Textbooks in English and the mother tongue for A Multilingual Pedagogy

The Position Paper on English Language Teaching published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, Government of India in 2005 stated that “English in India 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” and learning activities should be designed to create language awareness of the children exposed to English for the first time. In spite of this significant suggestion made in the said Position Paper on English Language Teaching, English textbooks used at the primary level in India often ignore the existing cognitive and linguistic abilities of the learners who are exposed to English along with their mother tongue or the school language and consequently, the English textbooks alienate the young learners who fail to make a connection between the new language and their mental world. The fact that children use languages for meaning making and making sense of the world around them is often ignored in presenting materials in the English textbooks.
The textbooks used for teaching the mother tongue or the school language, on the other hand, use the materials very carefully to prompt the learners to make a spontaneous connection between the language and their mental world. This double standard of preparing textbooks in English and the mother tongue creates a discordant note in the minds of the very young learners for whom learning English tends to be a mechanical exercise. An English teacher using a multilingual pedagogy in the 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 likely to be a double blessing for an Indian child learning English along with her mother tongue or the school language. 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.
Keeping in view the desirability of using multilingualism as a classroom resource (Agnihotri, 1995:3) for teaching English in India, I made a study to examine and explore the suitability of using the resources of the Hindi textbook, Rimjhim along with the English textbook Marigold used in class I of CBSE and many State Board schools of India. The study examined the linguistic and cognitive challenges faced by the learners in using the materials presented in Marigold and highlighted the suitability of using selected materials from Rimjhim along with the materials presented in the English textbook.
The study was s done in two parts: First, the two textbooks were evaluated using some of the established criteria of material evaluation (Tomlinson,2003) and next, the possibility of preparing a revised version of Marigold with the help of the materials presented in Rimjhim was explored from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy.
The study used following criteria for evaluating the two textbooks. (a) Do the materials connect between the learning experience of the children in the classroom and the life outside the classroom? (b) Do the textbooks relate the new to the earlier knowledge of the child? (c) Are the language items presented in the books age appropriate? (d) Do the materials prompt the children to use the target language creatively? (e) Are the visuals cognitively demanding for the young learners? (f) Are the activities child-centric or teacher driven? (g) How authentic are the materials? (h) Do the materials presented in the textbooks adhere to local conditions and cultures so that the children can relate them to their familiar world? (i) Is there a scope for experiential learning, complete with activities and clear instructions and opportunities?
In both the English and Hindi textbooks, the units are designed thematically as thematic units help the learners to ‘interpret new language and new information on the basis of their background knowledge’ (Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A, 2004:150). While the Unit 1 of Marigold is about the theme of the house and the people who live in the house, the Unit 1 of Rimjhim is about the school and the life around the school. In the Unit 1 of Marigold, words like girl, boy, grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, sister and brother are introduced while in the Unit 1 of Rimjhim words like school, teacher, park, courtyard, garden, swing are introduced. Though both the Units are theme based, the presentation of the lexical items in Rimjhim is more context embedded than those used in Mariglod.
The theme of the Unit 3 of Marigold and the Unit 9 of Rimjhim is the animal world. In the Unit 3 of Marigold, the children are asked to look at the pictures of kitten, cat, butterfly, rat, fish, seal, seagull, eel, elephant, flea, bee, lizard, alligator, whale and donkey and underline them in the poem. Words like cat, cow, sheep and monkey are, of course, introduced in the first unit of Marigold. In Unit 9 of Rimjhim, the pictures of cow, cat, rat, dog, rabbit, camel, lion, monkey, donkey and the elephant are introduced along with the Hindi words. If supplementary materials for the Unit 3 of Marigold are prepared taking the resources of the Unit 9 of Rimjhim, it would be quite interesting and useful for the children both cognitively as well as linguistically.
The theme of Unit 5 of the Hindi textbook is Transport. Words like car, truck, bus, scooter, cycle, auto-rickshaw, rail, guard and driver are used in this Unit in a highly context embedded manner. Showing the picture of a bus, the teacher tells the children about the passengers, the driver and other related facts. The theme of the Unit 10 of Marigold is primarily transport but the theme is not exploited in a comprehensive and creative manner. Pictures of a sailor, an astronaut, a pilot are given along with the pictures of a dentist, a farmer, a postman and a teacher and the children are asked “What shall I be when I grow up? Match the following: “A person who sails a ship”, “A person who flies a spaceship,” A person who flies an aeroplane.” While the lesson of the Hindi textbook takes into account the child’s previous knowledge and creativity, the English lesson ignores them and makes it a meaningless exercise. The Unit 5 of Rimjhim can be used for scaffolding the language activities of the Unit 10 of Marigold.
The materials presented in Marigold often fail to connect between the learning experience of the children in the classroom and the life outside the classroom. The activities given in Marigold are teacher driven and betray the perspectives of the teacher or the textbook writer. The child’s voice and the child’s perspectives are missing in a number of activities given in the book. In unit 10 of Marigold, for example, the child is asked to share her experience of an imaginary journey by a plane. The task is as follows: “Let’s pretend you are a pilot flying an aeroplane. (a) What will you see outside your aeroplane (i) during the day? (ii) at night? (b) What will you see inside your aeroplane?” How can a child imagine what a pilot sees inside the cockpit while flying a plane in the sky? Again, what kind of experiential learning can take place when after reading the poem, The Flying-Man, the child 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.” One wonders how a rural Indian child of class 1 will respond to the fictional superhero of American comic books. The poem Rosoighar (Kitchen) given in Unit 7 of Rimjhim can replace the poem The Flying-Man. The true/false tasks given towards the end of Unit 7 of Rimjhim are more child friendly and culture sensitive than the tasks given in Unit 10 of Marigold.
The visuals presented in Marigold are not cognitively demanding for the young learners, they are often contrived and do not take into account the child’s natural instinct to use language for self expression and meaning making. In Unit 1, the pictures of a boy and a girl are given and the child is asked to match the words with the pictures: Draw a line and say “I am a boy” and “I am a girl”. Why should a normal girl child say “I am a girl” pointing out at the picture of a girl? On the other hand, on page 24 of Rimjhim, there is a picture of a girl along with a question in Hindi, “What is the girl carrying on her head? Draw a picture”. This task is more authentic and child friendly than the artificial utterances given in Marigold.
The Unit 7 of Marigold and the Unit 11 of Rimjhim have the same title, A kite. Both the textbooks have poems telling the child how a kite flies and how a child feels when she sees the kite flying, and, therefore, the lessons can supplement one another from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy.

On the basis of the discussion done so far, we may surmise that the resources available in the textbook used for teaching the mother tongue can be used judiciously, creatively and effectively for teaching English at the primary level from the point of view of a multilingual pedagogy. Be it English or any other language ,the same cognitive and linguistic process is set in motion when a child encounters a language textbook for decoding and meaning making. Therefore, teachers teaching English should not be allergic to the use of the materials available in the textbook used for teaching the mother tongue of the children. The present study implies that English textbook writers and the writers of other Indian language textbooks should develop textbooks in a collaborative manner instead of working in silos.
Agnihotri, R.K. (1995). Multilingualism as a classroom resource. In Kathleen, H A S. and Peter, P(eds.) Multilingual Education for South Africa. Johannesburg: Heinemann, pp. 3-7.
Cook, V.(2001). Using the first language in the classroom. Canadian Modern Language Journal, 57/3, pp.401-523.
Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A.(2004). Languages and Children: Making the Match: New Languages for Young Learners, Grade K-8. Boston: Pearson.
NCERT (2006). The Position Paper on English Language Teaching, New Delhi: NCERT
Tomlinson ,B.(2003). Developing materials for Language Teaching. New York: Continuum.

NB. This is an edited version of my paper presented in a National Seminar organised by the Regional Institute of Education, Mysore, India in December 2017.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.