A Language pedagogy rooted in Indian tradition

During my childhood, my father used to ask me to get up early in the morning to recite after him an incomprehensible song
“मां निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः।
यत्क्रौंचमिथुनादेकम् अवधीः काममोहितम्॥’
“mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhā tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ/ yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam” which can be translated in English as “ Hey hunter, you will find no rest for the long years of Eternity/For you’ve killed an unsuspecting bird in love.” Though the sound and the rhythm of the verse enthralled me as a child, I did not know the meaning of these two lines even during my high school days. Later, I was glad to know that I used to start my day with the first sloka of Sanskrit literature that had emerged spontaneously from Valmiki’s rage and grief.

Ours was a basic primary school modelled after Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of basic education. The school would start with two songs, one in Sanskrit and another in Arabic. As soon as the school bell rang 10 o’clock in the morning we would start singing

ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्यस्विद्धनम् ।।
“Ishaavaasyam idam sarvam yat kim ca jagatyam jagat/tena tyaktena bhunjithaah maa gridhah kasyasvid dhanam” (The entire universe is indwelt, enveloped, covered by the Supreme Being; /Live a happy life in this world. Enjoy your existence; do not suffer.) Though we could not understand a single word of the sloka, we recited it for long five years day after day twisting our tongue to make the correct pronunciation.
Years later, when my daughter started her nursery classes in a Christian missionary school, she would start her day singing ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Without knowing the meaning of the prayer, she recited it days after days and loved reciting it just as I loved reciting those incomprehensible Sanskrit hymns or slokas taught by my father and my primary teachers.
What was the purpose of bombarding me with incomprehensible input? Was it a meaningless ritual or was it an attempt to introduce me to my rich linguistic and cultural heritage? Was it indoctrination? What was the theoretical justification? The behaviorist approach? I do admit that learning by memorization echoes the behaviourstic principles of repetition, practice and habit formation. But my exposure to poetry in an unknown language or my daughters exposure to psalms sung in a foreign language did not go in vain. They introduced us to the world of sound, music and rhythm, they enhanced our language sensitivity in a very impressionable period of our lives. It does not matter, if you are introduced to Sanskrit or English. What matters is the linguistic input, comprehensible or incomprehensible.
The notion of’ ‘input’ propounded by Krashen is not relevant in the context in which we learn languages in Indian schools. Krashen’s input hypothesis states that learners progress in their knowledge of the language when they comprehend language input that is slightly more advanced than their current level. He called this level of input “i+1”, where “i” is the learner’s interlanguage and “+1” is the next stage of language acquisition. The pedagogy used in Indian classrooms does not and cannot follow the input hypothesis propounded by Krashen. It should be “incomprehensible input +1”. Don’t we start acquiring our mother tongue with incomprehensible input? Read aloud sessions advocated by the champions of Early Literacy Programs also start with incomprehensible input.
The euro centric ELT pedagogy being followed in Indian primary schools is fraught with dangerous consequences. The elitist ELT pedagogy which is linked with the global ELT industry is alien to the Indian tradition of language pedagogy. I fail to understand how the same teacher can follow two pedagogic traditions in the same school for teaching two languages to the same students in the same class! In ancient India, knowledge was transmitted orally and a great emphasis was given on ‘Sruti’, learning by the ear. Even today, in Indian schools, language learning in the mother tongue mostly depends on verbal learning at the primary level. Supposing, as a primary teacher, I teach Hindi and English at the primary level. In the Hindi class, I follow a pedagogical approach, in the English class, I follow another. What a mockery of the language pedagogy! How do children learn more than two languages informally even before going to school? It is the oral pedagogy, the listening to learn. Can’t we replicate the context and the pedagogy in our formal classrooms in the vernacular medium schools of India?
The NCF position Paper on ELT advocates a multilingual pedagogy but it is strange to note that even after the publication of this highly acclaimed document twelve years back we have not prepared our English textbooks as per the pedagogical approach advocated in that Position Paper. Why should there be two separate periods for languages? One for the school language and another for English? Can’t we have an integrated language class where both the languages are introduced simultaneously? We learn all languages in the same way, be it the first or the second and therefore, a differential pedagogic treatment does not seem to be desirable during the early years of language learning.
Oral repetition was one of the common pedagogies used in ancient India not only for teaching languages but also for teaching mathematics. (Reference: Subramanian,J. 2012. Indian Pedagogy and Problem solving in ancient Thamizhakam, History and Pedagogy of Mathematics http://hpm2012.onpcs.com/Proceeding/OT2/T2-10.pdf. Those who are interested in exploring the traditional Indian pedagogy of language may read the article The relevance of Hinduism to English language Teaching and Learning by Bal Krishna Sharma
http://www.academia.edu/29651167/Relevance_of_Hinduism_for_English_Language_Teaching

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ELT and Social Justice: Opportunities in a time of chaos”

JJ Wilson’s plenary on “ELT and Social Justice: Opportunities in a time of chaos” at IATEFL 2017 Glasgow conference had enough food for thought for the English teachers attending the conference. How can an English teacher explore issues related to social justice in his/her language classroom? Why should he/she do so? What are the theoretical issues involved in such an exploration in a language classroom? What will be the nature of the pedagogy involved? Are all English teachers capable of venturing into a terrain which may affect ELT itself?
JJ Wilson is widely published in the USA and the Uk and his blogs at blog.reallyenglish.com and jjawilson.wordpress.com are very popular. According to the IATEFL brochure, JJ Wilson has trained teachers in 30 countries and he is at present the writer- in- residence at Western New Mexico University where he teaches ESL Methods, Linguistics and Creative Writing. Based on my reading of his blogs, I expected a lot from his plenary talk given at the Glasgow IATEFL conference and I am glad that JJ Wilson was at his best on that memorable day. The style of his presentation and the message that he shared with the audience can never be forgotten by anyone who listened to him delivering the plenary.
JJ Wilson examined the arguments for including social justice issues in ELT classrooms and demonstrated the ways in which social justice issues can be used in the ELT classroom for enhancing the learner’s competence in English along with developing awareness of emerging social justice issues across the globe. He not only spoke about the theoretical issues, he also showed how classroom activities such as storytelling and poetry reading can provide input rich environment for introducing social justice issues in a language class.
The three questions raised by JJ Wiliams were : (a) What is social justice? (b) What does social justice have to do with ELT ? and (c) How are we qualified to teach social justice? The answer to these questions is based on the assertion that “All education begins with what students bring to the class.” Education, we must agree, starts from students’ experience and therefore, English teachers should explore the desirability of using social justice issues in their English classrooms.
In order to demonstrate the actual classroom practice involving ELT and social justice issues, JJ Williams asked the audience to take a piece of paper and perform the following tasks: (a) illustrate an issue that you are passionate about, (b) find a partner and explain to him/her what you illustrated, (c) discuss how the issue is represented in your work and (d) lift up your picture and show it to the world. Apparently, very simple tasks, but they were very effective in sending the message of his talk.
He showed a few photos of classrooms around the world and asked the audience to ponder on the materials, technology, environmentand decoration used in those photos of the classroom.
JJ William read a wonderful poem “I remember” and asked the audience to repeat each line. The tasks to be done: (a) Write a list of words which represent your background, (b) What has changed since you were a kid? (c) Why?
Referring to stories, JJ Williams asked the audience: What kind of stories can we use to teach social justice? The answer, according to JJ Williams, is “ Stories of ordinary people doing great things.” What a great message! It has implications for ELT material writers too. JJ William wondered why ‘it takes rich white western celebrities to save the developing world while so many people in the developing world saving themselves?”
The talk prompted the audience to look at social justice issues from a new perspective and raised a pertinent question: Can I teach English without taking into consideration social justice issues confronting the learners across the globe?

Julie Moore is a freelance ELT writer and lexicographer based in Bristol, UK. Her main interests are in vocabulary teaching and English for Academic Purposes (EAP). She worked on the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and Oxford EAP (C1). She was also involved in developing and writing the new Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practice books. […]

via Focusing on vocabulary for academic writing — Oxford University Press

Grammar is Glamorous: Listening to David Crystal at IATEFL Glasgow, 2017

Listening to David Crystal is always a joyful learning experience and we are grateful to IATEFL online for arranging an interview with him during the IATEFL Glasgow conference, 2017. During the interview, David Crystal talked about his latest book on the glamour of grammar and the impact of Brexit on the English language.
‘Making Sense: the glamorous story of grammar’ is a great tribute to grammar by one of the greatest experts of the English language who knows how to demystify grammar dispelling the popular misconceptions about grammar. Grammar is glamorous and both the words ‘grammar’ and ‘glamour’ are related, David points out during the interview.
“Why do you call grammar glamorous? How is English grammar glamorous?” Grammar is glamorous if you look at it from ‘semantic’ and ‘pragmatic’ perspectives, David asserts with examples. Why do we say, “you are prohibited” instead of “We prohibit you”? Words by themselves do not make sense, it is the grammar that expresses the meaning, it is the grammar that makes sense of our oral or written discourses.
Listening to David, I remembered what he had written in his book “Making Sense: the glamoros story of Grammar.” In the said book he had categorically stated, “ Words by themselves do not make sense. They express a meaning, of course, but it’s a vague sort of meaning. Only by putting words into real sentences do we begin to make sense. We begin to understand each other clearly and precisely, thanks to grammar, because grammar is the study of how sentences work.”
David admits that for most people grammar is boring, it’s just analysis. People always feel uneasy about the various points of grammar, they are often worried that what they say may not always be what they mean. During the course of the interview David assures us that grammar need not be daunting. We are afraid of: grammar because we do not know the true nature and function of grammar, the more we understand it, he argues, the more sense we will make.
In order to make his point of view clearer, David says that learning grammar is like learning driving. Learning to drive does not mean learning the functions of the wheel, the brake, or the other parts of the engine, it is learning all about the road and the sensitivity. Similarly, learning grammar does not mean learning the functions of the subject or the predicate, it is about the sensitivity of the language.
During the interview, David expresses his views on children and adults learning grammar and the impact of Brexit on English language. If you are interested to know more, log in to http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017/interview/interview-david-crystal . I am interested in the glamour of the English grammar only, stylistically speaking. Grammar and stylistics go hand in hand, if you study grammar, study stylistics.

Grammar is Glamorous: Listening to David Crystal from IATEFL Conference, Glasgow,2017

    Listening to David Crystal is always a joyful learning experience and we are grateful to IATEFL online for arranging an interview with him during the IATEFL Glasgow conference, 2017. During the interview, David Crystal talked about his latest book on the glamour of grammar and the impact of Brexit on the English language.
    ‘Making Sense: the glamorous story of grammar’ is a great tribute to grammar by one of the greatest experts of the English language who knows how to demystify grammar dispelling the popular misconceptions about grammar. Grammar is glamorous and both the words ‘grammar’ and ‘glamour’ are related, David points out during the interview.
    “Why do you call grammar glamorous? How is English grammar glamorous?” Grammar is glamorous if you look at it from ‘semantic’ and ‘pragmatic’ perspectives, David asserts with examples. Why do we say, “you are prohibited” instead of “We prohibit you”? Words by themselves do not make sense, it is the grammar that expresses the meaning, it is the grammar that makes sense of our oral or written discourses.
    Listening to David, I remembered what he had written in his book “Making Sense: the glamoros story of Grammar.” In the said book he had categorically stated, “ Words by themselves do not make sense. They express a meaning, of course, but it’s a vague sort of meaning. Only by putting words into real sentences do we begin to make sense. We begin to understand each other clearly and precisely, thanks to grammar, because grammar is the study of how sentences work.”
    David admits that for most people grammar is boring, it’s just analysis. People always feel uneasy about the various points of grammar, they are often worried that what they say may not always be what they mean. During the course of the interview David assures us that grammar need not be daunting. We are afraid of: grammar because we do not know the true nature and function of grammar, the more we understand it, he argues, the more sense we will make.
    In order to make his point of view clearer, David says that learning grammar is like learning driving. Learning to drive does not mean learning the functions of the wheel, the brake, or the other parts of the engine, it is learning all about the road and the sensitivity. Similarly, learning grammar does not mean learning the functions of the subject or the predicate, it is about the sensitivity of the language.
    During the interview, David expresses his views on children and adults learning grammar and the impact of Brexit on English language. If you are interested to know more, log in to http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017/interview/interview-david-crystal . I am interested in the glamour of the English grammar only, stylistically speaking. Grammar and stylistics go hand in hand, if you study grammar, study stylistics.

CPD for English Teachers: What, How and When? Musings on the IATEFL 2017 Plenary speech at Glasgow

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.