Source: Interview with David Crystal
Good morning Glasgow and Good morning or Good afternoon the World. Thus spake Gabriel Diaz Maggioli, the opening plenary speaker of the 51st annual conference of IATEFL at Glasgow on 4 April 2017. It’s past 1:30 pm in India. Four years back I attended the opening plenary of IATEFL, Liverpool in person. It was a bright sunny morning with a gentle breeze. Today I am attending it online sitting in an air-conditioned room in Bangalore! A hot afternoon with a scorching sun outside.
The IATEFL International Annual Conference and Exhibition is one of the main events in the English Language Teaching calendar and is attended by over 2,500 ELT professionals from more than 100 countries. The delegates attending the IATEFL conference get a unique opportunity to exchange ideas with fellow ELT professionals which leads to their Continuous professional development as English teachers. Thanks to the British Council, teachers unable to attend the conference in person can attend it virtually.
The first plenary speaker,Gabriel Diaz Maggioli, the tenured professor of TESOL Methods at the National Teacher Education College, Uruguay applies the lessons learned in the classroom to his roles as writer, researcher, administrator and teacher educator.
Gabriel, spoke on “Empowering teachers through continued professional development :framework, practices and promises.” It was amazing to see how the speaker presented his case logically, forcefully and persuasively. His connection with the ground realities was well pronounced in his talk, he was free, frank and objective in his assertions. Based on research findings, he stated that “10% of teachers actively take part in professional development and 90% don’t.”
There is no denying the fact that language teachers need ongoing professional development, but how many language teachers get the opportunity of institutionalized professional development program? Even when language teachers get the opportunity of attending institutionalized professional development programs, they find them, to quote from Gabriel’s speech, “disconnected from the reality of the classroom, too short, no follow up, too much talking, very little doing, outdated, too low a level, cannot apply it, no time to talk to colleagues, no support implementing it.” Gabriel pointed out that standardized (one size fits all or one size fits most), prescriptive, decontextualized and superficial professional development programs fail to help the practicing language teachers in their professional journey
While listening to Gabriel who is an internationally acclaimed CPD specialist as well as a CPD practitioner, I felt that a proper understanding of the concept of CPD is the root cause of failure of CPD in our education system. Well, What does CPD stand for? Continuous Professional Development or Continuing Professional Development or Continued Professional Development? CPD is a buzz word, it is fashionable to talk about the importance of CPD and the various means of attaining the illusory CPD…… continuous, continuing or continued.
The best definition of CPD that I have come across till now defines CPD as “a planned, continuous and lifelong process whereby teachers try to develop their personal and professional qualities, and to improve their knowledge, skills and practice, leading to their empowerment, the improvement of their agency and the development of their organizations and their pupils.” ( Padwad, A and Dixit, K.2011. Continuing Professional Development: An annotated bibliography, British Council.)
Gabriel categorically stated that CPD cannot be done TO the teachers, it can be done WITH the teachers. It is not a commodity to be handed over to the novice teacher by an expert. It is a collaborative journey for which teachers need time, affordability and support. It is a lifelong, continuous and voluntary process, it is not a few isolated in-service teacher training programs, refresher courses or orientation programs which are often ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’
‘Teachers Choice Framework’ outlined by Gabriel during the talk may give directions to teachers interested in CPD. According to this Framework, the goals of CPD can be achieved by (a) working in communities, (b) coaching, (c) Study Groups, (d) Critical Friends Team,€ Collaborative action Research, (f) Exploratory Action Research,(g) Lesson Study, (h) Learning Circles, (i) Mentoring, (j) Professional Portfolio and (k) Dialog Journals.
Continuous Professional Development may take different forms, but the urge for CPD should come from within. As Gabriel pointed out, 90% teachers don’t care for CPD, what do they care for? Nothing. Towards the end of his talk, Gabriel referred to the role of IATEFL and TESOL in contributing to the cause of CPD. But how many English teachers are the active members of these two umbrella organizations? Not to speak of IATEFL, how many English teachers of India are the members of English Language Teachers Association of India? How many English teachers are aware of the existence of these organisations?
The formation of voluntary teachers organisations for professional development does not cost a fortune, but how many teachers are interested in forming such voluntary organisations?
Conference maketh a full man, Bacon said. Are we ready to confer with our colleagues for becoming full man or woman professionally?
Much have I travelled in the realm of Continuing Professional Development /inviting the wrath of my Principals, ridicules of my colleagues and the complaints by my friends and relatives who felt that CPD was my obsession. Being undeterred by the detractors of CPD, I continued my journey to attain that illusory CPD which has sustained me during my professional journey and saved me from academic isolation and hibernation.
“Dear God, save me from my textbooks when I am born/ The tyranny of textbooks thrust on me/ oh no, not to be imprisoned by textbooks/ Dull, sterile, awful textbooks.”
According to a tradition followed by people in many parts of India, the formal learning of a child called ‘Vidyarambah’ begins with the worshiping of a textbook and writing a letter of the alphabet by the child. This tradition indicates the paramount importance of learning from a text as an institutionalized enterprise for all the stakeholders of education. For an average Indian school teacher teaching the textbook is synonymous with the whole of education. A school textbook prescribed by a competent authority haunts a teacher and any deviation from the guidelines and the materials presented in the textbook prescribed for a particular class may invoke the wrath of the authority and the disapproval of the learners. That the text-dominated classroom practices are antithetical to a child’s innate ability for exploration and knowledge creation is often forgotten by the educational planners as well as the administrators.
The role of textbooks and the politics of textbooks are debatable topics across the globe and there is no denying the fact that textbooks downgrade the students’ autonomous learning and annihilate the teachers’ pedagogic sensitivities and autonomy.
Way back in 1939, Mahatma Gandhi wrote on the pages of Harijan, “If textbooks are treated as a vehicle for education, the living world of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of textbooks and has no opportunity or occasion to be original.” Those who speak volume about the agency of the teacher and the autonomy of the teacher should aim at preparing teaching learning materials for the classrooms and not ideologically designed textbooks which reduce a teacher to the status of a cog in the machine.
The present day textbook culture that vitiates the school pedagogy across India is a legacy of the colonial rule that aimed at stifling the spirit of enquiry and the urge for knowledge creation among the teachers and the taught. It is ironical to note that even after the Independence, the State machinery was reluctant to allow the teachers the freedom to design their curriculum and textbooks. Consequently, bureaucratic control of the textbooks continued throughout India. Gone are the days of the colonial rulers, but the colonial pedagogy has survived in a new form masquerading as State text board corporations.
The involvement of Indian States in the production of school textbooks goes back to 1969. In its first meeting held on 5 April 1969, the National Board of School Textbooks established under the Chairmanship of the Union Minister of Education recommended that school textbooks up to class X should be produced under the control and supervision of the State Governments. Consequently, State Textbook Corporations were set up in almost all the States of the country and they started publishing textbooks prepared by their respective State Councils of Educational Research and Training.
The institutional mechanism for textbook production in India, however, varies from State to State. In some states, the State Councils of Educational Research and Training or the State Bureau of Textbook Preparation and Publication are entrusted with the task of the preparation and publication of the textbooks while in some states, the Boards of Secondary Education are the nodal agency for the preparation of the textbooks. Again, in some States more than one Government sponsored bodies are involved in the preparation of the textbooks and a lot of animosity crops up among these bodies.
How are the text books prepared? In most of the States, school teachers, subject experts, DIET faculty, university professors and voluntary organisations working in the field of education collaborate on textbook production. Many States follow an elaborate mechanism at the preparatory stage. In Karnataka, for example, manuscripts prepared by the writers are submitted to a second group of experts and trialing is done in a few blocks before the final revisions. In Gujarat and West Bengal, a phased trial, of textbooks is undertaken before finalizing the manuscripts. In some States, again, textbooks prepared by the members of the respective committees are submitted to the Government directly without further scrutiny or field trail. It is, however, pertinent to note that there is no guarantee that the textbooks prepared by the teachers and the experts would be approved by the Government.
The discourse on textbooks in India is more political than academic and educational objectives and pedagogical imperatives are often sacrificed at the altar of politics. There is a lot of controversy regarding the desirability of using textbooks published by NCERT across the country. There is a strong perception in the political circle and a section of the teaching community that the NCERT textbooks are superior to the textbooks prepared and published by different State Boards or SCERTs. This myth of the superiority of NCERT textbooks, however, is not based on any empirical evidence. Some States have already adopted NCERT textbooks with some modifications in their State run schools while others are still debating on the desirability of adopting those books. Keeping an eye on the All India competitive examinations, many State Governments are prone to ignore the suitability of those textbooks in State specific contexts. The relevance and the authenticity of the materials used in the NCERT textbooks must be reviewed with reference to specific needs and ethos of the different regions of the country.
An analysis of the different phases of textbook production in different States indicates that political expediency often affects the process of text book writing. The Government constitutes text book committees, fixes the dates for finalizing the manuscripts and puts pressure on the officials to get the books published by a particular date. Being hard pressed by the official pressure, textbook writers are always in a hurry to meet the deadline and consequently, pedagogic considerations get a low priority in the preparation of these textbooks. When private publishers of international repute spend two to three years in preparing and publishing textbooks, Indian textbook production and publication corporations or the SCERTs spend a few months to prepare and publish textbooks in all the school subjects and it is no wonder that a lot of cut and paste takes place at the preparatory stage. But who cares? The ritual of State sponsored textbook writing and textbook revision is a favorite pastime for many people for whom text books are the symbol of authority inherited from the former rulers.
The NCF Position Paper on ‘Curriculum, Syllabus and Textbooks'(2005) had decried the undue importance given to the textbooks and suggested the preparation of suitable teaching learning materials for class room transaction. “What is needed is not a single textbook but a package of teaching learning material that could be used to engage the child in active learning”, the said Position Paper suggested emphatically. If the ultimate objective of our educational enterprise is to engage the learners in active learning, we should desist from writing and revising textbooks with a hidden agenda. Our intervention should be pedagogical, not ideological or political.
The Text book Pedagogy and the English Language Teaching in India
(Published in The English Classroom, Vol.18, No.1, June 2016, RIE, South India, pp78-86)
Partha Sarathi Misra
Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India
This paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency and suggests how English language teachers of the regional medium schools of the country can prepare authentic materials for teaching English in meaningful and communicative situations as demanded by their specific contexts. Advocating pedagogic autonomy for the English language teachers as material producers, the paper brings out the absurdity of teaching English with the help of contrived texts and pseudo communicative approaches.
Key words: English language teaching, Text book Pedagogy, Pedagogic autonomy, Multilingual pedagogy Language competencies, Authentic material
In spite of our love-hate relationship with English, we have been teaching English as a ‘second language’ in the regional medium schools of the country since independence hoping that a respectable competence in English will enable us to participate in national as well as international life. For a large section of the Indians, English is a symbol of empowerment and an indicator of their upward social mobility. Soon after the liberalization of the Indian economy towards the end of the last century, States after States started lowering the age in which English was to be introduced at the primary level. Though English language proficiency level of a large number of vernacular medium primary school teachers of India was abysmally low, the Education departments of all the States forced these primary teachers to teach English to the tiny tots along with their school language. The euphoria of English language teaching got a boost when the Position paper on English language Teaching of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 gave it a nationalistic coating stating that the “aim of English teaching is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich all our languages; this has been an abiding national vision”. (NCERT 2005:4).
Is English a ‘second language’ for the millions of the students learning this language in the regional medium schools across the country? Learning Kannada as a second language by a Tamil or a Malayalam or a Bengali student of Karnataka is not the same as learning English as a second language by a Kannada, Tamil or a Malayalam student. When I learn Kannada as a second language in Bangalore, there is no dearth of ‘comprehensible input’ in Kannada, but when a child living in Thoreshettan village of Madhur district of Karnataka, for example, ventures to learn English, there is neither the incomprehensible input nor the comprehensible input for him. The unspecified status of English in India has serious pedagogical implications for the teachers as well as the taught.
Keeping in view the prevailing English language teaching scenario of the country, the present paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency even when we have a well-defined curriculum, a well-designed syllabus, made in India English language text books, work books, teachers’ manuals and a large number of trained teachers across the country. It is intriguing to note that though many Indian children living in big towns and cosmopolitan cities can learn a number of languages spontaneously outside the classroom, they fail to acquire a very basic communicative competence in English even after spending considerable time and energy in the vernacular medium schools. Why can’t our English language classrooms replicate the universal success in the acquisition of basic spoken language proficiency that a child spontaneously achieves outside the classroom? A child’s natural propensity to learn a language is stifled, defiled and dishonored in many English language classrooms of the regional medium schools. English teachers should know how to capitalize on the children’s innate ability to learn more than one language by creating a metalinguistic awareness. (Misra 2015:6).
Text book Pedagogy
Language textbooks play a very important role in the teaching of both the first as well as the second language but when the second language textbook is used the way the first language textbook is used, the tragedy looms large for the learners. The form and content of the first language textbook and the form and content of the second language textbook cannot be the same especially when the so called second language is not extensively used outside the classroom.
Why does a language teacher need a textbook to help the learner to acquire a basic communicative competence in English? Language should be viewed as a dynamic ‘text’, the learners should have an exposure to the diverse occurrences of the target language in numerous communicative situations rather than a routine exposure to a predetermined English language textbook. The textbook pedagogy used in the Indian English classrooms is not conducive to the natural acquisition of a language. As Krishna Kumar (1986:1309) has very aptly pointed out, “In the ordinary Indian school, the textbook dominates the curriculum. The teacher is bound by the textbook since it is prescribed, and not just recommended by state authorities. Each child must possess his own copy of the textbook prescribed for each subject, and he must carry all the textbooks along with notebooks (popularly called ‘copies’) to school every day. The teacher spends most of class time simplifying or interpreting the textbook and familiarizing students with its content to the point where it can be easily memorized.”
The contrived language used in the English textbooks and the irrelevance of the materials used in these textbooks ignore the learner’s needs, creativity and the teacher’s autonomy. As the English textbooks used by the teachers in the Indian schools are the product of the State machinery, they follow the official wisdom of a select few who treat language textbooks at par with the textbooks of other disciplines. Sacrificing the basic objectives of presenting the target language in natural communicative situations, English language textbooks aim at projecting the dominant political, educational or cultural value system of a particular group of people. The ideological perspective rather than the language perspective gets the upper hand in the preparation of English language textbooks published by various text book production corporations or societies of the Indian States. Why should a resourceful English language teacher be enslaved by a language textbook? In order to facilitate the acquisition of the target language skills a teacher teaching English in the Indian context should go beyond the textbook. In this connection, Mahatma Gandhi’s observation on textbooks is worth quoting: “If textbooks are treated as a vehicle for education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of textbooks and has no opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the less textbooks there are the better it is for the teacher and his pupils.” (Gandhi 1939:4).
Language Competencies or the Values?
Language text books do not exist in a vacuum, they are the result of complex social, cultural, political and educational aspirations of diverse stakeholders. “The construction of language textbooks often emphasizes the uniqueness of a nation by invoking shared history, long-standing traditions and values to instill national pride and foster national identity.”(Curdt-Christiansen and Weninger 2015: 4). The selection of materials for teaching the first or the school language of the child should be in consonance with the tradition, culture and the social values cherished by the nation or the country to which the child belongs as these materials lead to the all-round development of the child’s personality along with development of his or her linguistic competence in his own mother tongue or the school language. That there is a correlation between the linguistic and the cognitive development of a child is an established fact and, therefore, a language textbook cannot and should not overlook the child’s cognitive development in a language class. But when it comes to the question of selecting materials for teaching a ‘second’ language like English in the Indian context, the overdose of values and the unimaginative addition of ideological issues to the English textbooks may derail the very purpose of teaching and learning of English. The revised Syllabus in English for classes I to X of Karnataka, for example, stipulates that the learners of English in the regional medium schools of the State should develop as many as 98 core values during the ten years of learning English from class I to class X. What is the primary responsibility of the English teacher? To help the learners in attaining a basic proficiency in the target language as is acquired in natural language learning or to ensure the teaching of 98 core values? The thematic textbooks can be used for teaching a second language provided the themes are used as means to an end.
Mismatch between the objectives and the Pedagogy
A Study on Teaching of English in Government Schools at the Primary Level in India commissioned by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in 2012 brings out the mismatch between the objectives of English textbooks and the classroom practice followed in a number of regional medium schools of India (NCERT 2012: IV). The following three suggestions of the said study are worth mentioning:
1. The concept of language teaching as teaching of skills and not only the content needs be drilled into the teachers.(emphasis added)
2. The textbooks need to incorporate activities and questions which give space, time and freedom for inculcating creativity and developing imagination of the child.
3. Teachers need to be more creative in the use of textbooks, as textbooks cannot give everything. Lots of oral and written practice needs to be carried out using material beyond textbooks. (emphasis added).
The third suggestion of the above mentioned study places teachers in the centre of curriculum construction and classroom transaction of the predesigned textbook or the language teaching material handed over to the teachers by a centralized agency. Unfortunately, the role of the language teacher is often underestimated or ignored by the curriculum designers or the textbook writers. Curriculum materials or the textbooks used in the language class room can yield the desired result only when we pay due attention to the process of curriculum enactment in the class room. (Ball and Cohen 1996: 7). The enacted curriculum jointly constructed by the teachers, learners and materials used in particular contexts can make the language learning experience communicative, creative and result-oriented not only for the teachers but also for the learners.
The D.Ed curriculum document published by the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Chattisgargh has very succinctly summed up the teachers role as material producers. “An effective classroom teacher needs to be able to evaluate, adapt and produce materials so as to ensure a match between the learners and the materials that they use. Every teacher can be a material developer, and therefore, should provide additional teaching material over and above the course book material. Just as a piano does not play music, a textbook does not teach language. The textbook is a stimulus or instrument for teaching and learning.”(SCERT 2010: 71).
The autonomy of the English Teachers
It is often observed that the majority of our teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India are not willing to explore the English text for meaningful communicative activities in the class. They are so conditioned by the activities presented in the prescribed textbooks or the workbooks that they rarely go beyond those activities. To take a specific example of a textbook, let us take the class IX English Second Language Text Book published by Karnataka Text Book Society. In this book, Unit 7 has one prose piece named The Will of Sacrifice and one poem, The song of Freedom by C. Subramanya Bharati as main texts. The Unit starts with a pre-reading activity:
Before you read, Read the following lines.
Blessed am I that I am born to this land
I had the luck to love her
What care I if queenly treasure is not in her
Store but precious enough is for me
The living wealth of her love
These lines are followed by three questions: Why does the poet think that he is blessed? What is very precious for the poet? Why does the poet value ‘living wealth’ more than ‘queenly treasure’ Discuss in groups.
Can anyone understand the objective of this pre reading activity? Teaching the value of patriotism? These five lines are the translated version of the first five lines of a Bengali poem entitled Sarthok Jonom Aamr by Rabindranath Tagore. If the purpose of the said pre reading activity is to create an environment which is conducive for an understanding of the lesson, The Will of Sacrifice and its theme based on the life of Bhagat Singh, a teacher teaching English in a Kannada medium school can use a well-known Kannada poem which invokes the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice for the nation. The truncated version of a Tagore poem given for pre reading is more difficult than the main lesson itself. During her field internship program, one of my students used the poem Halagali Bedaru prescribed in the class X Kannada textbook as a pre reading activity for teaching the lesson The Will of Sacrifice. She used the Kannada poem instead d of the incomprehensible Tagore poem as a pre-reading activity to arouse some kind of curiosity among the class IX students of a rural Kannada medium school and it worked miracle.(Priyanka 2015: 6). The poem Halagali bedaru speaks about five friends who wanted to get freedom form the British through revolution. Even though common people had asked them not to fight with the British, the five young men decided either to get freedom or to die for the welfare of the country. This pre-reading activity also resulted in a better comprehension of the theme, a lively discussion on patriotism both in Kannada and English, spontaneous code switching from Kannada to English and prompted the students to write a better letter about Bhagath Singh and his sacrifice at the end of the class. The use of the mother tongue for pre reading activities in an English class was a part of the multilingual pedagogy used for teaching English in a rural Kannada medium school. If the English teachers are given autonomy in their pedagogical practices they can make their pedagogical practices result oriented.
Authentic material and the textbook Pedagogy
Though unpleasant, it is often noticed that the materials used in the English textbooks prepared by many State Boards are far from being authentic. The theories of material production in language points out the paramount importance of using materials which are linguistically, culturally psychologically and pedagogically appropriate for the learners. Materials which are suitable linguistically may not be suitable from the psychological or cultural point of view of the learners. Again, materials which are suitable in all other respects may not be suitable pedagogically. Let us have a look at a contrived text used in the class IX English textbook mentioned earlier. In order to teach conversational skill, the following dialogue is given in the said textbook for role play and practice.
Prema: Why’re you late today, Sneha?
Sneha: Oh! I missed the bus and had to walk all the way.
Prema: Oh dear! Why don’t you buy a vehicle?
Sneha: Yes, I am also thinking about the same. But I’ve to learn driving.
Prema: That’s right. Why don’t you join driving school? Mayura Driving School is good one and it is near your house.
Sneha: Prema, how much do they charge to teach driving?
Prema: They charge Rs. 2000/ for ten hrs. But Sneha you should have learning license before you could start learning.
Sneha: Learning license! Where shall I get it?
Prema: The Driving Scholl will help you to get it.
Sneha: How much do they charge for it?
Prema: May be about Rs. 500/
Sneha: Thank you for the information. I’ll go and meet them tomorrow.
In his or her wildest imagination, a class IX student of a Kannada medium rural school will consider this text as an authentic one. The text is thematically, psychologically and legally inappropriate. A class IX student is planning to buy a vehicle and is going to apply for a driving license! Doesn’t he or she know the minimum age requirement for acquiring a driving license? Doesn’t this dialogue betray an urban centric class consciousness?
English teachers can overcome the limitations of the materials used in the English textbooks by creating their own materials suitable for their contexts. Too much dependence on the textbook culture and the textbook pedagogy goes against the objectives of teaching English in a non-native context. Can’t all teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India be good material producers having an autonomy of their own in their class rooms?
Ball, D.L. and Cohen, D.K. 1996. Reform by the Book: What is or Might be the role of Curriculum materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform? Educational Researcher.25 (9): 6-8, 14.
Curdt-Christiansen X.L. and Weninger,C. 2015: Language, Ideology and Education. London: Routledge.
Gandhi, M.K. “Text Books”, Harijan .September 9, 1939.
KTBS.2014. English Second Language Ninth Standard Text Book. Bangalore: Karnataka Text Book Society.
Kumar Krishna. 1986. “Textbooks and Educational Culture”, Economic and Political Weekly. 21(30):1309-1311.
Misra P. 2015. The Dilemma of English Language Teaching in India: Historical, Social and Pedagogical Issues Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/10632379/ dated 6 May 2016.
NCERT. 2006. Position Paper English Language Teaching. New Delhi:NCERT.
NCERT. 2012. Teaching of English at Primary Level in Government Schools. New Delhi: NCERT).
Priyanka, D. 2015. Integrating language and literature to teach English language, an unpublished MA internship Report. Bangalore: Azim Premji University.
SCERT. 2010. D.Ed Language (Second Language English) and Language Teaching. Raipur: SCERT, Chattisgarh.
A tsunami has been changing the basic character of the English language. Lexically, grammatically and phonetically, English is not what it was when the IATEFL was established fifty years back!
David Crystal’s plenary on the first day of the 50th IATEFL conference held at Birmingham is an eye opener for the English teachers of the world who are obsessed with the question of the purity of English. With plenty of examples drawn from English as it is being spoken and written around the world, Crystal has made us aware of the magnitude of the changes taking place in the use and usage of English. That English is changing is not a news, but the magnitude of the change that has created a tsunami in the field of the English language is a news indeed!
In his plenary at IATEFL, Birmingham, David crystal dwelt at length on the main changes in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary taken place in the past fifty years and pointed out the magnitude of the changes that are likely to take place in coming days
All living languages change, only the dead ones don’t, Crystal pointed out. The expansion of the vocabulary of the English language makes us wonder-struck. What a creativity and what a novelty! Words or compound words such as ‘emoji’, ‘digital amnesia’, ‘dude-food, ‘skype-family’, ‘pocket-dial, ‘ride-hailing service’ or ‘mansplain’ are the latest coinages of this language. Like many other people listening to Crystal on the first day of the IATEFL Conference, I too wondered what does ‘mansplain’ mean in English. Quick came the meaning from Crystal, ‘mansplain’ means ‘the act of a man explaining to a woman what she already knows’! A former husband is a ‘wasband’!
Many English words have acquired new meanings too. The word ‘basic’ is not a neutral word any more. “Basic” means “unattractive” while “wavy” means “stylish, Crystal reminded us!
Dwelling at length on the processes of grammatical changes, Crystal remarked that the frequency of modal verbs is declining in English. ‘have to’, ‘going to’ are replacing ‘must’. The use of ‘must’ has been reduced by 50%, Crystal pointed out.
English static verbs are being used dynamically and the progressing aspect of the verbs is increasing day by day. (a) “I am loving it.’(b) I am wanting a new fridge. (c) It’s mattering to me greatly. Indian speakers of English will not be embarrassed anymore with the following utterances: ‘I am intending to apply for a new job.’ Or ‘ I’m knowing the answer’!
What is most surprising about the changes taking place in English is the phonetic character of RP. The development of ‘syllable-timed’ speech rather than the traditional ‘stress-timed speech’ is a very significant change taking place in the English language, Crystal remarked and and prophesied that “The future seems to be ‘syllable-timed.” Though English is a stress-timed language, days are not far off when it will be a ‘syllable-timed’ language and in that case each English syllable will have the same length. What a revolutionary change of English pronunciation!. How will the ‘native speakers’ adjust with this dramatic change of English pronunciation?
A good news for the Indian speakers of English whose first languages are syllable-timed. Indians often face problems recognising and producing English contractions, main and secondary stress, and elision. If ‘syllable-time’ becomes the norm of English pronunciation in coming days (thanks to the Global English) Indians can speak English more fluently and confidently without any inferiority complex.It seems that English has been changing its character to accommodate the global speakers of English!
A man marries but a woman gets married (Chele Biye Kore, kintu Meyer Biye Hoy) !
(a) My friend’s son who is still unemployed has married a girl working in a company.
(b) My neighbor’s daughter, a highly placed software engineer has got married to a guy.
While we look at these two sentences, it is evident that man is always an active doer while women are destined to play a passive role. In Bengali, there is a saying “ Chele Biye Kore, Meyer Biye Hoy” A man marries but a woman gets married!
The question of ‘sexist language’ and the world view it reflects is a highly contentious issue that needs to be examined from diverse perspectives. It is often argued that sexist language conditions our gender sensitivity and perpetuates gender inequality. As language carries the ideology of a society and its people, a number kinship terms used in the patriarchal society are related to the subordination and the subjugation of women. Right from the day one of their socialization, women are linguistically exploited by instilling an inferiority complex that perpetuates gender discrimination and social exploitation.
While reading numerous reports on the International Women’s Day being celebrated today, I googled the net to find out the lexical meanings of words like ‘woman’,’ man’, ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ and was appalled by the gender insensitivity and gender inequality of a number of kinship terms used in our patriarchal society. The connotation of some of the words used in our woman-man relationship is objectionable and disgusting. The lack of gender equality is too pronounced in the kinship terms that we use in our day to day life.
The word ‘woman’ is derived from ‘wvfman’ which is a combination of the words ‘wvf’ (wife) and ‘man’. The word ‘husband’ comes from old Norse word ‘husbondi’ which meant ‘master of house’. The Bengali word for husband is ‘swami’ which means a master, a lord, an employer, a boss, an owner, a ruler, a chief or a leader. The other word for husband is ‘Karta’ which literally means ‘maker’ or ‘master’. The Hindi word औरत (wife) comes from the Arabic word ‘awrah which originally meant ‘defectiveness, faultiness, deficiency, imperfection. Another Hindi word for woman is अबला which literally means powerless or without strength.
It is really unfortunate that various patriarchal societies often failed to recognize women as persons having an identity of their own. They are always defined with reference to their male counterparts. She should be somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister, somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother. Can we define male human beings with reference to their female counterparts too? Think of the oft repeated cliché “women’s emancipation” used on the occasion for the International Women’s Day. The very word ‘emancipation’ in this context implies male domination. Lexically, emancipation means, “the freeing of someone from slavery”, or “ the process of being set free from legal, social or political restrictions.” You can emancipate someone who is imprisoned. The medieval knight rescuing and freeing the imprisoned damsel kept captive in a lonely tower!
“It is language which determines the limit of our world, which constructs our reality,” asserts Dale Stephender, the author of the provocative book entitlled Man Made Language. Dale Stephender,(1980) argues very forcefully how men literally ‘ made’ the English language and have never relinquished control over it. She points out that many everyday English words, motherhood for example, reflect a kind of ‘trapped’ expression as their meanings were fixed by men.
It is generally accepted that sexist assumptions are often reflected and perpetuated in the day to day use of a language. But finding fault with a language on the basis of the theory of linguistic determinism is rather too simplistic. Sexism in language should be considered from the point of view of a ‘functional view of language, not from the point of view of ‘linguistic determinism.’
Language is never a neutral medium of communication. When we acquire or learn a language, we do so in a cultural context and therefore, learning or acquiring a language is an ideological engagement ( Curdt-Christiansen, X. L and Weninger, C: 2015:1).
Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. and Weninger, C. (2015). Language, Ideology and Education, Newyork: Routledge.
Simpson, P.(1993). Language, Ideology and Point of View. .NewYork: Routledge.
While working as a District Elementary Education Officer in the nineties of the last century, I had the privilege of interacting with a large number of teachers teaching at the grass root level. Soon after reaching a school for inspection, I used to ask the teachers: “How many of you teach language in this school?” The common answer was: “ Only one us.The language teacher, Sir.” “What about others? Don’t you teach Language?” “No, Sir, I teach Maths, she teaches Social Studies, he teaches……” I pretended to be surprised. “But, don’t you think, all of you are basically language teachers?” I used to ask. They were visibly shocked. How ignorant a District Education Officer could be, they must have wondered!
Do we need a teacher specifically for a particular language when all teachers are basically language teachers? Isolating language from the overall learning experience of a child goes against the theories of learning. How can we forget that all learning during our childhood was through language itself?
Language plays a central role in the learning experience of the child. It enables the child to form concepts, explore symbols, analyze a given problem and to solve it, organize information and interact with his or her environment. Therefore, irrespective of the subjects they teach, all teachers should give due weightage to the centrality of language in the learning process of the child and any pedagogic intervention should recognize the role of language in the transaction of the curriculum. The concept of Language across Curriculum acknowledges the fact that language education does not take place in the language class alone, it takes place in each and every subject.
While discussing the goal of language curriculum, the National Curriculum Framework of India also advocated a language across curriculum perspective. “A language across curriculum perspective particular relevance to primary education. Language is best acquired through different meaning making contexts, and hence all teaching is in a sense language teaching” (NCERT,2006:4).
Language across curriculum is based on three basic tenets: (a) language is more than surface structure, (b) the entire school as an environment influences the learners’ language development and (c) language plays a key role in virtually all school learning. ( Fillion, 1979: 48). Irrespective of the subject area, learners assimilate new concepts largely through language. When they listen and talk, read and write about what they are learning in non-language classes, they use language as language and consequently, while increasing their concepts in non-linguistic fields, they enhance their linguistic skills as well. Therefore, all the stakeholders of education need a broad language perspective that integrates language and content learning ( Mohan,B.A.: 1986:18).
The centrality of language in the transaction of the school curriculum leads us to content-related instruction that provides cognitively engaging contexts for language practice and integrates language development with content learning (Curtain, H and Dahlberg, A.,2010:281).
Language is a major tool for a child to decode the world around her, it is also a tool for her to learn about the world. For a child, a language is not limited to the domain of social interaction, it is also a resource for her thinking and reasoning. Therefore, don’t make the child a victim of the compartmentalization of your curriculum, design you curriculum in such a way that the cognitive development and the linguistic development of the child go hand in hand. All the teachers are equally responsible for presenting the language with its panoramic view before the inquisitive mind of the child.
Curtain, H. and Dahlberg, C.A. 2010. Languages and Children: Making the Match, Pearson: New York.
Fillion Bryant. 1979. Language across the Curriculum, McGill Journal of Education. Pp. 47-60.
Mohan, Bernard A. 1986.Language and Content. Addison-Wesley:Reading