Teaching English online to young learners in non-English speaking countries during the Covid 19 period

English language teaching in all the non-English speaking countries of the world has been facing a new challenge since the onslaught of Covid 19 pandemic. How do you teach English to the kids  through online platforms when their  parents do not know English? It is quite easy to design online courses on ELT for the children who have enough exposure to English at home. But what about those millions of children who are the first-generation learners of English? Are the sophisticated online courses suitable for them? After going through a number of online ELT courses floated during the last two months for teaching English online without any face to face support, I have a feeling that we are the victims of a short sighted policy on ELT. There is a gulf of difference between using online resources “along” with a face to face interaction and using online resources “without” any face to face support. The pedagogical approaches to ELT designed and nourished in the  English speaking  world and exported to the non-English speaking world in the pre-Covid19  period, I think,  need a total overhauling  in the context of teaching English to the  young learners who are suddenly expected to learn English online with the remote support of their teachers.

Many school authorities have already asked teachers to teach the young learners using all the available online platforms. Efforts are on to use the radio, television, YouTube and WhatsApp to teach English to the kids just by replicating the pedagogy which was used earlier as a “support” to the face to face teaching of English.  Without an adequate orientation to the online mode of teaching a foreign language in which there is no a face to face support, many ELT professionals have started producing online  English teaching courses for  very young learners who belong  families in which nobody knows English.

Who are the young learners for whom we are designing purely online courses for teaching English? What’s their context? These are the children who have been passing through a period of trauma, socially, psychologically and academically. These are the kids of the disadvantaged sections of the society for whom the possession of a smart phone itself  is a luxury, not to speak of having a good internet connection!

Just as the practice of ‘work from home’ has converted our homes to offices and reduced our family  relationship  into  official relationship, the beginning of the total online learning era for the kids has blurred the distinction between the home and the school and this inevitable transformation has implications for the teaching of English in a non-English speaking context.  The acquisition or the learning of a new language can take place in a social context. The classroom interaction of the children used to play  a very important role in  learning English during the pre-Covid 19 period  but this is  not possible in the present situation. The kids who are the members of non-English speaking families are unfortunately deprived of an adequate exposure to English within the four walls of their homes. 

In order to teach English to the kids of the non-English speaking countries of the world, the ELT professionals should seek the support of the parents of these kids and orient them adequately to the pedagogical processes  essential for the success of a total  online mode of teaching English during the Covid 19 period. Before embarking on a project of  online teaching of English in a country like India, we should  first try to find out how many parents are capable of providing academic support to their kids in learning English online. Even in the cases of  parents capable of providing such a support, the question of economic instability due to job loss, the preoccupation of work from home and the  family loss due to Covid  19 pandemic should be taken into account.  Once this tracing of the availability of parental support to ELT is done, a  module for the orientation of the different groups of parents should be prepared. This module need not be in English, it should be multilingual so that the parents who do not know  English can also go through it and extend the required support to their kids.  “ELT with Parental Support” should  be the new ELT pedagogy during the Covid 19 period.

How can the parents who do not know English extend academic support to their  kids in learning English on line? The answer is a multilingual pedagogy for teaching English in a non-native context.   In all the non-English speaking countries of the world, online ELT for the kids should be based on a multilingual pedagogy in which  English  teachers and the parents of the kids will be equal partners. The triangular communication  among the three stakeholders will be  both in English as well as the home language of the kids, the materials presented on online platforms will also be in two languages, the lessons will be both audio-visual and written so that parents can understand them and support their kids.

The online material for teaching English to the non-English speaking kids should be project based involving the kids and their parents. Let the kids do a number of projects in which they use as much English as possible, let them use translangauging with their parents and let the parents create  a congenial atmosphere for  learning English with the online support of the English teachers. You can’t teach English online to these kids without orienting their parents to the multilingual pedagogy. Support the parents in supporting their kids in a fully online course on ELT.