By Bishnu Mani Thapaliya
Jana Adarsha Multiple Campus, Birendranagar, Chitwan
With the long and varied experience of teaching English to young students in rural areas of Nepal, the columnist would like to share some of the difficulties and their probable remedies in teaching and learning English as second language. The main aim of the essay is to dispel the illusion of English language learning. This essay clearly announces the fact that English can be learnt comfortably even by the people who were born and bred up in adverse conditions.
Most of the students accomplish their schooling in their mother tongue i.e.Nepali. Though they have attained heaps of marks in core subjects, they remain very poor at English still. The students have an unknown fear and fever over English all these years. Now, let us examine some of the various factors which leave English as a souring grape for rural students even today.
To begin with, the first and the fore most factor is the socio-cultural and financial background of the family. As most of the parents are illiterate, they cannot directly take part in the daily routine of their children though they aspire for their children’s’ bright future. Hence, the students’ performance lacks parental supervision and guidance which is very necessary at this juncture of their education. The illiterate parents cannot realize what their children pursuing neither they do afford time to consult the teacher about the progression in studies of their children. Every minute during the day time is valuable for them as they have to struggle in earning their livelihood. The boy or girl is also sent for work on wages at the specified time of the year which affects their education very dearly.
An interesting observation identifies that the performance in English of the students whose parents are employees and belong to higher middle class is better than that of the students whose parents are illiterate and belong to lower middle class. The probable reason perhaps is that the parents in the first case can spare time to consult the teacher about the on going of their children once a while and can guide them if necessary. Thus there has emerged an undesirable difference between the two classes.
Consequently, it is established in rural areas as a proven fact to say that English is tough to study and understand despite the fact that English is the easiest language in the world to learn.
But it was also proved every now and then that the students from the second group also showed greater interest and expertise in English. The credit goes to the student and their teacher who was successful in inculcating curiosity among the students in spite of their financial irregularities and improper brought up. So, mere poverty cannot create a gulf between students and their English language efficiency.
The second major problem is the inefficiency of the teachers. These students generally pursue their studies in Government public schools in which the medium of instruction is Nepali, their mother tongue. The methodology of ELT in these schools is bilingual or translation method. The teachers simply translate every thing into their mother tongue and explain them on the name of bilingual or translation method. Though this method offers them sound knowledge in the content, it prevents them in acquiring communication abilities in English. The teacher here plays more as a translator than a genuine English teacher. Hence, virtually, there is no much difference between a Nepali teacher and an English teacher.
The English teachers at these schools are untrained and moreover they are unaware of the current trends and techniques of ELT. Most of them are ignorant of useful organizations and websites on the Internet which offer them really good down-to-earth discussions of ideas and techniques.
The reason for these unskilled English teachers may be as a result of the Government’s poor planning on ELT and empowering the teachers.
The case with many of the private English medium schools in rural areas is no better than this. The situation is even worse with them. The teachers who teach English are those who persuaded their schooling in Nepali medium and failed in Intermediate and so. The columnist doesn’t consider this is the case with every organization, but with most of them. Definitely, these poor teachers make English as a nightmare to students and they instigate students to habituate by-heart method which deprives students the communication abilities in English. Thus English appeared or is rather made as a dreadful demon for long years in Nepal.
Another probable reason is the model of the English examination papers. It has not been designed in a manner that it helps students to have an authority over English language; rather it makes the students take it for granted. The examinations are content based on memorization where the students are supposed to reproduce what they have recited. Thus students are forced to adopt by-heart method. Their memory works help them more than their creativity and intelligence.
The other factor which affects English language learning is the educational system itself. There are primarily four skills involved in English language learning i.e. Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing (LSRW). The students of Nepal have been tutored and trained well enough in reading and writing for long ages. But Listening and Speaking skills which play a greater role in communication have been neglected and ignored. Thus our educational system lacks an important dimension. It enables the students to concentrate on reading and writing only. The final examination does also test them mainly on how good their memory is. The examinations are not language-oriented. Even parents are craving for hollow marks than real knowledge.
Consequently, examination- oriented teaching has been adopted in schools. Students are guided and specially trained to concentrate only on the areas where they can score better. Hence, they neglect the other two basic skills.
Listening is the one basic skill which makes speaking possible.
Nobody can speak a language without listening to it. Even an infant starts speaking in a particular language after listening to it for many months. It is why an infant who is deaf by birth remains dumb too. Since s/he is not able to listen to, s/he cannot speak in it.
Thus, our young students are deprived of speaking abilities because they have not been properly guided in listening skills. This may be the proper reason why they have not been able to speak English in a proper manner. They have become adept only at writing and reading of English. There should be a comprehensive course for listening and speaking skills. The classrooms should be equipped with audio-video materials. Student Talking Time (STT) should be maximized.
This is high time that the concerned authorities and teachers adopted an innovative culture of teaching English. Let us hope that our kids’ English will be cashed in the days to come.