Learning a language is the ability to look at the world through that language

It is amusing to listen to many Indian ELT experts and policy makers using the expressions ‘English for empowerment’, ‘English as a global Resource,’ ‘English for upward mobility,’ ‘English for social equality’ and ‘English for global citizenship’.The publication of Graddol’s monumental books ‘Future of English’ and ‘English Next: India’, made Indian ELT luminaries ecstatic, I should say. They started chanting these phrses without trying to translate into action Graddol’s observations. I was present at the British Council, Kolkata when Graddol’s ‘English Next: India’ was released. On that day, I sincerely hoped that the ELT fraternity of India would be inspired by Graddol’s pioneering research and the ELT scenario of the country would move to a positive direction. Was it a day dream? I wonder in retrospect.
Phrases like like ‘English for Empowerment’ or ‘ English for Development’ sound good, they could lead us to better days, but when I meet students who are unable to utter two meaningful sentences in English even after studying English in the regional medium schools of this country for eight to ten years, I realize the hollowness of these highly eulogized expressions which are now a days the staple food for many ELT experts. Go to the regional, national and international seminars and conferences held in various Indian colleges and universities throughout the year and you will listen to a galaxy of ELT experts repeating the same old rhetoric to a gullible audience. The Indian ELT world is full of sound and fury, but nobody knows what it means to millions of our students whose dreams are shattered at the altar of ELT.
The paradoxical position of English is an enigma to many people. On the one hand, the ‘English advantage’ acquired and nurtured by the Indian youth is the envy of the rest of the world and it is this language that has given our engineers, doctors, scientists and academicians access to the global workplace. But, on the other hand, it is this language which hinders the success of millions of school children across the country. While English is the lamp of Alladin for the privileged, it is the proverbial Achilles heel for the underprivileged!
What ails ELT in India? The answer is simple: The syllabus, the textbook and the pedagogy: three points of the vicious triangle that haunt me even in my dreams.
It is really unfortunate that the teaching of English and the teaching of the mother tongue are placed at opposite poles in our school curriculum. Though the NCF Position Paper on English Language Teaching categorically pointed out that ‘English can occur in tandem with the first languages(s) of the learners at the lower primary stage, or at least in class I to III’, no attempt is made at the primary level to align the learning of the first language with the learning of the second language, that is, English. Have a look at the class 1 textbook of any Indian language and the class 1 English textbook prescribed by a State Board or the NCERT and you will see the disconnect between the two textbooks. Why does an English textbook alienate the young learners? The English textbooks often fail to prompt them to make a connection between the new language and their mental and social world but it is not the same in the case of the textbook used for teaching the mother tongue or the school language.The textbooks used for teaching the mother tongue or the school language, use the materials very carefully to prompt the learners to make a spontaneous connection between the language and their mental world.
A study of the class I language textbooks of a number of State Boards and the NCERT will bring out the mismatch between the English textbooks and the Indian language textbooks used by the same child in the same class .Can’t the English textbook writers and the writers of other Indian language textbooks develop textbooks in a collaborative manner to avoid this mismatch?
Learning a new language is not learning a few new words, expressions or the syntactical patterns of that language. Learning a language is the ability to look at the world through that language and therefore, a multilingual person has the ability to look at the world from multiple perspectives.
Learning a new language is bound to be a mechanical exercise if no experiential learning takes place through that language. Let’s take the poem, The Flying-Man prescribed in the NCERT class I English textbook. The learner is given the following task? “Choose your answer: The Flying-man is Superman. The Flying-man is a pilot. The Flying-man is an astronaut. The Flying-man is Batman.” What kind of experiential learning is visualized in this task? Compare this task with the true/false task given after the poem Rosoighar (Kitchen) of Rimjhim, the NCERT Hindi textbook for the same class. The poem Flying-Man alienates the child from her environment and she fails to connect her world with the world of the Flying-Man. The Hindi textbook for class I can have a poem about ‘Kitchen’, but the English textbook will be un-English if Batman is not mentioned in that book!

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