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Monday, December 9, 2013

Effective:One-size-fits-all doesn't work in English language teaching 12-09

Effective:One-size-fits-all doesn't work in English language teaching.

In the age of globalisation, everyone needs to enhance their communication skills in English in order to cope with the increasingly tough competition in the job market. Mere subject knowledge in their chosen field, be it engineering, science, commerce or humanities, is not going to be a guarantee for them to get a good job or excel at the workplace.

David Crystal in his book English as a global language states that 85 per cent of the world’s international organisations use English as their official language in transnational communication, and 90 per cent of the published academic articles are written in English.

Multinational corporations (MNCs) and major information technology (IT) companies in India recruit candidates who have good English communication skills. In this highly competitive society, proficiency in English is considered one of the employability skills. There has been a wide gap between what the students need and what is taught at the tertiary level. Teaching English to a group of students without knowing their language needs is just like prescribing a particular medicine to someone without diagnosing the person’s disease. Somehow, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model doesn’t work in English language teaching (ELT).

The fact that English is not taught as a life skill or survival skill in most schools and colleges makes me raise the question whether teachers of English are really competent and whether they have had proper training to teach the language effectively. The urgent need of the hour is to take appropriate measures to enable teachers to grow professionally. Teachers of English should stop considering themselves as the source of knowledge and students as mere sponges. An effective teacher enables the learner to move from dependent stage to independent stage and then to interdependent stage. This is the process of empowering the learner. The education system at the tertiary level also needs to be transformed radically. 

The present system is not conducive for teaching English as a life skill. Undue importance is given to examination-oriented coaching, and as a result the English language teacher ceases to be creative. Educational institutions are slowly becoming coaching centres. Most private engineering colleges seem to focus only on achieving higher pass percentage every year at the cost of compromising quality. The teacher who prepares students for examinations well and who awards marks to the students generously is adjudged the best teacher, and the one who is creative and who teaches English for life is considered worthless.

If we want our future engineers and other professionals to speak and write good English, we should look into various maladies that affect the effective teaching of English and find remedies that will purify the system.

Following are some of the maladies:

Most English language courses do not reflect the present and future language needs of the students.

The absence of skills-oriented teaching results in ineffective learning.

There is a gap between the target situation (employment market) and the existing proficiency of learners.

The absence of standard course books.

Listening and speaking skills are not given adequate importance.


English language courses should be based on the principles of globalism.

The courses should be innovative in content (interesting and useful material for reading and listening, commutainment (communication through entertainment) activities, oral presentation, group discussion, mock interviews, etc.)), in methodology (eg. a process approach to oral presentation, focus on the integration of skills) and in learning outcomes.

An innovative approach that focuses on creativity, critical thinking skills, group skills, interpersonal skills, functional competence, intercultural competence, etc. should be promoted.

Effective measures must be taken to shift from basic language skills to wide-range of skills required at work.

The English language courses should have activities that foster learners’ critical thinking and group skills.

The courses should develop learner autonomy through language labs and web-based learning.

Project-based activities should be given to learners to develop their language skills in a meaningful manner.

The increasing focus on tests and exams should be arrested.

Teachers should be trained to teach creatively based on the target needs.

Corporate people should be involved in the design of the course.

English language courses should be evaluated and modified on a regular basis.

It is high time policy makers realized the need for teaching English as a life skill and paved the way for it. 

It is high time teachers of English equipped themselves professionally. Better late than never! The ELT community should come together and strive to achieve the noble cause of empowering their students. It is possible only if they are ready to undergo a paradigm shift.

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