Crossing Borders and building Bridges with Global English

The presidential keynote address by Dr. Yilin Sun at the TESOL convention held at Metro Convention Center,Toronto, Canada from 25 March to 27 March 2015 was a clarion call to the English language professionals of the world to work with a missionary zeal to promote and propagate English language for peace, prosperity and harmony in our changing global society. It is the English language that enables us to cross the geographical, political, social, ethnic and linguistic borders and paves the foundation of everlasting cultural, social, emotional and linguistic bridges that unite us as the equal partners of a global society.
Based on her cross-cultural teaching, learning, and research experience in China, Canada, and the United States, Dr. Sun shared her journey as a TESOLer and discussed the roles and responsibilities of TESOL professionals in our changing global society.
Listening to her keynote address strengthened my conviction that English is not merely a language, it is a way of looking at things from a global perspective, it is an indicator of our global identity. Ignoring English means ignoring the globalized horizons, depriving our children of the resources of this language is nothing but depriving them of the benefits of their right as digital natives. The prophetic vision and the emphatic assertion of Tagore, the Nobel laureate flashed before my mind’s eye when I was listening to Dr. Sun talking about building bridges. In the poem “The Indian Pilgrimage” (Bharat Tirtha) Tagore said, “ All shall give and take, mingle and be mingled in, none shall depart dejected.” (Dibe ar nibe, milabe, milibe, jabena phire). The philosophy of ‘give and take’, ‘mingle and be mingled’ can be translated into action globally if we teach English as a global language, a language that represents the hopes and aspirations of the digital natives of the 21st century.
A few days prior to the TESOL 2015 convention at Toronto, I had the privilege of listening to Rod Bolitho at the Teacher Educator Conference organized by the British Council and EFL University at Hyderabad, India from 27 February to 1 March 2015. In an interview during the Conference (available on U Tube ), Rod Bolitho pointed out the importance of teaching English for international communication. He maintained that English learners of the 21st century are digital natives and they look beyond the confines of their own towns or cities. Therefore, there should be a paradigm shift in our approach to ELT in a global context. English should not be taught as a mere school subject.
If we are to build bridges, we have to teach English for international communication. We have to remember that the 21st century learners have access to a great deal of language beyond the classroom, and English teachers and the English textbooks are no longer the sole sources for learning English.
As English learners can get enough ‘comprehensible input’ from the digital environment, the traditional notion of English teachers as the providers of English language inputs has become obsolete in the digital world. Are English teachers ready for a facilitative role in the changing ELT world?
PS. Crossing borders and building bridges with the help of English as a global language should not be at the cost of our individual, social, cultural and national identities. Our collective identity as global citizens is not incompatible with our distinct identities. When I think of the global English, I think of the color and beauty of the mosaic. The digital world is not a melting pot, it is a world that respects and preserves diversity. How can English connect us if we don’t preserve our distinct identities and diversities? The global English is indeed the symbol of our global unity in diversity

Ensuring quality in English Language Teacher Education

Conferences can be intensely taxing, perspiring and tiring affairs. But conferences can be stimulating and engaging too especially when they are organized by organizations like the British Council, IATEFL or the TESOL. Last month, I had the opportunity of attending an international conference which was intellectually stimulating, academically challenging, professionally rewarding and socially refreshing. Yes, I am talking about the Teacher Educator Conference organized by the British Council in collaboration with the English and Foreign Languages University at Hyderabad, India from 27 February to 1 March 2015.
The central theme of the Conference was ‘Ensuring quality in English language teacher education’ and the subthemes were ‘policy and quality initiative’, ‘monitoring and evaluating quality’ and ‘enhancing the quality of curriculum, materials and methods in English language teacher education’.
As I had expected, the conference provided a platform for a highly stimulating academic discussion among academics drawn from different countries of the world and the company of the dedicated scholars, researchers and teachers committed to the cause of ELT inspired the young and the old as well as the experienced and the novice working the field of English language teacher education across the globe. Basing on my personal experience of attending IATEFL conference in UK, I have no hesitation in naming this conference as another edition of the IATEFL. So meticulously organized, so nicely propelled professionally, intellectually and academically! Such a focused and result oriented international conference presupposes a total commitment of the organizers.
The key note address of Rod Bolitho will resonate in the ears of the delegates for years to come. He looked at the quality in English language teacher education from a number of different perspectives: (a) How do you define ‘quality’? (b) What is the profile of a competent English language teacher in the second decade of the 21st century? (c) How to prioritize quality in teacher education in India and the wider region? (d) How do you ensure quality in in-service training (INSETT) and continuing professional development (CPD)?
As the central theme of the Conference was ‘quality’, all the speakers and the presenters dwelt at length on the issues related to quality. The role played by motivation in ensuring quality, peer observation as a means to improve quality, institutional initiatives for quality, research-led approaches to qualifications and assessment, evaluation in teacher education programs, maintaining quality assurance in difficult circumstances….. all these discussions kept the delegates busy during the conference.
Now that the Conference is over, I wonder how many delegates have started working on the issues explored during the conference. Hope the deliberations of the conference bring a paradigm shift in the ELT scenario of the country.
Looking at the ELT scenario in India, I have a mixed feeling. It’s nice that we have been organizing ELT conferences at the international, national and the regional levels years after years. We have been exploring and debating the issues of quality in English language teacher education with the intention of bringing a qualitative change in the ELT scenario of the country. But, is ‘quality’ just a buzz word used by the stakeholders of ELT in India? Hope, it’s not. It is the ‘mantra’ that has to be translated into action. Any post-conference follow-up session?

English in the Inner Circle of Indian families

The purists of Indian languages may frown at the use of English during our interpersonal communication in Indian languages. The champions of the mother tongue education may consider code switching from Indian language to English a sign of our snobbery to a foreign tongue that we inherited from our former colonial rulers. But the language behavior of an average educated Indian often indicates an all pervasive influence of English in our day to day life. Though English is an associate official language of India, its use in our daily life is not always official, it is often more than official, it is personal, emotional and social. English has become an integral part of the inner psyche of a large number of educated Indians who are exposed to English in numerous contexts. The spontaneous use of English words, phrases, idioms and expressions in the inner circle of the educated Indian families is amazing indeed! The way English has been replacing the use of mother tongues in the verbal repertoire of the educated Indians in their emotional life is a fit case for sociolinguistic study.
While watching a number of TV serials in Bengali, I started wondering if the word ‘Husband’ comes from the Bengali lexicon. In a TV serial “Didi No. 1”, the anchor asks a participant, “Who has come with you?”, Quick comes the reply, “amar husband”. (my husband). Being intrigued, I watched some other serials in which the female characters had to refer to their husbands. In all the cases, it was “amar husband” (my husband). Though Bengali equivalent of husband is ‘swami’, ‘pati’,’bor’, the characters in the TV serials never use them. Doesn’t it follow the general trend followed in the educated Bengali society? A young educated girl asks her newly married friend, “ ei, tor hubbir khobor ki?” ( Hi, how is your hubby?). Hubby, not ‘Bor’. Are Bengali words ‘swami, ‘Bor’’ becoming obsolete?
আন্টি (auntie) is another word that has replaced Bengali words like মামি, পিসি and মাসী. Mother’s sister (Masi in Bengali) or father’s sister (Pisi in Bengali) had an emotional bondage for the Bengali children of the earlier generation. But these words are often alien to the tongue of the Bengali children of the present generation. The Bengali lullaby, “Gum parani masi pisi, moder bari eso” does not make any sense to the English fed Bengali children. Similarly, Words like ‘kaku’, ‘jethu’ are being systematically replaced by the word ‘uncle’.
‘Girl friend’ and ‘boy friend’ have also become Indian terms of reference. No young man refers to his ‘girl friend’ in translation! In a number of regional films, the hero and the heroine express their feelings in Indian language, but when the ultimate moment of proclamation comes, it’s in English, “I love you…..”. Is the intensity lost if it is uttered in the mother tongue? No, English is spontaneous, the voice of the inner self!!!
The language landscape of the educated young generation of India is too complicated and should be studied dispassionately. The so called linguistic boundary of the fifties and the language debates of the past make no sense to the multilingual young people of India. They speak languages, not a language, they have thousand voices, not a voice, they have multiple perspectives, not the sole didactic perspective of their parents.