Friday, August 20, 2010

Teacher Empowerment in English – New Challenges

Dr. K.N. Anandan

Consultant, SSA, Kerala

In our own times the term “paradigm shift” has gained much currency. What exactly we mean by this?

The word “paradigm” is another word for pattern. The human brain is specially designed to generate, discern and recognize patterns in the world around us. We live in the midst of several kinds of phenomena such as biological, physical, political, social, economic, and linguistic and so on. At various points of time man has tried to account for these phenomena in different ways. For example, for several thousands of years people believed that the earth was flat, a belief that was created and sustained by Ptolemy and his followers. Later, Copernican astronomy shattered this belief. In the same way, Einstein’s quantum physics replaced Newtonian physics. These are classic examples of paradigm shift in physical sciences. Each paradigm generates a set of patterns or, a set of beliefs. That is how patterns keep changing. When changes take place there will be resistance to changes. Nevertheless, in the long run the new pattern survives. When a paradigm shift takes place, we see things from a different perspective.

The Change in the Perspective on Language

When language as a phenomenon becomes the object of inquiry we have to choose between one of the two belief systems:

i. Human mind is like an empty slate and everything related to language comes from outside.

ii. Man has innate language system which gets unfolded in a natural linguistic environment.

The first belief system was created by Behavioural Psychology and Structural Linguistics. Cognitive theories are the proponents of the second belief system. By now it is clear that we cannot go forward with the first belief system. Thus in English language teaching the principal paradigm shift involves a move away from the postulates of behaviourist psychology and structural linguistics toward cognitive and later socio-cognitive psychology. Today insights from theoretical linguistics, cognitive psychology, neurobiology and experiential pedagogy force us to pursue more contextualized and meaning-based views of language.

The Socio-Political Perspective on Teaching English

The Kerala Curriculum Framework has been erected on the pillars of social constructivism, critical pedagogy and issue-based approach. The new textbooks and handbooks have reached the hands of our learners and teachers. Gone are the days when the teaching of English began with A-B-C-D and ended with reading books written in a formal literary style. Today, almost a sea-change has swept over our English classrooms. The changes that have taken place call for taking up new pedagogic challenges. Our students and teachers, by and large, seem prepared to meet this challenge; this is a welcome sign. However, in the fast shrinking world of today where English language reigns supreme, we have go to revise our attitudes to be able to keep pace with the rest of the world. In this context let me present a few cases:

Case 1:

Ms. Asha is a primary teacher who teaches English in a Government school in Kerala. She has her own daughter studying in an English medium school.

‘Why don’t you get your child enrolled in your own school?’ One of her friends asked her.

‘She’s a bright child. I must give her quality education.’

‘Can’t it be done at your own school?’

‘I doubt. After all it’s an ordinary school. For choosing a good career children need English education.’

‘But you’re teaching English.’

‘That’s different.’

Case 2:

One of the international publishers recently released a set of course books in English. These are meant for the learners ranging from LKG to Class VIII. There are two primers for English. One of them begins with lessons in writing. The tiny tots have to strain themselves by drawing strokes of different kinds and then slowly switching over to writing the letters, words and sentences in conformity with certain standard norms.

The other primer begins with units that introduce quite a large number of isolated words naming familiar objects. These include the names of body parts such as an eye, a head, a nose... (of course with thumbnail pictures of these parts).

Let’s address ourselves to a few questions:

1. Why is there a mushrooming of English medium schools in our country?

2. Why do most parents believe that by changing the medium of instruction from the mother tongue to English is a pre-requisite for ensuring quality education?

3. Why do people believe that without English there cannot be prosperity in life?

4. Why do the international publishers follow a linear, highly de-contextualized and fragmentary approach to introducing language elements?

5. Everyone in our own times know that a child does not pick up language by writing the letters of the alphabet? More over, a 3-year old child is yet to accomplish neuro-muscular coordination. Then why do the textbook writers make her practice strokes and other primary lessons of copy-writing?

6. The 3-year old child’ perception is holistic. She cannot perceive a cut-out human head, the hand, or the other parts of the body alone. Asking her to do this is in fact the negation of the fundamental principles of child psychology. Don’t the makers of the course book know it?

We refrain ourselves from asking further questions on a similar line. The point we want to make is very clear. Cases 1 and 2 reflect certain belief claims related to teaching and learning English in our own context.

There may be certain claims that appear as true. It is also possible that these claims can be substantiated given certain specific contexts. We must not miss the point that these are mere belief claims and not propositions with truth content. Nevertheless they get propagated in the society. How does this happen needs to be explained. Viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy these claims are discernible as parts of belief systems and actions defined by the power structures operating in the society. A major challenge that we have to face today while planning teacher empowerment programmes is how to break these belief systems.

Critical pedagogy addresses itself to a few questions:

• Who is benefited by these systems of beliefs and actions?

• Who is making these assertions?

• Why are they being made at this point in time?

• Are these assertions supported by research? If so, who funds such research?

• Who propagates these “findings”?

These questions and several more will emerge when we problematize the whole context of knowledge making. Each of these questions will have to be addressed against the background of the evidences available in support of the claims that have been put forward. Critical pedagogy is a tool for constructing knowledge which helps students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.

We can enumerate a few principles that can lead to critical understanding. These are:

• The potential of education as a tool to transform learners into political subjects

• Knowledge as a cognitive process undertaken by teachers and learners

• The possible emergence of new forms of culture and knowledge

Triangulating on these key principles critical pedagogy thrives to create a better world, a world where the learners seek and realize their identity and voice. Teachers in their turn are ‘transformative intellectuals who strive for realizing social transformation. Schools are transformed into sites for struggle whether for power, knowledge or identity.

ELT in the context of Critical Pedagogy:

What we have discussed so far calls for putting current practices in ELT under the critical lens. In a country like ours where there is so much of colonial pull is in force, teaching of English has been a major topic of concern for a wide spectrum of people ranging from educational planners, policy makers, curriculum designers, textbook writers, parents, teachers and of course students. The National Curriculum Framework (2005) as well as KCF (2007) have given a lot of importance to language learning as it is crucial to not only meaningful learning in all the subject areas but also to the learner’s emotional, cognitive and social development. Educationists have noticed that new entrants with poor language background remain poorer performers in all areas unless specially helped in language skills. Language education has been acknowledged to have the greater potential as a means to develop, progressively through various stages, attitudes and values related to all the core components by incorporating appropriate themes and adopting suitable teaching strategies.

Critiquing Linguistic imperialism

The majority of critical writers argue that the global expansion of ELT is nothing other than linguistic imperialism. This argument is based on three major themes. These are:

1. There have always been efforts to equate English language and ELT with prosperity. Quite often English is brought under the limelight as a solution for economic and social problems by Nation-States and individuals. Thus learners at the receiving end are persuaded to look at the benefits of English with false expectations. Consequently, ELT professionals gain control over educational practices. To cite an example from our own times, there any who would mind spending money for taking a course of ‘spoken English” or “communicative English?” so that he or she can meet the pressures created by the commercialised job market?

2. The historical perspective on ELT reveals that it evolved putting local autonomy at stake. Being driven by developments in Britain and the USA, ELT has always been centralised at all levels. Global solutions are put forward which fail to solve local problems. For example, the much acclaimed communicative approach is virtually global. However, it may be inappropriate for various non-western localities and cultures. Language teaching difficulties may thus be multiplied by the flaws of a centrally-driven, global approach.

3. Critical pedagogues are sceptical about the genuineness of global demands for ELT; they believe that the demand has been purposefully generated. On the other hand most ELT proponents believe that the demand is genuine. Thus as Bowers (1991) has stated, there exists a tension between the satisfaction of, and simulation of, demand for English.

Critiquing ELT perspective on Knowledge

How we conceive education clearly depends upon what our perception of knowledge is. If knowledge is perceived as a set of facts, then the whole educational system will be focusing on transmitting these facts. Obviously, this will end up in the transfer of information from the teacher to the learners. Information camouflaged as knowledge can be taught and learnt un-problematically. On the other hand, if knowledge is perceived as something more than information mere transmission of facts will not suffice. Other considerations will have to be called for such as a thorough understanding about what the nature of the learner is, what learning is, how learning takes place what will constitute the most conducive environment for learning and the like. There is scope for inductive learning in current ELT practices. Nevertheless, has pointed out, what is learnt and taught is a set of facts and rules as is evident from the comprehension questions and the exercises included in the course books.

Critiquing ELT conceptualisation of Language

ELT conceptualisation of language also is problematic. The practitioners of ELT have a great fascination for loading the course material with lots and lots of exercises meant for practising Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing (LSRW). One should not miss the point that the LSRW approach is insensitive to language as a political and historical phenomenon. Notions such as ‘accuracy’ and ‘fluency’ have gained much currency in our own times. These are notions that reflect the evolution of communicative language teaching from the fabrics of earlier approaches and methods pertaining to language teaching. Similarly, there are notions like ‘pattern’ and ‘accuracy’ which have emerged from the conceptualisation of language by structural and functional approaches respectively. All these approaches and methods have conceptualised language solely in terms of LSRW, as a-political and a-historical phenomenon. This trend has been continued by the communicative approaches which literally reduces discussion of language itself to a minimum. This, in turn, prevents the development of ‘critical language awareness’.

It is easy to discern the tension that builds up between two classes of ELT namely, the non-critical ELT and the critical ELT. The former is what is widely in practice across the world whereas the latter is the one that has started emerging, probably with a change in nomenclature. Most non-critical ELT practices conceptualise knowledge, education and language solely as a body of information that the teacher can transfer to the learners; this can be taught and learnt within the classroom or outside the classroom. There are mechanisms for transmitting a certain chunk of information that has been pre-decided for a certain level of learners. There are national as well as international agencies to propagate these mechanisms. This does not fulfil a critical and transformative agenda as there is no conception that ideology is transmitted through language.

Critiquing Classroom Practices

The conceptual imbalances within ELT are too conspicuous for any critical pedagogue to miss them. Nevertheless, it is doubtful whether these have received due attention in deliberations on improving the quality of English learning of our children. Of course there has been much discussion on the deplorable state of ELT prevailing in our country. A variety of learning materials and teaching techniques have been suggested and tried out in order to resolve the problems faced in this domain of the curriculum. A number of researches programme and teacher-training programmes have been going on in our state level, regional level and national level institutions with a view to improving the ELT situation. A large number of institutions have come out preparing short term as well as long-term English courses. Book publishers have been vying with one another in the production of English guides for all levels of learners. Moreover, a number of English tuition centres have mushroomed across the country. Above all, commercial ELT packages such as “Communicative English, Functional English” are developed and promoted by the State as well as private agencies. These labels are accepted unquestioningly and nobody asks the question: “Is there any English that does not communicate?” Similarly, nobody worries whether there are two varieties of mother tongue namely, the “functional” and the “non-functional”!

What is more, a special variety of English (say, the Received Pronunciation) has gained prominence on grounds of standardization. Whether non-native users of English can really master the standardized sound system of the language even after learning phonetics and practicing minimal pairs is never put to acid tests. Nevertheless experts advocate the teaching of phonetics as if it is the panacea for all problems related to ELT knowing pretty well that they themselves find it difficult to consistently maintain all the nuance of articulation. Nobody bothers whether teachers are really benefited from practising English sounds in isolation. This process of self-deception seems to have gained much commercial significance in the context of neo-colonialism that has successfully spread its roots everywhere. In a way insisting on Standard English amounts to imposing linguistic hegemony which often is camouflaged as “international intelligibility”.

We have any number of cases to show the conceptual imbalances within ELT. All of them have classroom implications.

To summarize, there is a dichotomy of practices of ELT on the one hand and the parameters of critical pedagogy on the other. ELT conceptualisation of language does not seem to equip the learners with the language apparatus they necessarily should have; it does not seem to help them think critically either. It is high time we examined what exactly is at stake and chose the right kind of pedagogy that would put things in order. With the absence of concepts such as empowerment, emancipation, and transformation, there seems to be hardly any consideration of why we are teaching, and what society we are teaching for. ‘ELT practitioners stand accused of complicity in the maintenance of an unequal society, teaching for themselves and hidden power interests within society, rather than for the learners’ real needs,’ observes G. Hall, and we fully endorse his views.

The challenges

The discussion in the preceding s sections will certainly persuade us opt for critical pedagogy as a tool for constructing knowledge of English. Nevertheless, this tool has to face a few challenges. We will examine what the challenges are how they can be met.

One of the arguments raised against critical pedagogy is that critical pedagogy is too ready to criticize, but is unable to offer any solutions. Though critical approaches can offer solutions they are not willing to do it. Why this is so is to be clearly understood. Critical pedagogy cannot prescribe any solutions; it can only put forward certain theoretical positions which individuals can make use of fruitfully in their pursuit for knowledge.

This point is to be well-appreciated. If the critical pedagogue imposes his ideas and perceptions on the learners it can be done only by putting learner autonomy at stake which will be counterproductive.

How to release the tension between the teacher’s authority on the one hand and the learner’s autonomy on the other is a major problem that arises while making classroom transaction critically oriented. Ellsworth doubts whether teachers can really refrain themselves from being authoritative. The hegemony that prevails in a teacher-centred classroom is not entirely the teacher’s creation. There are a number of factors – the curriculum, the syllabus, the textbook, the very design of classrooms, and the seating arrangement – that conspire for making the classroom environment detrimental to learner autonomy.

We have to empathise with the teachers who take pains to teach the content of an English textbook loaded with lots and lots of information. They are pressurised from all corners, the educational system, the authorities, the society, and of course her own belief systems. The teacher is ‘autocratic’ because the system wants her to be one. She is authoritative because hegemony percolates down to her from the authorities higher above in the hierarchic design of the system. How can she facilitate learner autonomy when she cannot claim it for herself?

This does not mean that there is no scope for breaking the vicious circle in which learners, teachers, the authorities, why the system itself is caught up. The only way out is to help our policy makers, educational planners, curriculum designers, textbook writers and teachers develop a thorough understanding about the rights and responsibilities of the learners. Above all, if at all we believe in the dictum, education is for liberation, then we must chose the right kind of pedagogy that is built upon a thorough understanding about what language is and how it is acquired. Such pedagogy would be in operation in an environment where there is genuine partnership between teachers and learners. It would necessarily recognize the learner’s voice and identity and the participants would be able to operate within a ‘safe space’.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Relevance of discourses in Language Pedagogy

Dr. K.N. Anandan

Consultant, SSA, Kerala

Those who teach English as a second or foreign language have always devoted much of their teaching to sentences. They expect their students to know how to make a correct sentence; where it begins and ends. Perhaps teaching the learners what makes a correct sentence is a worthwhile endeavour. This is probably one of the strongest reasons for teaching formal grammar to learners, a reason strong enough to usher English teachers across the world to take up this painstaking activity. Besides, there is a strong belief among teachers namely, without teaching grammar children will never learn what is correct and what is incorrect. Hence it is not surprising that English Textbooks will invariably contain exercises related to some aspects of grammar. Moreover, a few questions chosen from the realm of English grammar will always find a place in question papers set for competency examinations. Whether students are benefited from the grammar exercises given in the textbooks and those used in examinations has never been put to an acid test.

1. Coherence

What exactly do we mean by the ability to communicate successfully with other people? Does it merely mean the ability to produce correct sentences? Can we just parade a sequence of sentences putting any sentence after another and believe that what we produce will make sense? Haven’t we noticed that people succeed in communicating though they do not always speak or write in complete sentences? How can we help our children develop communication skills in English? Is there any point in teaching and learning a language if the learner is unable to produce language spontaneously in an interpersonal communicative situation? And above all, what is the minimal unit of communication?

The questions raised here drive us to seek their answers. Most importantly, it is necessary to critically examine instances of our encounter with language in day-to-day life so that we will be able to identify what exactly is the pre-requisite for any successful communication.

Consider the following tasks:

Task – 1

Read the following:

i t i s a k n o w n f a c t t h a t r e a d i n g d o e s n o t m e a n j u s t r e a d i n g t h e l e t t e r s i n a g i v e n p a s s a g e

• Are you able to read fluently what has been given above? If not, why?

• Do you get any message from what you have read?

• Do similar things happen in classrooms where English is taught for the beginners? What message can the teacher communicate by teaching the alphabet and asking children to repeat the letters several times?

Task -2

We have a set of English words here:

book chair home work habit umbrella metamorphosis catalyst

1. What message will we get from reading these words?

2. If someone says these words in a situation of interpersonal communication how will the listener rate the speaker?

Of course can attach some meaning to all of the words in the given set and perhaps associate them with our previous experience. Nevertheless, we fail to get at the overall communication intended by the words taken as a set. Obviously, sounds / letters or words in isolation do not communicate anything unless we embed them in a proper context. Therefore these units of language per se cannot be considered units of communication. Perhaps we are tempted to argue that the minimal unit that can serve communication function is the sentence because the words combine together to represent a specific idea represented by the sentence. We have to check whether this argument can stand.

Task – 3

Read the following pieces of language:

1. Who is that? Harry Porter is an interesting read. Two plus two makes four. Doctors have declared a strike. This year we didn’t get sufficient rain. Phoneticians are trouble makers. My child can read Shakespeare. Who will find a solution to this problem? Please wait for a moment.

2. Thank God! I’ve been waiting for this. Oh, no! Trust me. Of course, not. I’ll meet you. Yes. Next Monday? Fine. Why? Why not the other one? Well... Do you think so? No, no! It’s just your imagination. Why not. I can understand your problem. Bye! And take care of yourself.

We have two stretches of language here.

Which one makes a part of a unified whole?

How do we distinguish between the two?

The second stretch of language can be easily identified as a telephonic conversation whereas the first one cannot be related to a single context; probably each sentence in it has emerged in a different context. But what about the grammaticality of the sentences in the two stretches? There are ten sentences in the first piece and all of them are correct. Yet collectively they do not make any sense. The first stretch of language doesn’t give us any feeling of unity. The second piece of language contains several fragmentary expressions. Nevertheless, unlike the first one the second one makes sense. It has an organic unity. The reader can guess a large amount of information about it though not explicitly expressed in the text.

From the comparison we have made between the two units of language we can derive the distinctive quality of the second one. It is the quality of being meaningful and unified, which is known as coherence. Communication does not take place without coherence. It is fairly easy to discern that coherence is not a feature related to the internal grammar of sentences. It operates in a domain beyond the boundary of a sentence. But what exactly is this domain?

It is fairly easy to recognize that linguistic units such as sounds, words, and sentences are not entities in isolation. This point can be easily driven home if we consider how we use language. We know that we use language for thought, for problem solving, for play, for dreaming, for display of group solidarity, for deception, for introspection, for communication of emotions and to share information. There is language everywhere around us; it is there in the print media (in newspapers, magazines, etc.), in visual media (TV, Movies, etc.) and in day-to-day life. How does language exist in these? The ocean of language that we live in is not formed from disconnected linguistic units. Sounds, words and sentences become meaningful only when they appear as part of interconnected units of language called discourses that have coherence. This implies that all the linguistic expressions in a discourse will fit together well.

Task 4:

1. What language material do we find in the print media (i.e., newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.)?

2. What are the items that appear on TV channels?

3. What are the forms in which language appears in day-to-day life?

If we list down these items we will get something like the following:

Print Media:

News reports, editorials, advertisements, notices, obituaries, articles, cartoons, jokes, stories, poems, interviews, review reports, letters, screen plays, skits, etc.

Visual Media:

News telecasts, TV phone-in, TV serials, interviews, songs, movies, comedy shows, debates, conversations, lectures, skits, etc.

Daily life:

Chats, dialogues, debates, songs, stories, descriptions, announcements, enquiries, etc.

2. Discourse and Sentence

Despite the fact that language exists only in the form of discourses teachers do concentrate on sentence internal grammar. This observation holds well for all language teachers whether they teach mother tongue or a second language. Probably, we can put forward several arguments in defence of concentrating on sentences while teaching a language:

• In the case of mother tongue, students will have acquired oral skills much before they start coming to school. Hence there is no scope for teaching them how to communicate orally. What they are yet to learn is where to put full stops and how to write grammatical sentences.

• In the case of second languages students need formal skills and knowledge in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. These will set a strong base for them using language for communication and interaction.

• Formal skills are the signs of a person’s acceptable language behaviour and therefore these are to be taught focusing on sentence internal grammar.

• Examinations by and large demand formal language skills. In order to perform well in examinations the learners must have a mastery over sentence grammar.

• Exercises are of prime importance in formal teaching because they help the students know where they are going and how far they have developed formal skills. Exercises can be neatly presented in sentences, with a tick or a mark for each one.

• If the learners are given exposure to correct sentences through rigorous practice everything regarding their language study will follow in a natural way.

• The treatment of language in terms of sentences helps the learners distinguish between licit and illicit sentence constructions with the help of the rules of grammar that they have learnt.

• Though the sentences analyzed in linguistics are abstractions and may appear very odd they are useful for language study.

Since the focus is on sentences language textbooks often get loaded with examples alienated from our experience of communication in real life situations. As a result they might come out with even ludicrous examples. We have an illustrative example quoted in Cook, G (2001):

‘The philosopher pulled the lower jaw of the hen.’

‘The merchant is swimming with the gardener’s son, but the Dutchman has the fine gun.’

(Sweet 1899 [1964:73] Quoted in Cook, G (2001) in Discourse, Oxford University Press)

Once we admit the point that language exists only in the form of discourses we have to examine what its implications are in the language class. It follows that there is hardly any point in concentrating exclusively upon the production of correct sentences because these alone will not suffice to communicate.

2.1. More about discourses

Any connected series of utterance can be called a discourse. A lexicographer might tell us that one of the meanings of the word discourse is related to the use of language in speech and writing in order to produce meaning. These statements might help us to define what a discourse is but a mere definition will not suffice. We have already identified coherence as its most important property. Let us see what the other properties are.

1. When we think about the input that is available for the learner in terms of discourses two different kinds of language serve as potential source.

i. A language of abstraction that can be used for teaching a language or literacy, or to teach how rules of language work.

ii. Another kind of language that is used to communicate something and has coherence.

Consider the following units of language:


This is a boy

That is a girl

There is a pen on the table.

These are pencils


`It's--it's a very fine day!' said a timid voice at her side.

She was walking by the White Rabbit, who was peeping anxiously into her face. `Very,' said Alice: `--where's the Duchess?'

`Hush! Hush!' said the Rabbit in a low, hurried tone. He looked anxiously over his shoulder as he spoke, and then raised himself upon tiptoe, put his mouth close to her ear, and whispered `She's under sentence of execution.'

`What for?' said Alice.

`Did you say "What a pity!"?' the Rabbit asked.

`No, I didn't,' said Alice: `I don't think it's at all a pity. I said "What for?"'

The first kind of language is an artificially constructed language. In a way it is idealized language. This is exemplified by the discrete sentences in (1) that usually appear in English textbooks. The first stretch of language given in Task 3 is also an example of this kind of language. The second kind of language is exemplified by (2). It is communicating and is seen in discourses. This is not idealized language but language in use.

Task 5

Here follows a set of sentences. Some of them are invented ones, for teaching grammar and some are taken from discourses. Is there any way to know which is which? Shall we work out the situations where these pieces of language might actually have been used?

i. I love you, dad.

ii. Who is that?

iii. There’s nothing that we can do about it.

iv. The little boy pinched an elephant.

v. This is the boy who saw the dog that chased the cat that killed the rat that dug a hole into the pumpkin.

vi. No sooner did the bell ring children started running out from the classrooms.

2. We can take the discrete sentences given in a language textbook and say them to someone in a suitable occasion. In such situations they are bound to communicate as they get embedded in a discourse suitable for the context. Similarly, we can take sentences from a discourse and subject them to grammatical analysis detached from the context. Therefore both these approaches are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, in natural situations people acquire language not by practicing discrete sentences but through experiencing discourses.

3. We cannot expect that a discourse emerging in communicative situations will consist of all and only grammatically well-formed sentences. There may be one or more of these but there can be ungrammatical sentences as well. Consider for example the dialogue embedded in (2) given above. As G. Cook has observed, discourse makes use of grammar rules as a resource; it conforms to them when it needs to, but departs from them when it does not.

Task 6

Here is a piece of dialogue that took place at a restaurant. What are the points where the discourse departs from rules of grammar?

Waiter: At your service, Sir.

Customer: Well, some starter, please!

Waiter: How about chicken soup?

Customer: Oh, no! I’m vegetarian

Waiter: Like to go for tomato?

Customer: Fine!

Waiter: Anything else, Sir?

Customer: Well, chapatti ... dry ones ... and vegetable stew

Waiter: How about fired rice?

Customer: No, thanks.

4. Sometimes even a grunt or a single expletive (i.e. swear-word or an expression used in exclamations) can be a discourse provided that it is uttered in a proper context. Or it can be a sequence of utterances as seen in short conversations, scribbled notes, narratives or even a novel. The only point that matters is that it communicates and is considered coherent by its receivers.

Task 7

Read the following exchanges between two men.

Man 1: So?

Man 2: Oh, nothing.

Man 1: Are you sure?

Man 2: Yes.

Man 1: But why?

Man 2: Just like that.

Man 1: Just like that?

Man 2: Hmm!

1. What are these men talking about?

2. Does interpersonal communication take place here? Justify your answer.

The above exchange is meaningful to the two men but not to anyone else. As exemplified in this discourse, what matters is not its conformity to rules, but it communicates to the persons involved in it.

5. There is a degree of subjectivity in identifying a piece of language as discourse; a certain discourse may be meaningful and communicates to one person in a way which another person does not have the knowledge to make sense of.

Task 8

Consider the following telephonic conversation between husband and wife.

Wife: Did you take medicines?

Husband: No.

Wife: Good. Did you consult the doctor?

Husband: No, but I will.

Wife: Good.

There are two instances of the expression “good” in this conversation. Do both of them imply a positive sense or a negative one?

As is evident from the above conversation, certain pieces of language can be classified as discourse only by invoking subjectivity. Only the couple who are involved in the conversation knows how to interpret the word ‘good’ in the conversation given above. Every utterance in it makes sense to the two persons involved in it but not to a third person. Nevertheless, in practice a certain unit of language is usually perceived as a discourse by groups, rather than individuals.

6. Apart from the language that is actually used there are several factors that influence us when we receive a spoken message. These include a set of paralinguistic features:

• Facial expressions of the speaker

• Movement of eyes and hands

• Body language

• Voice modulations

The other factors that influence us in communication are:

• The situation in which we receive the message

• Our cultural and social relationships with the sender of the message;

• Things that w know;

• Things we assume that the sender knows;

• Our knowledge about the physical world;

• Our knowledge about human beings and the society;

7. The question what gives discourse its unity cannot be answered detaching the discourse from the world at large. And the world at large is precisely what makes the context. Implicitly, there cannot be discourses without a context.

2.2. Looking for Grammar beyond the Sentence

Anyone who knows English knows intuitively that any word cannot follow ‘this’ or ‘the’. The rules of grammar allow only certain words after these elements. These rules operate within the boundary of a sentence. If we violate rules of grammar within the sentence, we will get incorrect sentences of different kinds in addition to those with writing errors of spelling and punctuation. We can broadly categorize these errors as follows:

i. Errors where the word endings or other word parts are wrong.

ii. Errors where the sentence structure is wrong.

iii. Errors where the meaning is wrong.

There are rules that operate beyond the sentence. In other words, there are rules within discourses which decide what kind of sentence can follow another. Violation of these rules leads to sequences of sentences that lack coherence. This will affect communication. For example, consider the two sequences of sentences given below:

A. The boy ate a whole chicken. His stomach became upset.

B. The boy ate a whole chicken. The duck swam in the pond.

The sequence of sentences in A will be accepted as an appropriate one for discourse whereas that in B will be rejected as it fails the test of coherence.

But we cannot come to a ready conclusion like this in the case of B. There is nothing “wrong” about it because we can cook up a story which will contain this sequence. All what we need is stretch out our imagination by virtue of which we can create a context for the appearance of sequence B.

At this point we have two possible answers to the problem of how we identify a piece of language as unified and meaningful.

i. Invoke rules of grammar that operate within the sentence as well as within the discourse.

ii. Make use of our knowledge - of the world, of the speaker, of social convention, of what is going on around us as we read or listen

It follows that factors outside language also are important for making a stretch of language coherent. In order to account for discourse we have to look at the situation, the people involved in it, what they know and what they are doing. These factors help us construct a piece of language as discourse, which has a meaning and unity for us. We account for correct or incorrect sentences in a different way, by virtue of our knowledge about grammar. For doing this, facts outside language are not required.

Already we have seen that all sentences in a discourse may not be full-fledged ones. Sometimes there may be even linguistic fragments within a discourse. These fragments are taken for granted as appropriate provided their occurrence is justifiable by the context. For instance, consider the piece of conversation given below:

Wife: Where are you going?

Husband: I am going to Bangalore.

Wife: Why are you going to Bangalore?

Husband: I am going to Bangalore because I have to meet my friend.

Wife: Who is the friend you have to meet at Bangalore?

Husband: The friend who I have to meet at Bangalore is Mr. Jose Abraham

Wife: Is Mr. Jose Abraham a native of Bangalore?

Husband: Mr. Jose Abraham is not a native of Bangalore.

Wife: Is it very important to meet Mr. Jose Abraham?

Husband: Yes. It is very important to meet Jose Abraham.

As a reader you are likely to get amused (or even bored) by the above piece of conversation because of its artificiality. Though every sentence included in the dialogue is grammatical, it lacks authenticity; it will be easily identified as a hypothetical one. In real life situations it is quite unlikely that any husband or wife will have involved in a conversation like this. Of course they may speak like this if they want to be funny and for doing so they will have to articulate each sentence intentionally. Nevertheless, that is not the way people talk in natural situations. People do not move around talking to one another by sequencing well-formed and full-fledged sentences one after the other. The above stretch of language satisfies the requirements of sentence grammar but it will be rejected by discourse grammar.

3. Summing up

Gone are the days when the teaching of English began with A-B-C-D and ended with reading books written in a formal literary style. Today, almost a sea-change has swept over the ELT world. The changes that have taken place calls for taking up new pedagogic challenges. Students and teachers, by and large, seem prepared to meet this challenge; this is a welcome sign. However, in the fast shrinking world of today where English language reigns supreme, we have go to revise our attitudes to be able to keep pace with the rest of the world. Since language cannot survive in the form of isolated sounds, words or sentences we cannot go forward with a pedagogy that works out a fragmentary approach to language focusing on teaching language facts such as letters of the alphabet, words, phrases, sentences structures and so on. Instead, we will have to go for a pedagogy that ensures holistic treatment of language, whatever may be the level of teaching we have to give authentic linguistic experience to the learners where the input as well as output will be in the form of meaningful discourses. Development of language skills will have to be taken up by embedding skills in meaningful contexts provided through discourse level experience. The linguistic output of the learners will have to be refined not only in terms of sentence grammar but also in terms of discourse features and discourse grammar.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Magazines at our reach !

Nowadays children produce a lot of literary items as a part of class room activities. They write poetry, rhyme ,skits, diaries, letters, slogans, etc. Many of them are outstanding pieces. But unfortunately the windows for these little buds to the outer sky are limited.

Every school can have magazines of their own utilizing the IT facilities already available there. If not, the schools can think about other ways.
Admitting the fact that we have less time to make a magazine, the following are some tips to save time.
1. Releasing a magazine can be taken as an activity of the English club.
2. Distribute uniform sheets of paper to children to save time.
3. Compile these sheets to form a magazine.
 Simple rhymes can be elicited in the following way
Give last lines of a rhyme
for Eg:




Rain is a dream!

Let children compose their own lines. Select the best lines and include it in the magazine.

Similarly, other discourses can also be developed.

Friends, Your suggestions are awaited!
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