By Prachee Bhardwaj:
Last night a lady from my neighbourhood visited my grandmother and after having blabbered about everything important and unimportant she began talking about her son and his children who have been staying in Australia for some time. After a few seconds of normal conversation, she set out to brag about how her ‘foreign settled’ grandsons have mastered the English Language. “Wo angrezi filmo me ni bolte, bilkul waise, usse bhi fast hi samajh lo,” to quote her.
Of course, I frowned a little, laughed a bit and eventually thought that nothing can be done about such people. But later it made me ponder upon what the people of my country have turned a simple language into.
I have heard it from many, these small little vaunts about speaking English fast and with an accent. Children approach the spoken aspect of the language with the idea that they need to learn the accent and speak exactly like an actor in a Hollywood film.
Right from their childhood, knowing the language becomes a show they can boastfully put up for their peers and relatives. Small pronunciation errors by someone, inability to read properly, frame sentences, converse confidently becomes a matter of ridicule while there is a strong possibility they themselves don’t know any better or else belong to a privileged set who are able to access the right platforms for learning the language.
English when taught as a communicative skill helps children understand the real art of it. However, cramming grammar rules, long lists of vocabulary, rote learning the stories and poems and answers to their corresponding questions makes the language no less than a challenge and burden for most children. Moreover, it makes the language which is used all over the world in various contexts from personal to travel and reading, watching films and listening to music, highly monotonous.
This also leads me to highlight how important it has become for parents these days that their children learn to speak English and converse fluently without understanding the basics of learning a language. The idea that they lost out on opportunities and that their children shouldn’t often creeps into their minds. This sentiment is humane but the culture of learning a language is rather skewed.
Why is there a taboo attached to not knowing a particular language? I see hoards of people who struggle trying to speak and write English and some who avoid situations where English needs to be spoken. Isn’t this because of the taboo created in our social lives about not knowing the language?
To bring a more positive turn to this, how about a philosophy of learning at any age? A language need not be learnt only at school, going back to notebooks and grammar practice books. I have personally taken workshops where children learnt to improve their spoken English skills in 20 days and not a single day did we use a notebook, a pen or even a closed classroom space for that matter. There are a lot of groups, NGOs, schools that have started approaching teaching language through these methodologies and even a child with average learning capacity, an introvert, the shy ones and the naughty ones, all lie in the same sphere of learning through every day experiences, games, spaces and books. I feel English is no more than just a language for people in such settings.
A few important facts about the availability of facilities for learning the English language can be found in the Fifth All-India School Education Survey. According to the survey, only 1.3 percent of primary schools, 3.4 percent of upper primary schools, 3.9 percent of middle schools, and 13.2 percent of high schools use English as a medium of instruction. Schools treating English as the first language (requiring ten years of study) are only 0.6 percent of rural primary schools, 2.8 percent of rural high schools, and 9.9 percent of urban high schools.
These are only a few statistics but they speak volumes about the approach to the language in the country. School systems corrupt the joy of learning, approach it as another subject that adds burden to not only children’s life but the teachers too. Hence, children are never versed in the language enough to be confident and comfortable.
Language is no less than art. English has hooked us emotionally, socially, mentally yet we treat the language like a commodity – our gateway to something better. We need to open up about ideas and be educators rather than the clichéd teacher in the closed walls of classrooms. Develop an ideology and attitude which is embracing, motivating and equipped enough to understand the nuances of learning a language so that it does not remain and rot in children’s report cards rather makes them go around the world with an essential art acquired.