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
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

Use of English as a resource in a multiligual classroom: Strategies for a multilingual Pedagogy


Reading academic articles on multilingualism can be a frustrating experience for a teacher who is likely to be bombarded by expressions like individual multilingualism, social bilingualism, territorial multilingualism or institutional multilingualism. Discussions on multilingual pedagogy also often tend to be highly theoretical providing little help to a practicing teacher who grapples with the problems faced by her in a multilingual classroom in which the children speak a variety of other languages but cannot use English even for basic communication. Therefore, keeping aside theoretical discussions on the merits and demerits of a multilingual pedagogy, this paper aims at exploring a few pedagogical practices that can be used in a multilingual English classrooms of India.

Understanding Indian multilingualism

Multilingualism is a word much sinned against than sinning. Its meaning, usage and pedagogical relevance is highly context embedded, multilingualism classroom in India cannot and should not be equated with a multilingual classroom of the USA or Canada. In a typical multilingual classroom in the USA, there is no common first language among the learners of English, the learners are from vastly different countries and cultures and they make different mistakes in structure and pronunciation depending on their specific foreign language origin. Besides all these factors, the target language English is all pervasive in the school and the learners have no choice but to communicate in English with their classmates as they cannot chat or express their ideas in their home languages. But in an Indian multilingual classroom, majority of the children have a first language in common, their first languages have a lot of similarities with the first languages of their classmates and they have a bond of a common cultural heritage which makes linguistic assimilation an unconscious process among the children speaking numerous Indian languages. Unlike the immigrant children of the USA attending a multilingual class, Indian children learning English in a multilingual class can chat and communicate with their friends in languages other than English.

Another important difference between the environ of the USA multilingual class room and the Indian multilingual class room is the quality and the expertise of the English teachers. The teachers of English in the USA are not only fluent in English, they are certified to be English teachers. In India, unfortunately, a teacher teaching English at the primary level is often neither fluent in English nor is she sufficiently trained to teach English or any other language. As the onus of using the multilingual pedagogy rests with the teachers, the ill-equipped Indian English teacher does not venture to use a multilingual pedagogy.

I have started the discussion on the use of English as resource in a multilingual classroom by making a distinction between an Indian multilingual classroom and an American multilingual classroom because the theories of multilingualism and multilingual pedagogy advocated by ELT experts and practitioners across the globe are contextually irrelevant for an Indian English teacher. Indian learners of English are neither immigrants or bilinguals who want to be totally immersed in English at the cost of their own languages. English cannot usurp the place of a dominant language in a multilingual English classroom and therefore, an Indian multilingual ELT pedagogy should make a judicious use of the euro-centric multilingual pedagogy and the Indian reality.

Multilingual Pedagogy for India

The NCF Position Paper on English Language Teaching strongly advocates a multilingual pedagogy for teaching English in India and suggests that at the lower primary stage or at least in classes I-III, English should occur in tandem with the first languages(s) for learning activities. (NCF 2006). Taking a cue from this suggestion, we may say that for a multilingual pedagogy for India at the primary level, the artificial barriers between languages like English and the school language and between ‘languages’ and ‘subjects’ should be removed from the class routine of the primary schools. Languages are languages for the child, call them by whatever names you like! Be it school language or English, the vocabulary, structures and discourse patterns of any language will appeal to a child if they are presented naturally in consonance with the needs and expectations of the child.

An English teacher using a multilingual pedagogy in her classroom should be aware of the fact that L1 and L2 do not reside in two separate compartments in the mind of the bilingual child when she is exposed to a second language. L1 and L2 are interwoven in the L2 user’s mind in vocabulary, in syntax, in phonology and in pragmatics. Therefore, ‘learning an L2 is not just adding rooms to your house by building an extension at the back., it is the rebuilding of all internal walls’ (Cook, 2001:407). Using L2 along with the child’s L1 reinforces a child’s repertoire in both the languages and therefore, a multilingual pedagogy is a double-edged tool from a pedagogic point of view.

Exploiting the child’s innate competence

A child growing up in a multilingual environment acquires various languages of her environment in just the same way as a monolingual child acquires her home language. Therefore, a teacher teaching English and the regional languages at the primary level can try to find out ways of creatively exploiting the different languages available in a given classroom. The teacher should tap into the pupils’ familiarity with more than one language to advance the learning of the target language. By using cognitively challenging tasks in multiple languages, the English teacher may generate enough linguistic inputs for the pupils to reflect and acquire the usages of the target language.

Strategies for a multilingual Pedagogy
The multilingual pedagogy should be in consonance with the whole language approach which treats language as a meaning -making system.

Greetings and polite expressions:

Use three pictures. In one picture, there is a conversation between a teacher and her pupil, in another two children are in talking with each other in the play ground and in another picture, two workers in a plantation or a paddy field are exchanging greetings and day to day information Ask the pupils to enact the dialogues in their mother tongues and then you enact the dialogues in English. As the pupils are already familiar with the usages of their own languages in specific contexts, they will be interested in the usage of English in specific contexts. By introducing dialogues in natural situations, you are prompting them to see how the vocabulary, syntax and the usage vary from context to context in English as well as in their mother tongues. Initially, they may find it a bit challenging linguistically, but the task is not at all challenging cognitively and contextually. A Kannada speaking child knows when to say, “Neevu hEge iddeeya” and “Neevu hEge iddeera” (How are you?), she knows when to say “ bartheeya’ and when to say “bartheera.” Though both “Neenu yaaru” and “ Neevu yaaru” mean “Who are you?” in English, a Kannada speaking child knows the context in which the former and not the latter should be used. In English, ‘Hello’ can go with ‘How do you do’ but ‘Hi’ cannot. ‘Hi’ is followed by ‘How are you.’ Present all the formulaic expressions of greetings in English contextually and see how the children use them for communicative purposes. The same exercise can be done with the help of greetings used in Hindi or any other language.

How do your children use polite expressions for interpersonal communication in their home languages? Present stories in pictures in which polite expressions are used in English as well as in the home languages of the pupils and let the children be exposed to them in the guise of telling them stories. ‘Help. Help me please. Can you help me please? Could you help me please? Will you help me please? It would have been nice if you could help me. I wonder if you could help me, please.’ Children can understand the nuances of all these sentences in their home language and therefore, if you present these sentences in English in suitable contexts, the children will be in a position to practice the usage creatively.
Print rich environment in multiple languages

A number of English words are used in almost all the Indian languages. Present those words in multiple languages along with their pictures. Ask the children to use those words in contexts in their home languages and listen to the English sentences in which they are used. As many children may be without any print rich environment at their homes, the classroom should provide them multilingual print rich environment in which they can explore English along with their home languages. Words like doctor, nurse, hospital, station, bus, train, tickets, balloons, balls, cricket can initiate conversations in multiple languages. Caution, however, has to be taken so that the words are not used in isolation. Children should use these words in their home languages first and listen to the teacher who uses them in English sentences. Simple sentences written in multiple languages can be displayed in the classroom showing the use of the same English word in their home languages as well as in English.

Language games

A language is learnt quite easily when the focus is not on the form, but on the meaning. The multilingual repertoire of the Indian children in their home and other Indian languages spoken in or around them can be a resource for teaching them English. Using numerals in multiple languages including English while playing games can be a good resource for introducing English numerals in suitable contexts. In Kannada, ‘three’ means ಮೂರು (muru) while in Telegu it is మూడు (mudu). The wrong production of the ‘r’ sound may make the Kannada ‘r’ a Telegu ‘r’. Ask the children to count from 1 to 100 in their own languages, then supply them 1 to 100 in English using visuals and see how they develop language sensitivity and lingusitic competence in English. You can ask them sing songs using numerals in various languages.

Letters and sounds of English in the context of the home language

Teachers often complain that the lack of correlation between the English letters and their sounds pose a serious problems for Indian learners. In Hindi and Kannada, ‘ch’ is always ‘ch’, it is never pronounced as ‘k’. Well, present the following Kannada words in sentences and see if the Kannada speaking children can understand the meaning. ‘odu’ (read), ‘oDu. (run), ‘kaalu’ (leg), ‘kaaLu) cereals, ‘Hallu’ (teeth), ‘Haalu’ (milk), ‘’HaaLu’ (spoilt), ‘anna’ (rice), aNNa’ (brother). Then ask children speaking other languages if they can find out similar words which lead to confusion due to wrong pronunciation but the meaning becomes clear if used in appropriate contexts. Once you develop the language sensitivity of the children, they can explore a difficult terrain without inhibition.
Providing space for two or more languages

Language is a performing art for the children, they enjoy playing with words and expressions and therefore, the English teacher should not compartmentalize languages. It has to be kept in mind that learning English in a multilingual context does not mean just to make the children social and interactive in English, it affects their cognitive domain too. While learning English along with their home languages, they start looking at things from multiple perspectives. By providing space for exploring two or more languages together and prompting the children to examine the resources of their home languages in the English class room, the English teacher becomes instrumental in developing the multilingual awareness of the children.

The pivotal role of the teacher in a multilingual class

Teaching English in the multilingual classroom presupposes the teacher’s competence in English. Teachers should be familiar with the whole language approach, Physical response theory, methodology of situational language teaching, techniques of using authentic material in the classroom, use of realia, and props etc. Visual reinforcements using labels from multiple languages may be used in the early language classrooms. All the classroom furniture and classroom features may be labeled in English and the languages known to the children. Signs with specific vocabulary items in contexts such weather, months and days used in different languages can be used as a part of Total Physical Response activities. But all these activities presuppose the English teacher’s competence in English. Are our teachers comfortable with their own use of English? If not, it’s time to go for a professional development course in English language teaching. Can’t we think of a professional body like TESOL in our country too? Teaching English is a technical enterprise and therefore, you need a license issued by a competent authority to be an English teacher!

In order to maximize communicative potential, the switching between the home languages and English, technically called translanguaging’ should be encouraged in an English class. Mixing words and expressions from various languages in the same utterance or in the same discourse is quite natural to the Indian children who are exposed to more than one language since their childhood, thanks to the influence of cinema and television on the life of the common people. Multilingual pedagogy, therefore, should not be an alien strategy for the Indian English teachers, it should be an integral part of their curriculum transaction.

This blog was originally published in on October 11, 2017.

An Interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, IATEFL BESIG Coordinator

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

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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