English Language Teaching Needs an Overhaul

Hakeem Rouf

Recently, I had an interesting interaction with the kids of my cousins at a social gathering. I was struck by the impressive proficiency and ample confidence with which the kids were conversing in English. The adequate language skills of these kids, enrolled in a not very renowned private school, not only fascinated and gladdened me but also left me pondering over how few years at a school instilled in them an exemplary confidence and imparted such a impactful fluency in English language, I also pondered why students of even upper classes enrolled in less privileged institutions lack the ability to converse and write in English without making grammatical mistakes.
A bit more inquisitive interaction with these kids made me ascertain/gauge that the school does not have any magic wand to make its students effective speakers in a short period but the credit actually goes to the effective and applicative way of imparting English language skills. I realized importance of the axiom, “Language is caught not taught” after coming to know that the school lays main focus on practical conversation activities by giving students ample opportunities to participate in real communicative activities besides routine class room teaching. The kids informed me that teaching of English language goes beyond the class room which innovatively equips the kids with basic communication skills and students are motivated and encouraged to converse in English language outside the class room which naturally instills in them the confidence and fluency without much laborious efforts.
Teaching language by making students practice real life conversation is undoubtedly an effective way of imparting spoken English skills but unfortunately this apt way of teaching English communication skills is rarely adopted in most of our schools where language is taught in a way that hardly enables the students to use the language for communicative purposes though it makes them capable enough to pass written examinations of English language. The biggest malady that confronts teaching Communication skills is that the most of our schools adopt a faulty and very ineffective way of English language teaching which is more grammar centric and remains merely confined to the class room and text books.
Given that I am in the teaching vocation since the last couple of years, I have been observing that the English language is taught as a subject but not as a skill both in elementary and higher classes. Instead of engaging kids in practical conversation activities/sessions, the students are bombarded and fed with complex grammatical concepts from the very beginning of their educational journey, which is quite ineffective and makes language learning a cumbersome and a boring process.
The students are rarely encouraged to use the language in their daily and real life situations. The main motive/aim of teaching English as a second language is to develop one’s communication skills which include spoken, reading, writing and listening aside developing a literary taste among its learners. To fulfill the aim of developing communicative competence among the students, teaching English language should be mostly activity based aside routine formal class room teaching. The more opportunities students are given to learn by practicing, the easier it becomes for them to learn the skill of speaking.
It is quite upsetting that English texts like short stories, dramas and Poems and other genres of writing are taught in a way that hardly helps our kids to develop and improve their communication skills or develop literary taste. Instead of encouraging kids in practical communicative activities and motivating them to actively and creatively discuss and express the texts on their own , they as passive listeners are fed with sentence wise word to word meaning of the text in Urdu , Kashmiri or any other mother language in most of our schools including government as well as private ones. This doesn’t serve the main purpose of imparting communicative skills. It makes mockery of English language learning. This, however, is not true for all institutes there are schools though small in number which teach English language exactly the way it should be taught.
The ineffectiveness of this faulty way of imparting English language skills can be gauged by the fact that most of our high school and even college students don’t possess adequate, acceptable and impressive communication skills in English especially speaking, writing and even listening despite having studied English as a subject for more many years and having passed the subject with good grades. Besides archaic and ineffective way of teaching English language, the lack of proficiency in English can be attributed to many other reasons like dearth of trained language trainers and also the way the competence in this language is tested because a mere written test of grammatical rules doesn’t test the actual linguistic proficiency of a student.
Lack of proficiency among the students is a matter of serious concern which remains neglected. Poor communication skills are one of the major challenging issues that confront our education system. Lack of linguistic proficiency which is prevalent among most students hampers the overall academic performance of the students and puts impediments in their career development. It becomes the root cause of their abysmal academic performance in other subjects, encourages rote learning and also mars their confidence especially of the students studying in linguistically diverse academic institutions.
Having a good command over English Language is not only pivotal for the academic progress of a student but this language having the distinction of being a global language enhances the employability of the students. A good command over this language is a prerequisite for most of the jobs in government and corporate sectors. English has become the
Our policy makers, educationists and the people who are at the helm of the department of education should take the issue of inadequate and pathetic language skills among students with utmost seriousness and take appropriate remedial measures to address it. Government needs to employ and engage qualified and well trained language trainers in schools to impart spoken English training and also make it mandatory for private schools. This will not only significantly uplift the educational standards of our schools but also ease teaching learning process, enhance job prospects of students and also open vast opportunities for them.

— The author is from Tullmulla, Ganderbal. He is a freelance writer and lecturer at Qamaria Higher Secondary, Ganderbal and can be reached at: roufquadir@gmail.com