Enhancing our English Skill
Muhammad Abdul Hai
Creating an atmosphere is the most ideal way to help a student learn a language. English, being the most widely used language of communication, deserves considerable attention in our educational institutions.
It is for our own benefit and interest that this globally recognised language, be taken seriously, or else we will suffer, our international business will suffer and our national progress will be in jeopardy. We will be lagging behind the way our Muslim predecessors did in British India.
Unfortunately, the picture of English teaching and learning in most of our schools and colleges, remain in a deplorable level. The poor and slow progress in a language acquisition persists because most of the teachers lack a clear understanding of teaching methodology, and many of them do not have sufficient knowledge of the language. So the poor language skill of the teachers and their lack of teaching skill, together, create a wrong impression in the minds of the students- they become language-phobic.
The early learners acquire a foreign language skill with an uncanny speed in a situation where conversational English is repeated extensively. If the teachers and the support staff at school speak English, the children who hear them will automatically learn them. In many cases, the children learn without understanding the meanings, but they usually make no wrong use of the things they hear. It is rather amazing that they do use the newly acquired language skill in the correct situation. So for the early learners, the words and expressions, which are in everyday use, have to be repeated in songs, in rhymes and in conversations. This process if continued for six months, will yield amazing result- children will speak English with parents and with teachers, and this will give a wonderful pleasure to all those who are involved in the process. It needs to be mentioned here that teaching alphabets, in the earliest stage, has to be meticulously avoided. It is not before at-least three months that alphabet teaching should be initiated.
In the early stage of learning, children must be taught the right accent and intonation, and this is why, schools must hire teachers who are sound in both spoken and written English. They may be given some orientation before sending them to the class. They may also be briefed on the use of electronic teaching aids. I must mention here that quality people never feel encouraged to take up teaching, as a profession for it holds nothing bright as a career. Becoming a defense officer is a preference for many because it offers promotion, power and better assignments even after retirement. Our government must do something about the teaching profession. If not, we will remain frustrated with the quality of education in our teaching houses.
Now getting back to the meat of the issue, teaching and learning English becomes a piece of cake once the congenial atmosphere is created. The atmosphere will include a rich library, with a variety of books, dailies and periodicals. Audio and video facilities are also essential components. Basic grammar, not the things that are currently taught in most of our schools, have to be taught till class-IV or V. From then on more emphasis should be given on creative learning. The grammar topics that are included in the existing syllabus have to be curtailed- only the necessary ones will stay and the rest will go. We must not forget that in a language learning grammar does not have much to do. We all speak Bangla, but how many of us have leaned grammar before learning the language?
Multiple choice questions in a Language acquisition test is not only useless, it is also ridiculous. It must be made non-existent from all exams right away. Instead, comprehension-based questions have to be prepared. These questions must not have direct answers in the comprehension passages. Students will use the indications, references and inferences to figure out their answers and then they are to be instructed to write the answers in their own words. Students have to be reminded that reading between lines is essential for a complete understanding of the passage. In order to further improve their creative skill, they have to be asked to write stories and essays based on the events of our daily life. Assignments on topics of national importance need to be given on regular intervals. Regular debate and spelling bee are vital tools for helping the language learners improve their accent, intonation and fluency. In Bangla-medium education, the golden GPA is awarded if a student scores 80% marks in each subject. This sounds unacceptable. Getting 80% in mathematics can not be equivalent to scoring 80% in a language. Now one may say that students are scoring 80% in English and Bangla. Yes it is possible because there are multiple choice questions in the language papers. The multiple- choice has to be removed or the quality of language learning will never improve. So once the question pattern is changed, the score will reasonably come down to 70% or 75%. Hence for awarding golden GPA the minimum requirement for a language should be 70% or 75%. Mathematics score may remain 80% or above. The idea of a minimum score for each subject in order to obtain the so called golden GPA cannot be the same. So the entire mechanism of awarding grades must be reviewed by a panel of experts with years of teaching experience. The grading system in the SSC and HSC level has to be reviewed and made up-to-date.
Scores of young people are graduating from universities annually, but very few of them can demonstrate an acceptable standard of English. If we can instill the interest of language learning in schools, situation will look way different.
(Principal, ABC International School, Narayanganj.)