ELT Classroom: Strategies for Imparting Language Skills in Learners

There are 5 fundamental skills of language use that are acquired by a learner in the process of language acquisition. These are: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking. A child picks the first four skills in the mother tongue in the order given above. Thinking comes naturally in the mother tongue. There is a natural order of skills – Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing (Boran 5) – that is widely acknowledged as essential and all the language teaching curricula are structured around the first four elements, but the fifth one is not given the central position that is its due. English, which is a second language, for many Indians, and a third language for most of them, is picked up differently as compared to one’s mother tongue. An average learner first comes in touch with English in school. The teacher writes the letters of the alphabet on the blackboard for all to see and copy. The pronunciation of the letters is given and is repeated by students while copying them from the blackboard. Reading and writing of words and sentences are learnt afterwards. The last skill learnt is the listening and speaking of words and sentences of English coherently. Listening, speaking, reading and writing are the four areas of language competence on which various degrees of attention is given by people with different needs. Thinking in English is a skill that is never taught in schools and colleges but it is picked up by the learners on their way to mastering the language. Progressing beyond the level of beginner’s competence in using the resources of language depends on the capacity of a learner to actually think in the target language. English is not just a language in India. For the powerless it is their passport to power. They look at the acquisition of English language skills as a guarantee of better job prospects and upward social mobility. As Cook very perceptively points out that the students are acquiring “a skill they can use outside the classroom”. At the same time, their personality is being developed (230). In many states of India people opt for English for the reasons already mentioned and also because of an associate phenomenon of the snob value of this language. As Graham Hall mentions in his “Local Approaches to Critical Pedagogy: An investigation into the dilemmas raised by critical approaches to ELT”: “ELT provides life chances, opportunities for economic success, and status for learners” (2). Phillipson states that English is promoted as a panacea for economic and social problems at both the nation-state and individual level (27). Using a language which is not one’s mother tongue is not easy, especially when one does not have an environment conducive for it. English Language Teaching (ELT) becomes important for a country like India. The language teachers or instructors work on the environment so that learning and improving language become easier. Flexibility and creativity in adopting teaching strategies and techniques that facilitate learning are the needs of the hour. Strategies for any ELT classroom must be made keeping in mind the needs of the learners. Most of them use English after having acquired their mother tongues. Therefore, their primary and first language is their mother tongue and not English. They generally have a non-English speaking background. Any strategy that targets such learners can also not take English as purely the second language too because it is not used by the users in any sphere of their life consistently, whether they are at home or with their peers. English is spoken in certain situations that warrant its use. The learner’s requirements are: to speak English with confidence and without making many mistakes, to write up to a couple of pages at a time that are largely free of errors and can be understood by their peers and superiors, to understand what the superiors or peers speak in English and to read and interpret the material that is required to be understood in any given formal or informal situation. The emphasis is on a utilitarian approach towards the language aiming at – active listening, confident speaking, reading for understanding and independent writing (Sharma 17) Once the mind is made and the resources assembled the time is just right to start. Books, newspapers and magazines, internet etc. are all fruitful language learning resources with which one starts one’s quest. As Warschauer and Healey assert, the teacher should play the role of facilitator rather than being an all knowing oracle (31). The teacher should help learners learn the basic and advanced language skills in the most efficient and interesting way is role in the classroom. The teacher ought to maintain an overall class environment that facilitates learning English and makes interesting to learn at the same time. To play his role efficiently he must adopt, adapt, innovate and improvise continuously to impart the 5 essential skills of language in the learners. Flexibility and creativity in devising ways of using various available language resources are the prerequisites of efficient and effective learning and teaching. “[Teachers] can no longer be content to teach language in classrooms ignoring issues in their own and their students’ lives outside of the classroom walls” (Larsen-Freeman 179). Thus, issues raised and topics covered in the classroom must be in sync with the day-to-day, “real life”. While teaching the four basic language skills- listening, speaking, reading and writing in English – the fifth one, i.e. thinking in English must also be kept in mind. Listening and understanding the words and sentences clearly is the point at which language acquisition naturally begins. It provides the learner the required vocabulary, the appropriate pronunciation and syntax, the frequently used, therefore, useful stock sentences and sentence patterns using which the learner is able to listen, speak, read, write and think in a better way in his later stages of development. For developing listening skills various audio-visual aids are available. English films and TV serials and documentaries with English subtitles, English news broadcasts, CDs etc. prepared with ELT in mind – all help in improving listening comprehension. As one imbibes the language unconsciously, an overall environment conducive to learning is created. Passive listening is a waste of time. Therefore, the instructor must inform the learners about the objectives of the class activity. There must be specially designed activities and worksheets to be attempted at the end of a session e.g. after having watched a part of a film; learners may be given a worksheet related to the section of the film they have seen. The objective is not just to test their retention, but also to ascertain how much was understood of whatever the learners listened to, and how is that data utilized by them. They must be encouraged to watch 15-20 minutes of the same part of a film two to three times and to note down sentences that contain any new or interesting words and also to note down new types of sentences in separate sections of their notebooks. The notebook thus maintained over a long stretch of time will definitely assist them in learning English methodically and in revising conveniently and regularly. Moreover, they may make sentences with their chosen new words to assimilate them in their active vocabulary. They may choose certain sentences or patterns in their own conversations either in practice sessions or in real life situations. The same process must be followed while listening to a news broadcast or an educational CD or DVD. This will facilitate understanding and thus turn the content and the process of learning easier and more interesting. All the learners must be given full assistance so that they actually enjoy their experience and their classroom activities and thus they learn actively and fully. Once the class has been through a couple of listening sessions; it maybe in a better position to speak the language, at least, in controlled classroom conditions. Open ended question sessions, role plays, even re-enactment of very short sections of the films they have seen – all give confidence in learners. Recording the speaking sessions is automatically done when there is language lab software functioning in the class, but in many cases the language lab facility is not available. In such circumstance, an inexpensive digital camera or even a mobile camera may be used to record short sessions. The recorded data may be stored on a computer for future reference and analysis by both the learners and the instructors. Reading is an activity that bolsters the learning process and also the learner’s personality. Instructors must develop rapport with learners so that their personal preferences and past reading habits are known to them. In the initial phase, newspapers, magazines, novels etc., whatever interests a particular learner, must be used creatively to give them a push in the right direction. The objective should be to encourage them to read English material. Moreover, understanding the material read is equally important. Therefore, one’s reading comprehension must be tested regularly – either orally or through written tests. Reading newspapers and magazines must become a regular habit. The learners’ notebooks must contain separate sections to keep a regular and daily record of new or interesting words and sentence patterns that must be revised regularly so that the learners actually start using the same in their writing and speaking. Repeated exposure to the same word in various sentences and ways will also help one in acquiring the word and in using it proficiently. Thus, the efforts made in acquiring this skill will definitely benefit all the other skills and vice-versa. As the instructors have planned a holistic strategy for language skills development, there will always be a synergistic effect of learning one skill over the learning of the other. Writing has been one activity that an average learner has had extensive previous experience of. Therefore, the learner’s present need is to hone his skill of writing so that it becomes fluent and free of errors. This warrants exposure to a huge amount of printed and written material that will be retained either consciously or unconsciously to improve the overall level of one’s language. The teacher will have to make an inventory of all writing tasks the learners may have to face in his real life outside the classroom in future e.g. writing applications and letters, making resumes, writing reports, presentation’s content, speeches etc. They must be given practice in those tasks so that they are prepared for the future. Samples of letters, applications, resumes, presentations, reports and speeches must be given in the class so that the learners have a fairly good idea of the things to come in future. Advances in technology and the advent of the World Wide Web ushered in an era of Network Based Language Teaching (NBLT). The Web is full of materials useful for an ELT classroom. Aykut gives examples of activities using NBLT: 1. Lexical quizzes, games and other vocabulary learning specific activities (e.g. lexical maps, class dictionary building etc.). 2. Grammar tutorials, exercises, simulations and games. 3. Listening and pronunciation virtual lab activities. 4. Reading and writing webtasks 5. Computer Mediated Communication activities (email exchange, collaboration projects etc.) 6. Use of blogs and wikis for individual or group language learning (16-17) As a learner gains confidence in listening, speaking, reading and writing in English, the instructor must start emphasizing the hitherto unemphasized activity- thinking. Thinking in a language other than one’s mother tongue doesn’t come naturally. One has to cultivate the habit painstakingly and carefully. It has to be done consciously and continuously so that thinking in English becomes a natural thing. Once a learner starts thinking in English independently and for considerably long stretches of time, he has crossed the threshold of language skills acquisition and the effect will be reflected on the other four skills as their performance fundamentally originates in the mind that thinks. It makes perfect sense to focus on thinking as a core activity in ELT. Stern had posited four foci of language teaching – understanding the target language and the target culture, performing communicative activities and learning the language in question – and they develop in coordination with one’s ability to think flexibly and objectively in a language. Therefore, language and culture must be studied and understood thoroughly. Activities which involve the use of language in its socio-cultural context must be given full attention. Moreover, “the learners [have] to take a wider and more detached view of their involvement and to reflect in a generalized way about languages, culture, and learning” (103). It aims at opening up one’s mind to new ways of thinking and of looking at the world around us. A conscious attempt at developing thinking skills in English language gives an added advantage of also developing a consciously controlled rational thinking power. Thus, whatever is learnt in the classroom finally becomes available in the life outside the classroom environment. Language teaching in this sense reaches beyond just learning a particular language. The liberal humanist view of literature as a storehouse of human values and goodness, when combined with the various ways in which it can be utilised for ELT, makes it very clear that it ought to be integrated with regular classroom teaching techniques. In addition to consolidating the gains made in listening, speaking, reading and writing, it also “provides access to new socio-cultural meanings, offering opportunities for the development of cultural awareness… [and] stimulates the imagination, as well as critical and personal response,” thus contributing to the major aim of educating the whole person (Ferradas 27). Therefore, literature can be used to induce higher order thinking skills very effectively and easily. The preceding paragraphs give a picture of one of the ways an ELT programme can be planned and executed. If used judiciously and creatively, they may become the point of departure for both instructors and learners who want to delve deep into the unfathomed depths of the ocean of language and get the gems of knowledge for all.

References

Aykut, Arslan. Implementing a Holistic Teaching in Modern ELT Classes: Using Technology and Integrating Four Skills. < http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/20707/ MPRA Paper No. 20707>15. February 2010

Boran, Gültekin. “Methods and Approaches in Language Teaching in Brief”.

Cook, V. J. “What should language teaching be about?” The ELT Journals,37(3): 229-234. 1983.

Ferradas, Claudia. “Enjoying Literature with Teens and Young Adults in the English Language Classroom”. Britlit: Using Literature In Efl Classrooms. British Council:London, 2009.

Larsen-Freeman, D. Techniques andPrinciples in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hall, Graham. “Local Approaches to Critical Pedagogy: An investigation into the dilemmas raised by critical approaches to ELT”. http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/linguistics/groups/crile/docs/crile48hall.pdf

Phillipson, R. “Linguistic Imperialism”. Dunford Seminar Report.London, British Council. 1991.

Sharma, Sanjana. “Changing Face of ELT in India: Problems and Perspectives”. Journal of Rajasthan Association for Studies in English. Vol 6,2010.

Stern, H. H. Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1992.

Warschauer, M., and Healey, D. Computers and language learning: An overview. Language Teaching. http://www.gse.uci.edu/markw/overview.html, 1998.

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2 thoughts on “ELT Classroom: Strategies for Imparting Language Skills in Learners

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