My Experience of Learning English: A Reflective Account
It has been more than seventeen years when I began learning English. Today when I am ready to step into the higher level of education, i.e. Master Degree in English education, I have mixed experiences of learning of English. Having chosen M. Ed. for my study, my future career of teaching English further makes me think and rethink on teaching situation. I look back and try to recall from my memory how I began learning English, how my teachers oriented me to the journey of learning English, how I went through the ups and downs in my journey of learning English and how I feel at this stage. Familiar with the paradigm shift in English language teaching in the global scenario, I try to compare the ways I was taught English in those days against the backdrop of new global trends in the field.
It is still vivid in my memory when I was admitted to a pre-primary grade popularly known as the sishu class then, now they call it playgroup in private schools. I think my learning of English almost began with learning of my mother tongue. It is because before I was put into a school my father taught me some basic things of English at home. They included English alphabet and some English words. Though formally English started from grade IV, one period per day was allocated for English and we were taught names of some objects then. Today, many government-aided schools are being converted into English medium schools. However, it was not the case then. Being a native speaker of Bajjika, I perceived both Nepali and English as new languages for me and was so curious to learn both of them. My time of learning language was divided into English and Nepali both. Sometimes, Bajjika helped me learn these languages at other times it affected my learning of these two languages badly. At home and in neighborhood, I spoke and heard Bajjika and could hear both Nepali and English only within school premises. The exposure to English and Nepali both was very limited for me. Until grade IV, my teacher taught English, i.e. letters, words, and some simple sentences such as Ram is a boy; Sita is a girl, etc. My teacher spoke each sentence with translation in Nepali but Nepali was also not so familiar to us. So he translated the sentence into Bajjika also. In grade IV, when I could see the textbook I jumped with joy. The book contained some pictures, stories and many more things. It was the first book in English I had ever seen. I had higher regard for English than any other subjects. First day of that course, our class teacher wrote some words with their pronunciation and meaning on the blackboard and we were asked to parrot them. Parroting vocabulary was almost regular. So was the case with most of the subjects. Most teachers would ask us to parrot as homework whatever they taught us. I hardly tried to understand things then. By education, I meant parroting and reproducing before teachers or in exams. The more the students parroted the contents, the more they were rewarded by teachers. Language teaching or let us say English language teaching was also like parroting. I could hardly realize ever that language is a means of communication. My teacher never talked to us in English, my friends never talked to me in English and nor did I. We mugged up English at home and school most of the time because we considered it as a hard subject. Once we were finished with mugging up the vocabulary, the teacher would select the text and would translate it into Nepali and also sometimes into Bajjika, sentence by sentence. This practice of word meaning teaching and translation continued up to grade IX.
When I reached grade X, we got a new teacher to teach English. First time in grade X, I studied basic grammar such as article, voice, narration, preposition, tag question, causative verbs, etc. Our teacher gave priority to those things which were likely to be asked in exams and omitted those which were not important for exams. The teacher would tell us “These are VVI questions for exams, so prepare them well”. “Leave those topics, they will not be asked in exams”. I can still recall those days vividly now. We studied to pass exams. All subjects, including English were taught from the examination perspective. I had to appear for practical exam of English during my SLC exam. First time in eleven years of learning English, I came to know that there are four language skills–listening, reading, speaking and writing. I could understand that all language skills are equally important. Alas! I wasted my ten years in memorizing vocabulary, their spelling, pronunciation, meaning, understanding the text, mugging up the questions and their answers and reproducing them in the exam papers. I wish my teacher had opened my eyes in those early stages of my life. I could hardly speak any good sentence in the speaking exam. Similarly, I heard things from the cassette but could hardly understand more than 30 percent.
I could understand English as a language only when I joined my Proficiency Certificate Level. On completion of school study, I joined Thakur Ram Multiple Campus, Birgunj for my higher study majoring English. I could see and understand that the teaching and learning of the college was quite different from my school. In the campus, I was taught by five university teachers but I could not be very much satisfied with their way of teaching either. Again there, many of the teachers were exam-oriented and more authoritative in nature. We were not allowed to answer the questions according to our wish. According to them, we had to supply the same answer as given in the book –all words and sentences. Even the medium of instruction was either Nepali or Bhojpuri and sometimes English. Some days later I came to know that many of them were using the same notebooks that they had prepared ten years back. Dictation was the pet technique of most teachers. This shows we had two types of teacher.
I do not claim that English language teaching and teachers are the same everywhere. However, I suppose that many of you (especially those who were taught in government aided Nepalese schools) might have faced the situation similar to mine. When I have learnt that English language teaching in the world has seen a lot of changes in theories and practices, I recall those days, the poor state of affairs of teaching English. When I see and read the changes brought in education and ELT by technology, I remember my own poor classrooms with blackboard. When I hear people speak English fluently and eloquently, I recall my teachers’ broken English and its effect upon my own learning of English. When I read others’ beautiful and powerful English, I just curse my own poor English. When I see teachers teaching English involving students in interaction and activities, I recall my own days when teacher hardly allowed us to speak anything in class. I wish I were taught English differently.
*Kamlesh Raut is a budding multilingual poet. He writes in Nepali, Bhojpuri, Maithili and English.