languages  available  in a given classroom.  The English teacher interested in using a multilingual strategy should tap  into their pupils’ familiarity with more than one  languages to advance the learning of the target language. Bringing one language to another is the essence of a multilingual  pedagogy used for  developing the linguistic as well as the cognitive  abilities of  the pupils who come  from a non-English speaking background. By using cognitively challenging tasks in multiple languages , the English teacher  may  turn the language class into simplified version of   a linguistics class which aims at generating enough linguistic inputs for the  pupils as well as the teacher to reflect and learn

A  multilingual language awareness  is a must for teachers  of multilingual pupils.  Teachers  should  understand   the important role  that the first language plays  on the development of a  second language  and of the interdependence  of  the languages  known to the pupils.  English teachers  working in a multilingual context  should be capable of building on their pupils’ first language  and literacy to develop literacy  in the target language.

Death of My Mother tongue

When my mother died a few years back, I not only lost  my mother, I lost my mother tongue too. My mother used to speak a language which my children  could not understand. I did not  allow my children to learn  my mother’s  tongue as  I wanted  them to learn the standard language, not the dialect of the rustics.  My mother was the only person in the family who  used a distinct language  derided by the civilized world as a dialect. When my children grew up, they wanted to know why I had  not taught  them their grandma’s tongue, they felt that their inability  to use their grandma’s tongue deprived them of her love and affection. They acquired and spoke the  standard language at home, not the  language that I  spoke as  a child. During their infancy, I was   extra vigilant  to keep them  away from the sound of the  language   that I  inherited, I  avoided going to our ancestral village lest the kids’ language  get contaminated by  a language  dubbed as an unsophisticated dialect.   This personal narrative may sound strange to many people, but this is the grim reality confronting many   Indians  whose mothers’  tongues are incomprehensible to their children.

The so called prestige value  bestowed on the standard variety of a language is also one of the  causes of  the  disintegration  of many  Indian joint families. The  wife of one of my friends in Bangalore  had to face the wrath of her  in laws   when she refused to talk to the new born baby in   the non-standard variety of the  language spoken  in her in-laws house. In order to protect her child from the  ‘vulgar’ tongue of her in-laws, she persuaded her husband to shift to a new  house in  another locality of the city.

Till now, I was referring to the death of Indian languages  due to the prestige value accorded to the  standard variety  of the  recognized languages. The shopping malls of  the  metropolitan cities of India  reveal another sordid story.  Believe it or not, English is the language of the shopping malls of India. While shopping in  malls, parents speaking English with heavily accented Kannada,  Tamil or Bengali  interact with their kids in English.  Though  both the parents speak the standard variety of an Indian language quite perfectly, they use English while interacting with their  kids. Just as I protected my kids from the  influence of  the non-standard  variety of my  language, these  parents protect their  kids  from  the    influences of  the  standard variety of their own  language.  For these kids, English is their  home language, English is their school language and English will be the  language of their  professional life.

The death of languages is a universal phenomenon. Just as a dialect becomes a language due to non-linguistic factors and gobbles other dialects, the language of opportunity and  economic empowerment has a tendency of devouring other  disadvantaged languages. In India, people are traditionally identified by their  languages, but   it seems that  language as a marker of social identity may undergo  a sea change in coming decades.   Due to large scale inter-State migrations and marriages,  a new  language-independent  pan-Indian identity  has been emerging in various parts of the country.   Our children of the next generation will be multilingual in the true sense of the word, linguistic  boundaries will  not make any sense to them. Their  linguistic repertoire in more than one language will make them more tolerant, more pragmatic and more humane than their  parents. The citizens of the digital world will  speak a   language of their own, not the one prescribed by  their parents. Have I a cause to despair?