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A new approach to English

English learning

Mar, 2009: Eesar Khan writes on the need to change the way English is taught so that when a child graduates from school, he/she can actually speak and understand the language

Once I had to visit a secondary school in my vicinity to observe a few English secondary level classes. It was a part of my research work on the topic of teaching English grammar at the secondary level.

When I arrived at class 8, the teacher was teaching the lesson "Present Indefinite tense". She wrote the structure of the tense on the black board and also wrote it in Urdu and explained the meaning. She then asked students to write Urdu sentences and then translate them into English. One important feature of the class was that the whole lecture was conducted in Urdu.

I then moved on to the class ten lecture where "Passive Voice" was being taught. The teacher asked a student to give her a sentence to change into passive voice. The student said "wo aam khati hay" (she eats a mango). The teacher repeated the Urdu sentence twice and then wrote the same on the board saying "Yes and the passive voice is mango is eaten by her, aam khaye jaatey hain ussay"!!! I don't know how I managed to spend the remaining 30 minutes in that class. I was stunned at that sentence…

This experience taught me that although English is taught in secondary schools of as a subject from class one, when a student graduates, he/she is still unable to speak and understand the English language. There are a few schools where a primary class student is able to communicate easily with anyone in English. But such elite schools are hardly affordable for everyone, even not for the upper middle class.

Many weaknesses can be attributed to this problem, including old syllabus, untrained faculty, lack of environment, lack of practice, overcrowded classrooms, inappropriate strategy, deficiency in motivation etc. But one weakness is the Grammar Translation Method (GTM). In most of the schools across the country English is taught via GTM, of which one glimpse has been aforementioned.

Grammar translation method is considered the oldest method used for teaching any foreign language. The emphasis is mainly given to the grammatical system and the reading and translation of literary texts in the targeted language. However, the purpose of learning a language is obviously to communicate in that language, for which one has got to be good at listening and speaking skills.

However, GTM is still being practiced in secondary schools in the country for the same purpose. We are giving crutches in the hand of our young generation to walk by teaching English language through GTM which can be used effectively at the early stages of primary education but not beyond. For instance, in class two if a student asks the meaning of mountain, instead of making an attempt to explain it in a targeted language, one can easily save the time by translating it into mother tongue.

But teaching English at secondary level through GTM is damaging the cognitive level of students, which will certainly be playing with his or her career; both academic and professional.

Some school teachers have taken the influence of Urdu language in English teaching onto a totally new paradigm. They teach articles "An" by guiding students that the word offers the sound of Urdu alphabet "ALIF" that is followed by the article "AN".

A teacher from the same school of thought was also observed translating the Urdu expression, "ham nay apnay aangan mein dou phool khilaye hain" into "we have blossomed two flowers in our courtyard".

The better choice to teach English in schools at secondary levels is not from "Forms"(grammar) to "Functions"(usages) but from "The Forms" to "The Functions". This leads us to a more communicative and purposeful method of language teaching as compare to GTM. It is followed in many of language learning centers and well-established schools. An environment is always a key factor in learning a language which is maintained only in language learning canters and the standard schools.

To achieve high levels of education in the long-term we need highly trained teachers, stimulus, purpose, controllable strength of students in a classroom and above all the environment. But in the short-term, we need to change our method of teaching English. By doing so we will make students competent in English by the time they finish school and they may not need to pay extra amount and time to learn the same afterwards from different places. Primarily we will save them from that embarrassment and regret that they usually come across in their daily academics matter and in professional life. This can also help to reduce the social class differences in education.

All in all, GTM can not help a learner of a foreign language like English to communicate. Therefore it is suggested to avoid teaching English at secondary school level and use a communicative approach so that our students may also get competence over speaking and understanding English to enlighten their future, not only in further studies but also in their professional careers. Dawn


Your Comments

"It is true. We do not use GTM to teach our children it makes the child confused."
Name: Saira khan
Email: haniyar10@yahoo.com
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

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