Beauty and Power of Multilingualism

Shyam Sharma

Shyam Sharma

During the past year, I came across a lot of news items (including some based on scientific studies) about the benefits of multilingualism. There was so much on this issue that I sometimes wondered if the scientific and sociological studies were essentially a part of rather political responses to the ongoing redistribution of economic and geopolitical power around the world (especially in relation to the global status of the US vis-a-vis other countries like China, India, and the rest of BRICK nations). Perhaps immigration, increased global connections (virtually and otherwise), and development in other areas are contributing to it. In any case, the range of research, arguments, and perspectives on the subject was quite rich and diverse, with some reports going as far as saying that multilingualism may delay severe mental disorders in old age to others indicating that it is simply business-smart for companies to make their websites more multilingual. Living in the US, a society where monolingual policies and assumptions are (understandably) prevalent in most walks of life, I was pleased to see the emerging appreciation of multilingualism because I think this will only have positive outcomes on local and global levels.

However, every time I read the news about this issue, I was sad. I was sad that, back home in Nepal, where learning and using multiple languages is a fundamental reality of life and society, formal education is increasingly adopting the mind-boggling “subtractive” approach in relation to multilingualism (excluding/destroying some languages to improve others), in the name of education, economic opportunity, and globalization. Instead of focusing on the real challenges of education, schools and parents and experts alike are buying into the idea that simply switching to English-Only medium of instruction for all subjects and at all levels will magically improve education — when, in our special context, the opposite is far more true. Let me return to this concern after sharing a quick summary of the new studies and reports mentioned above. I will conclude by sharing some fun activities for the classroom, just so I don’t spread too many sadness bugs to you as a reader.

If you have the time and can browse through the annotated bibliography linked to this page on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, this site provides the most exhaustive list of studies documenting the benefits of being multilingual. Since even the annotations are rather overwhelming in amount, here is a brief list if you don’t have too much time. The studies show that proficiency in multiple languages:

  • supports academic success by helping individuals use critical language awareness and sensitivity to nuances of meaning, read and understand texts better for any purpose, perform better in standardized tests/exams, reinforce the learning of new languages required in school especially through two-way immersion, fine-tune the ability to hear and pay attention, better hypothesize in learning science, bolsters success in higher education in general;
  • enhances cognitive ability by helping individuals use more divergent thinking, go higher on the level of critical thinking, draw on different perspectives and think outside the box, employ greater cognitive flexibility, think better non-verbally, acquire greater metalinguistic awareness and creativity, utilize an improved working memory, deploy “more advanced processing of verbal material, more discriminating perceptual distinctions, more propensity to search for structure in perceptual situations, and more capacity to reorganize their perceptions in response to feedback,” offset age-related loss of memory and even diseases, use an apparently increased IQ;
  • improves interpersonal, social, economic, and professional opportunities for individuals by helping them boost their social skills and confidence, connect them to more people and increasing their opportunities to learn and grow, strengthen emotional and personal relationships with others who may feel strongly about linguistic and cultural bonds, give them unique skills and abilities, allow them to travel and work more successfully.

For anyone interested to learn even more about the benefits of multilingualism, here is another compilation of news, issues, and debates on a university website. Some of the sources include an article titled “Bilinguals are Smarter” on New York Times, a Wired Magazine article about bilinguals making more rational and less biased decisions, and a Ted talk by Patricia Ryan, a long time English teacher in the Middle East, who points out a number of problems, including the problem of gatekeeping in the name of educational quality. A fun-to-read article in The Huffington Post includes these benefits: better understanding cultural references, better navigate the social and professional worlds, better notice things that are lost in translation, feel better connected to one’s heritage/family and history, have deeper conversations with people across borders, make self-expression multidimensional as if one can use multiple personalities as needed.

As I indicated above, the more I read news and reports about the benefits of multilingualism, the more I wondered if, back home, educators and policy makers, schools and parents will begin to change the increasingly dominating discourse and practice of English-Only instruction. Where are we on the issue of multilingualism and what, if anything, will make us change direction? Are well-informed educators doomed to passively watch the simplemindedness of those who create and implement wrong-headed language policy (or rather don’t do anything, because they seem to have no clue) forever? What can we do if we are teachers in English-only medium schools? Should those of us who have started discussing multilingualism be worried about offending our colleagues in private schools who have a stake in English medium education, fellow parents who may misunderstand what we mean, and the people whose business depends on the mythology of “English medium = quality education”? What about those of us who are studying or working abroad (especially in an English speaking country)? Frankly, I think it is intellectually and socially irresponsible to be silent on this subject. But I could be unrealistic. The facts in favor of promoting multilingualism through education are crystal clear, but power and politics much more complicated.

Of course, English is everything its proponents say it is, and it does most of what they say. The problem is with “only” English in a society where most teachers and learners do not use it outside school, where few teachers speak it fluently and few students can master nuance even after being forced to use it for ten or fifteen years, and where there is insufficient resource to implement what schools have doggedly tried and most of them have miserably failed for decades. Contradictory as it may sound, except in a handful of good private schools in a handful of cities, English education itself will dramatically improve if teachers and students are first allowed to teach fluently and learn effectively — not to mention education in all other subjects. Now, why are Nepali-medium schools not “automatically” better? The answer is: they would be much worse (as they are going to be) by replacing Nepali and local language as the medium of all instruction. When English is imposed on teachers who can’t speak well and students who don’t have the opportunity to develop the competence needed, anyone can predict the results. English proficiency as an educational objective is absolutely necessary and we must do whatever we can to improve it; we owe it to our children to teach this “global” language. English language as an “only” medium for all subjects in our particular context at this time is a “snake oil.” What we need is freedom to use what works best at different levels of education, types of schools, subjects and teachers and students and so on. What we need is a general recognition that proficiency in English and quality education are two completely different things and we should expose the myths and lies on which the monolingual moves are based.

I am reminded of a book titled Buying into English in which the author, Catherine Prendergast, illustrates the failed promise of English in Slovakia. What made a positive difference for those who could benefit from English was not the language itself but instead their privilege or achievement in economic, social, political, and other forms. Nepal’s case may be unique in some ways, but the same dynamics apply. If students coming out of our private schools are more successful in higher education and the professions, it is because they had the privilege of schools with better resources, better teachers, richer and/or more educated parents, homes and communities with more favorable environments, networks of educated and resourceful family members, etc, etc, etc. For these reasons, I find it absurd when our educators ignore the big picture, disregard shocking numbers of failure (including failures due to English medium), and continue to sell or support the logically broken idea that English medium in itself will improve education. One should be ashamed to promote an educational situation based on and perpetuating shocking inequalities in education. English medium is a “false cause” of success before it starts becoming a real one for the minority; for the rest of the nation, when this medium is made mandatory, it makes teaching less fluent and learning less effective, and it undermines success and opportunity instead of enhancing them. Thus, for educators themselves to use the “success stories” of a minority when the majority does not have all the other privileges that go along with English medium is disingenuous, if not dishonest.

Yes, if all the other conditions of education described above are better, English can add to the ultimate outcome. But even then—and let me go one step further than I have before—students will benefit if they are taught in more languages than one, if they are fluent in more languages than one, if they can access knowledge and connect to people and think by using and . . . . Just think about adding all of the benefits of multilingualism that I summarized above to the previous sentence! That is the power of multilingualism when compared to monolingual education. That is what would happen if our private schools (and public ones that are adopting the same mythology) were to let teachers use multiple languages in the classroom. Future generations of students would be able to communicate complex and diverse ideas in more than one language, improving their learning and increasing opportunities in different walks of life and for a lifetime!

Now, as I promised at the outset, just to move away from the shock and disgust about our systematic destruction of multilingualism (because too many of us have somehow bought into, help advance, or tolerate this amazing, grand lie that using “English Only” improves education), let me share a few fun activities and conversations you can use in your classroom.

Ask students to translate the word “beauty” into Nepali (and/or other languages they speak). In the case of Nepali, hoping the English-only madness hasn’t completely destroyed this language among all students in class, someone will say “sundar.” Ask students if that word is associated with females or males in Nepali. The answer, in Nepali, is male, right? In English, it is typically used to describe females, with the adjective “beautiful.” What is “beautiful” in Nepali? “Sundari?” Probably not! Well, yeah, some students will say. Then ask the class to translate the word “sundari” back into English, or imagine what image“beautiful” conjures up in their minds. Again, if at least some of them have a good sense of the connotations in Nepali, they might say things like “nakkali” or someone “who tries hard to look pretty.” In any case, the connotations in Nepali are not positive—unlike in English, generally speaking. Guess what, if any of your students are good in Nepali, they will also tell you that “sundari” means a female monkey. And so the conversation will continue, just using one key word and two languages, showing you the beauty and power of multilingualism. Good luck with the rest of the conversation, whichever way you want to wrap it up.

Let us take another case of hard-to-translate words in different languages. Here is one of the many websites that provide lists of such words from languages spoken around the world. Take any number of these words to class (or pull them up and show the accompanying images on the screen if that is possible), and then ask students to write words from their home or other languages that they don’t think have accurate translation in English. This activity will also help your students refine their translingual skills, taking one more step in the direction of achieving many of the benefits of multilingualism described above. What does a word and especially its connotations say about the society (context, culture, lifestyle), about changes over time, about worldviews, etc? What are the personal, social, and professional benefits of continuously developing vocabulary, range of syntax and idiom, and sociolinguistic competency in more than one language?

To keep this post short, let me sign off with a link to a blog post that I wrote for a professional group named Transnational Writing here in the US. In this two-part essay, I have discussed some of the practical/classroom strategies and activities for engaging students in translingual communication (a hot button topic here in the US these days).

I look forward to reading your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

The author:  Dr. Sharma is currently working in the capacity of an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University, New York in the USA

Too many knowers?

SHYAM SHARMA

I came home from school one day to find my father and uncle Padam sitting beside the beautifully decorated Tulasi platform in the front yard that my mother, sister, and I had built the day before.

Uncle Padam [speaking to my dad]: Brother, you have such great artistic skills, you know. Look how beautiful that muth is!

Daddy: [smiles and continues to smoke]

Me: No, uncle, dad didn’t build that. Mom did, and sister and I helped her decorate it.

Uncle: Hey, phuchche [little kid], don’t be a janne [knower]. Go to play.

The social condition where some people are expected to be “knowers” and others are not—which I call socio-epistemic structure—has drastically changed in our society today. Thanks to democratic revolutions, increased education, and most recently and perhaps most significantly, the rise of alternative social spaces where (seemingly) anyone can say what they like, Uncle Padams aren’t likely to be able to shut down twelve year olds (or others with less power/privilege in society for that matter) that easily anymore.

Unfortunately, as I argue in this piece, the disruption of the traditional socio-epistemic structure has not always translated into general productivity of knowledge, benefit to social institutions such as education, and the enhancement of social justice in areas such as gender equity and intercultural harmony.

In the traditional society, the priest was literally called the knower (janne, who knew the scriptures, rituals, and higher learning). The shaman was another janne (who had direct knowledge about the cause of people’s sickness, as well as their past and future) from the gods. Older people were supposed to be jannes in front of the youth; men were jannes in the presence of women; rich men in relation to the poor; and upper caste in relation to the lower. More recently, the teacher in formal/modern education systems (even if the person is not an older, upper-case, richer) has been added to the list of jannes (though the word is no longer explicitly applied now).

By contrast, in our time, traditional jannes have lost their exclusive privilege over knowledge. Some of them (such as members of the upper caste) now acknowledge the knowledge of others as legitimate, and yet others (such as men, relative to women) don’t seem to have visible advantage in certain domains and contexts. Disruption is in the air today. The new democratic environment, the alternative virtual spaces, the communities of discourse that cross national and cultural borders, and newly visible groups (such as the LGBT community) have all contributed to the disruption of the socio-epistemic structure of Nepali society. Children learn from many more sources than school, college students can create their own purpose-driven communities, and people involved in political and social action can reach out to many more people and make far greater impact with what they know. In a society that leapfrogs from word of mouth to microblogging in a matter of a few years, the bypassing of socio-epistemic order is fast becoming the new norm. While the affordances information technologies provide are also new in developed societies, their impact on the socio-epistemic structure is much more striking in less developed societies like Nepal.

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Photo: Republica

The most obvious scenario where we can see the uncertainty of benefit from the disruption of socio-epistemic structure is social media. As research on social media use has shown in other societies, increased access to alternative avenues of knowledge and knowledge-making does not in itself translate into social consequences. For example, Facebook hasn’t made people “connect to the world” as many assume or claim. Instead of crossing national and cultural borders to learn about other societies and cultures, and increase empathy and understanding, most Facebook users “deepen” rather than “broaden” their network and may become more entrenched in their worldviews. Indeed, the company has rolled out features that increasingly emphasize family connections, like-mindedness, and a monocultural worldview through design and content selection.

In the field of education, increasing irreverence toward figures of authority could and should have translated into more and more productive generations of scholars and professionals. But we haven’t seen such a difference. The problem here lies not just with younger people’s inability to be productive but the society’s failure to tap their energy to transform educational institutions. Schools continue to teach for exams even when they don’t have to, universities don’t allow younger scholars to lead the charge, and older men continue to dominate almost all fields of knowledge. Whatever boost in epistemological agency (or the ability to create new knowledge) that we see among younger generations, we see it unable to translate into change in the system. Instead, increased knowledge seems to lead many people into increased negativity and nonchalance.

The social and cultural spheres seem to be no exception. In place of a society based on objectionable hierarchy, discrimination, and prejudice—a society where the upper caste the aristocrats, and newly rich blatantly dominated the rest of the people—we now have a nation where those structures of power are replaced with ethnic disharmony and multifaceted conflict among different social and cultural groups. Instead of a society dominated by speakers of one language, followers of one religion, and a socio-economic minority dominating most of the social institutions, we now have a society where linguistic, religious, and social/cultural groups clash for power (rather than work together toward common national/social goals).

Often, groups that are just becoming visible (such as individuals who want to pursue their “personal freedom” of walking around with piercings and tattoos all over their bodies—and therefore evoke responses ranging from confusion to fear among the general public) reject the very notion of tolerance toward others. More alarmingly, in place of “traditional” value systems (which certainly needed updating), many groups just try to impose values from what they believe are more “advanced” societies, never considering if they could draw on the best from both sides. Their knowledge about the outside world, their irreverence for the local society and culture, and their ability to challenge tradition doesn’t seem to make them contribute anything positive to society: they just reject the local and never question the “global” (which is often local somewhere else).

Just a few years ago, when social media was gaining traction (and access to tools and networks was rapidly spreading) across Nepal, I presented a paper at a national convention of literary scholars in the US, describing the disruption of the traditional socio-epistemic structure in Nepal as a possibly ideal model of social change in the twenty-first century—one that may be worth studying. I am not so sure anymore.

The author, one of founders of ELT Choutari, is an assistant professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University (State University of New York)

Diversity and Broader Goals of ELT

Shyam Sharma

Sitting down to write this post on diversity and ELT, I remember a story that scholar David Foster Wallace tells in a famous college graduation speech. Two younger fish ask an older one: “What the hell is water?” The point of the story is that “…the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

The point I want to make in this post is that while we are a nation of very diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and so on, we have to pinch ourselves to remember that we are diverse. I argue that as educators, it is worth pinching ourselves and our students—intellectually, that is—into realizing the value of diversity as a broader goal of education, especially in a country like ours and an interconnected world like today’s.


[This YouTube video is an animated version of parts of Wallace’s speech]

We’ve been told that Nepal has been a garden of “four castes and thirty-six shades” of people; indeed, within an area of 850 by 200 kilometers, we speak more than a hundred languages and are extremely diverse in a variety of ways. However, the garden metaphor was meant to drive home the value of unity more than diversity. The emphasis on nationhood and unity is usually a goodie goodie way to deny that there are deep divisions, structural injustices, and discrimination woven into the sociopolitical fabric of our society. So, it is absolutely time that we situate (even) the teaching of English within the context of seeking to promote respect for diverse peoples, cultures, languages, and epistemologies (even) in a small but complex country like ours.

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A Journey from Information to Transformation in ELT Professionalism

Bal Ram Adhikari

When we think about the beginning of a new year, we’re referring to the cycle of seasons changing for that many times on a particular calendar (in this case, the Gregorian calendar). In that sense, the marker of 2014 is a mere social construct. However, we do make milestones with passing years in our collective consciousness. At this blog magazine, as we bid farewell to the year 2013 and welcome the year 2014, we hope to invite many more of our professional colleagues under the shade of a tree that is growing taller and bigger and its platform widening farther. We invite you to a platform where we will strive to connect the global and local realities in ELT, to bring about positive changes in ourselves and in our field! As we make this leap, I would like to relate Choutari’s vision with relevant scholarship in our field. 

Expressing his discontent with the conventional trend of Applied Linguistics and thus appealing for transformation in the field, Pennycook (2004) proposed four types of responsibility on the part of the Applied Linguistic practitioners. They are ethical, political, intellectual, and social and cultural. In the paper entitled Restructuring Applied Linguistics for the Welfare of the Society (2012), we (Sajan Kumar and I) proposed the addition of the creative responsibility to Pennycook’s list. To escape these responsibilities is to fall into the trap of academic hypocrisies is the crux of Pennycook’s argument. The appealing element in Pennycook’s argument is his call for the transformation in the field without which one cannot fulfill the above mentioned professional responsibilities. We, teachers are supposed to bear all of these responsibilities and also many more. This calls for transformation, probably the most sought for and cherished concept in all fields, variously known as energy and transformation (Krishnamurti, 1972), quantum leap (Osho, 2001) in the field of philosophy, paradigm shift (Kuhn, 1962), New Physics (Capra, 1975) in the field of science.  Likewise, the field of language pedagogy is replete with such terms as the postmethod condition (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), innovation (Markeee, 1997), culture specific-pedagogy and so on to mean transformation. Whatever the terms employed, the essence underlying them is the call for revisiting the field in question and showing a live response to everyday practice in order to bring out the positive change. I’d like to relate the thread of transformation to Nepalese ELT and to extend the thread to the long-term goal of our Choutari.

Our goal is transformation. The appeal for transformation lies at the heart of all post-realities (i.e. poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, postcommunism,  postmethod pedagogy and so on).  I believe that the craving for transformation in various academic disciplines has its origin in the notion of the paradigm shift as hypothesized by American philosopher and historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn in his seminal work The Structures of Scientific Revolutions (1962), and the Derridan notion of deconstruction (1967). The post-realities   bubbled to the surface most vigorously in the 1990s. We can speculate on a multitude of causes.  I leave them untouched here for the constraint of the space and the nature of this writing.  However, I cannot help mentioning the dismantling of Berlin Wall on 9th of November, 1989, and the collapse of the USSR in 1991. These two vital political events opened the window to the free world, “one where every human being would be free to realize his or her potential” (Friedman, 2006, p. 607).  These events were coincided with the end of the Panchayat era resulting in the re-establishment of democracy in Nepal in 1990. English language teaching as a globally booming profession could not remain untouched from these changes and new realities in academic and political fields at home and abroad.  The 1990s is also remarkable for the booming of ‘the dot.com market’,  to use Friedman’s term, that revolutionized the field of ELT in many respects. The field of ELT was in a desperate search for alternatives in its theories, principles, methodologies, resources and assessment.  Such a search is evident in Pennycook’s (1990) Towards a critical applied linguistics for the 1990s, Phillipson’s (1992) Linguistic imperialism, Kumaravadivelu’s (1994) Postmethod condition, to mention only a few. These post-thoughts entered the English teachers’ courses. The hope was to bring about transformation in the existing theory and practice. The existing ELT courses in Nepal too were restructured to introduce these critical and alternative perspectives to Nepalese English teaching.  Transformation in the profession echoed in the academic air blowing within and across the Tribhuvan University premises. The courses and coursebooks appeared bearing such transformation-loaded titles as New Generation English, Expanding Horizons in English, Advanced ELT, New Directions in Applied Linguistics, New Paradigm, Reading Beyond the Borders, Across Languages and Cultures and many others. Some changes in the perspective on the profession are hazily perceptible in the distance. However, to believe that transformation would be on the way on its own after introducing recent information available in the field is but our naivety.  There can be no quantum leap from information to transformation. The journey is long and on the way lie knowledge, wisdom and discretion, and application.

Though related, information and knowledge are not identical. Information is just an object that can be collected from multiple sources.  In our case, we are working with borrowed information from ELT books and articles produced in different contexts and for different purposes. No harm is there in the accumulation of information. Access to information is prerequisite for knowledge. However, such borrowed information has to be balanced against the information that has emerged from the regional/national and local experiences.  All courses prescribed to prospective teachers in Nepal are flooded with the imported information devoid of local contexts.  Courses like English Grammar for Teachers, i.e. a course on pedagogical grammar for English teachers, contain no trace of anything from the Nepalese context. It gives the impression that Tribhuvan University in its many decades of teaching English has not yet produced any expertise in the field of pedagogical grammar.  Or, it can also suggest that whatever the teacher educators have produced out of their decades of teaching experience and years of research in the field is either ignored or does not deserve to be transferred to the next generation. Several embarrassing examples can be put forward in the case of other courses too.

Most teacher educators have hardly produced any knowledge to communicate their experience and expertise. They seem to be contented with the accumulation of information from the ‘authentic sources’ and many professors have earned their professorships and wasted their students lives, a  sad fact I’d call it, by confining themselves to the information stage. Information is only a raw material for knowledge and the process of knowing.  It’s the means not the goal. Its function is to inform the seeker of something. Information is not experiential nor is it truly existential. It is only a map for the journey, not the journey itself. Unless the seeker embarks on the journey, s/he is in no way to ‘know’ the actual path and in no way to feel the pain and pleasure of journey. Information becomes knowledge only when it enters the conscious realm of the subject (knower/seeker and doer).  My being in the university as a student for one decade and as a teacher educator for seven years as well, and my formal/ information discourse with the scholars give me the impression that many of the university teachers are swayed by the false notion that the accumulation of a wealth of information will necessarily lead them to transformation i.e. the goal desired or the destination aimed at.    The Choutari team is and should be aware of this misconception. However, we are not denying the value of information collection and generation. For this, the two types of information are made available at this platform:  information generated by the practitioners, and information that we signpost the readers via the resources of the month. Our prime focus is on the generation of information rooted in our existential and experiential zones. The Choutari has served as an ever-flattening platform for the signposting and accumulation of information on teaching and learning English at home and around the globe. A word of warning, never should we be contented with the information available in the Tree that stands high at the centre of the Choutari.  The visitors to this platform have to climb the Tree itself  to  taste and test the information according to their desires and needs. The information that we have produced at and via this platform is likely to turn into knowledge only when it is humanized, only when it enters the experiential and existential zones of the seeker.

Knowledge functions in the realm of logic. Logic is syntax and the most preferred property in grammatical  and mathematical analysis. Each language classroom has its own rhetoric and silence too. The rhetoric of the classroom often struggles to move away from the syntax imposed from the ready-made methods, techniques, and conventional expectations of experts or supervisors. Thus I think it would be naïve of us to expect the teachers to stick to certain methods, techniques, and the steps mentioned in their lesson plans and follow them mechanically. It is because of this, many well-documented lesson plans or well-articulated methods fail in the ELT classrooms. The undue inclination to logic might mar creativity and liberty in the teaching learning process. Logic can be cunning. It can prove something  theoretically sound and appealing which might be pragmatically harmful. The taboo of the mother tongue use in English classes as promoted by private schools in Nepal can be a case in point. Practically, the strategic use of the mother tongue or the use of translation as one of the several techniques in the English class has more benefits than harms. Communicative competence is another myth that has been ‘Holy Writ’ for we information-collecting ‘intellectuals’. We are hardly aware of the fact that all the models of communicative competence proposed so far suffer the poverty of knowledge component (Adhikari, 2013). Hence, the Choutari aims at awakening the ELT practitioners to such theoretical taboos and myths that have stood as barriers to successful teaching in their specific contexts. We want them to experiment with their own strategies and share their experience with their fellow beings. Failure of certain methods or techniques borrowed from outside does not mean that we have failed. This means now we need to turn inward for our own sight which we call insight and intuition. It means it is also the time to “move from intellect to intuition, from the head to the heart” (Osho, 2001, p. 98) in our teaching.

The Choutari platform welcomes informal writing, spontaneous and ‘non-academic writing’ from ELT practitioners, for we value intuition and insight of those who are directly facing challenges in the actual field of ELT.  When out-tuition (teaching from outside) fails, we need to turn to intuition. The mystic teacher Osho, once university professor of philosophy, has brilliantly put it as ” You know the word tuition– tuition comes from outside, somebody teaches you, the tutor. Intuition means  something that arises within your being; it is your potential, that’s why it is called intuition (2001, p.13).   Learning by intuition is a lifelong process. It’s integral to our professional development too. Intuition ruptures the body of knowledge that we have accumulated in the formal setting and paves a way to the process of knowing. The Choutari as always welcomes the insights from the practitioners and share their insights with each other. However, someone’s intuition is mere information when it is communicated with others. We can inform others of our intuition but cannot transfer and infuse into them. Intuition is all experiential and existential at the individual level. It calls for self-reflection, inward journey in our professional life and also the ability to distance our mind from the pile of information gathered from multiple sources.  The fusion of knowledge with intuition and insight bears the flower of wisdom and discretion.  Then only we can go for application.

I believe that such a theoretically informed and intuitively aware application of theories, methods, techniques and activities might bring about  transformation in our professional life. This journey from information to transformation, though looks a seemingly longer one, might usher us in the landscape of post-method pedagogy as envisioned by Kumaravadivelu.

In passing,

Let the branches of the bodhi tree

Planted at heart of NELTA Choutari

Spread farther and wider, and rise higher and higher

Let all the wayfarers of ELT come and rest

Under its cool canopy with novel zeal and vigor.

May they move from the mere accumulation of information

To the higher goal of transformation.

Happy New Year, 2014

References

Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Restructuring communicative competence from the perspective of translation competence. A paper presented at 34th annual conference of LSN, Nepal Academy.

Capra, F. (1976). The Tao of physics. London: Flamingo.

Friedman, T. L (2006). The world is flat. England: Penguin.

Krishnamurti, J. (1972). Tradition and revolution. India: KFI.

Kumar, S. & Adhikari, B. R. (2013). Where does applied linguistics truly lie in the architecture of Nepalese Academy: Restructuring the discipline for the welfare of the society. A paper presented at the opening seminar of Nepalese Association for Applied Linguistics, Kirtipur.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). The postmethod condition:(E) merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. Tesol Quarterly28(1), 27-48.

Markee, N. (1997). Managing curricular innovation. Cambridge: CUP.

Osho (2001).  Intuition: Knowing beyond logic. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pennycook, A. (2004). Critical applied linguistics. In Davies, A. &  C. Elder(2004) The handbook of applied linguistics. Blackwell: Australia.

SLC, ELT, and Our Place in the Big Picture

Shyam Sharma*

When School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results were published earlier this month, quite a few of my friends and family members posted happy messages such as the following on Facebook: “Congratulations to our nephew ___ for securing 8* percent!!!” But whenever I come across such messages, I am reminded how privileged these friends and families are (including my own family). I am reminded of one person in particular whose SLC-related story I can never forget.

I have told Ramlal Sunar’s story on this blog before (please see comment section) so I won’t repeat it, but to recap what it is about, this young man was one of the “jhamte” candidates for the SLC who sought my help because he and the other young men and women in a village in Gulmi had been failing in English, some of them for many years. I had only completed my IA at the time but for them my private school background made me look like a savior. But tragically, Ramlal and most of the other students failed again even after my three or so months of tutoring. I probably helped them improve their English a little, but that was not what they wanted.

Until that experience, I had always believed that everyone who “studies hard” (like I did) would be academically successful. But now I began to think what happens when a whole education system lacks grounding in the local reality of students’ life and society. I could see that the young people were not failing because they were stupid. They were failing because the SLC did NOT test the intelligence, skills, knowledge-bases, and value systems that constituted and had value in the students’ LOCAL social, economic, cultural, and occupational lives. And the students would fail SLC if they failed any course.

Nepalese educators, especially those in fields related to English studies or English language, are often good at talking about postcolonialism, hegemony, and so on. But few of them seem to realize the irony of how they are perhaps most actively (though it may not be consciously/deliberately) involved in the gradual destruction of what used to be at least a slightly more organic system of public education, one that was delivered in the local language, one that encouraged a more locally based curriculum and pedagogy. That is, when Nepalese intellectuals leave Ramlals behind in their villages, they also seem to leave their responsibility to think in terms of the nation as a whole, a nation where Ramals are much more representative of the broader reality than those whose names we see on Facebook.

When I met Ramlal many years later, he didn’t even want to talk to me very much, because by this time I was already in my master’s degree, teaching at a big private school, with all kinds of gaps ever widening between him and me.

But this year’s SLC results reminded me of Ramlal again because I thought again how  those of us who have the voice and venues for raising public awareness about the numbers are also not very interested in talking about the national challenge in the first place. Just give it a try even as the furies about SLC results are still flying high, and someone is likely to ask you, “So, what are you going to do about it?”

The pendulum of failed percentage wildly swung back into the 60s again this year, after a small relief since 2004. As the media highlighted the numbers for a short period of time, among the regulars 58.43% students failed; among the exempted, a shocking 93.24% failed. That was a total of 343230 (yes, 3.4 lakh!) regular students and 98911 (yes, one lakh!) reappearing students whose friends and family didn’t get to post happy Facebook updates—or whatever equivalent social networking they use. That was a total of almost four and a half lakh students’ careers being sacrificed in an absurd national drama that we call education.

For a few days, people talked, and then they forgot. In fact, even when the discussions were visible on the interwebs, few educators seemed to share any ideas, assessments, soul searching, and solutions to this national crisis. The community of educators that I am closest to, English teachers, seemed less bothered by the situation than others within and without the education sector.

I try to think about why many people aren’t even surprised. It’s possible that they are being more optimistic, looking at the full half of the glass while I focus on the empty half. However, a glass that is almost 60% and more than 93% empty is a little too empty. And because we are talking about people rather than water or wine, it is too painful to even talk about it. It is also painful because this involves a society—its teachers, its policy-makers, its city-dwellers who don’t have to send their children to where the majority of parents do—that seems to have inured itself to the tragedy of closing the doors to the majority of children, a society where those whose voices have most impact are mostly quiet and smug because it doesn’t affect them directly. There are exceptions, but those people are hard to find.

Where does it all go so wrong with our education? News reports post-SLC indicated that “government spending on education increased from 27 billion rupees in 2006-07 to 63.91 billion rupees in 2012-13.” There was actually a silver lining—if you call this a silver lining (I call it a sign of disaster for the nation at large)—that the pass percentage at private schools has been above 80 in the past decade. But students in public schools, from which between two thirds and four fifths of students take the SLC, the pass percentage has been in the 30s, often below that. According to Teach for Nepal,

[I]f 100 students enroll for grade one, by the end of grade ten only 15% will have remained in the school system. The future prospects for these children are severely diminished. . . . of the students who fail their SLC, 90% fail in the core subjects such as Mathematics, English and Science.

Hard data is difficult to find (I would appreciate if someone could please add in the comments section below), but the subject taught by most of us on this blog, English, is evidently the lock on the “iron gate” of academic and professional careers in Nepal.

It is not easy at all to assess the situation with public versus private education. As serious researchers have often pointed out, because families tend to focus just on their children, the public tends to overlook the very definition of education–that it is most importantly a matter of social good. Most people do know that the current educational situation is creating a new “caste” system where those who attend the more expensive private schools have an unfair advantage over those who did not from the get go. But in the rush toward giving own children better chances than their neighbors they don’t pause to think that even in the most economically advanced nations, public schooling is guaranteed and even the richest people send their children to public schools. Added to that are the dynamics of power and resources, which in matter of about two decades have turned education in Nepal largely into a commodity in the market. Needless to say, English has increased opportunities for a few already privileged communities to participate in the global march of personal progress, but “English education” has also played a much more significant role in having a functional education (albeit one that needed much improvement) replaced with a myth about both language learning and about education at large.

But public education did not weaken just due to the lack of social responsibility that it needs. Social forces are dangerously aligned in one direction. For instance, there are forces such as these: the self-fulfilling myth that cost equals quality, English equals the promise of successful careers, and  private schooling equals prestige in society. Consequently, more educated, more motivated, better paid, better travelled and experienced people mostly gravitate to the private side; even those who theoretically oppose the destruction of education as a social good send their own children to private schools, and parents who have to send their children to public schools are literally ashamed. In fact, even among the most informed and educated people in our society, there is the myth of “English” education. Most people don’t even pause to think that in reality, there is just good education, which can be provided by any school, including the likes of Samata School–where students who pay only a hundred rupees a month were more successful in SLC this year than those in most of the lakh-rupees-a-year schools (Samata’s quality education had nothing to do with the medium but everything to do with a reality-based vision for the learner, the community, and the society at large). For a more critical/careful comparison of private and public schools, see the section starting at page 30 in the dissertation by Amrit Thapa, a Nepali researcher at Columbia University.

As Amrit Thapa shows by citing Tooley and Dixon’s findings, “private schooling as a solution to failing public schools in developing countries is not as straightforward” (p. 83). It is not just that it is ludicrous to not think about the overwhelming majority of parents who cannot afford the cost of private schooling; the very foundation and culture of private schools as they are today makes it unlikely that this sector will rise above the business model and become an organic part of the social structure that serves the need of the ordinary families. Whether we like this reality or not, private schools are usually run by individuals or groups who do not involve parents and community in governance, who treat teachers and students autocratically (See Thapa, linked above, p. 31), and who have little or no interest in long term visions of education for social good. This is not to say that we should dislike private schools altogether. In fact, we should expect private schools to be focused on profit motives and to contribute to education as a social good while trying to make profit, not as a primary objective. But that is why we can’t expect this mechanism to address the overall need of the nation given the economic status of the majority. The society and its serious educators and policy makers must think about how to make the private sector better align with the broader goals of education for social good.

So, where does a better understanding of the complexities leave us as English teachers most of whom have made our careers, or are making it, in the private sector? What do “we” have to do with the public schools when most of us teach in private schools where 80% pass the SLC, which looks fine? (No, actually, even the failure of 20% is not fine, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). As colleagues in this forum have also tried to articulate (e.g., here’s a discussion on a post that I wrote back in 2009 when we had just started Choutari; other editors have written in this tenor since the beginning), we can be more than just English teachers; we can be citizens, scholars, human beings who think about the nation and world at large. We as members of a professional organization, and as scholars who have spread around the world but try to contribute to research, scholarship, and professional development at home, are not doing fine. Because the big picture is our picture as well, it is time that we start confronting the deplorable overall state of education in our country–at least in our discussions. Why?—-because we have greater opportunities to write, to conduct and publish research, to start public conversations. 

Shocking majorities of Ramlals are still failing across the country, and talking and writing is essentially what we do, right? Talk is how we start getting ourselves and other to think and act. Next time, when someone asks us what we are going to do about it by just talking about the tragedy, let us say, “Talk. Do you want to join?” 

—————-

* Dr. Shyam Sharma is an assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. A former lecturer of the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, he teaches and studies writing in the disciplines, the intersection of culture with literacy and technology, multilingualism, and academic transition of students from different backgrounds.

Teach English, Speak English, Why? The Importance of Conversations on Choutari

Dr. Shyam Sharma
Stony Brook University, New York

Choutari is now in the hands of a brilliant new group of NELTA scholars, and I am excited about that. The old and new teams who were working together for a while in order to make this conversation under the shade of this forum even better had to go through a somewhat difficult time during the month of January—it’s a story that may be worth telling someday, perhaps years from now, and it’s a good one—but we also had a wonderful opportunity to further realize the tremendous value of promoting professional conversation in this great community. With the talent and enthusiasm of the new team, I am sure that we are going to see in the years to come great strides in the work of welcoming, encouraging, urging, prodding us to give back in the form of ideas and inspiration to our society. This work of building our scholarship from the ground up is extremely important to us as educators in a struggling nation right now and it will be, for different reasons, for generations to come.

Among the reasons we started this blog, one was to make our professional conversations serve as useful resource by making them open and accessible. And that’s what I want to write about in this reflection today.

Since I promised the editor of this month, my friend Bal Ram Adhikari, that I would contribute an entry for the issue, I’ve been trying to write about something that has kept me professionally “awake,” so to say, since I started teaching in a primary school in Butwal almost 20 years ago, something that I continued to ask for the next 12 years in grade schools and eventually at TU and then when I decided to switch from English to Writing Studies. And that something is a whole range of questions, which used to often discourage me while I taught at home: Why am I teaching what I am teaching? Does teaching grammar help students learn language? Why are we asking students to speak in English only? The teaching of literature seems to contribute to students’ personal development quite a bit, but how far does it contribute to their social and professional lives and the society at large? Why do we do little more than giving lecture in the name of “covering” the content of the course and helping students prepare for the exam—and what if there are better ways to achieve these same goals and also make education more worthwhile? What do we mean by “English education”?

When we started Choutari, I was happy because this platform allowed us to ask questions like the above as part of a broader professional conversation among hundreds of other scholars and teachers who may have similar questions, different perspectives, better answers. In this post, I want to build on a recent conversation that took place (and at the time of this writing is still ongoing) inside NELTA’s Yahoo mailing list that many of us are subscribed to. I responded briefly there, as it fit that medium, and I want to explore the issue further here, from broader educational, professional, and social perspectives. I request you, dear colleagues, to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A fellow NELTA member, Umesh Shrestha, asked in the mailing list recently whether we, as English teachers, should communicate in English beyond the classroom and school (because, the writer seemed to imply, we don’t practice what we preach). This was a very thought-provoking question (and among other colleagues, Suman Laudari has responded with some great ideas on the list). Let me get into the relaxing mood of choutari and share some thoughts—for the beauty and fresh air of early spring is returning to the hillsides and I am truly excited by the arrival of a whole group of gaunles under the shady tree.

The question of whether we, even teachers of English, should speak English everywhere, as well as require our students to do so in school and encourage to do so outside is not new. And I happen to have strong views not only about whether even our students (forget about us) must be required to speak English at all times in school (if not beyond it!) but also about whether we should use English as a medium of instruction and for what purposes, if at all.

Let me take a step back and ask a more basic question: “Why” is it that English is the increasingly dominant, increasingly popular, increasingly unquestioned medium of instruction in Nepal? Is there a straightforward “ELT” answer to this question? Does the use of English as “the” medium of instruction raise the standard of our education overall? Does it make classroom teaching and classroom learning more effective?

First, if the answer to questions like the above is more of a “no” than “yes,” then should we make it our professional lives’ priority to make the answer “yes”? Or, should we instead pause and think why the answer is “no”? That is, if using English rather than Nepali and/or other languages of instruction—at least in certain subjects, grade levels, regions, etc—does not have an “ELT” answer (which I presume it doesn’t), then why are we insisting that “English Only” must be the medium of instruction? If imposing English as the only medium of instruction does not raise the standard of our students’ education, then how have we come to embrace the delusion (sorry, but that’s what I think it largely is) that English “is” education (as in the phrase “English education”)? Is there, in the world of reality, such a thing as “English” education (one that is of a different order of intellectual significance than education acquired “in”? another language?)– or have we just created a feel good phrase to describe “English language education/learning” by dropping the key word in the middle?

To stay on the yes/no questions above, I would readily say NO, there is absolutely no doubt that IF requiring only English as the medium of instruction, communication, and jus being in school had ZERO SIDE EFFECTS, then the benefits are so many, so significant, so long term, so attractive… that we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. I would whole-heartedly support the use of English as the “only” medium in/throughout school. I’m not joking about this, but IF our students were to come out of high school speaking fluent English while ALSO writing effectively (whether that’s in English or not, please note), demonstrating critical thinking skills at par with their peers in other nations, being able to pursue and generate new ideas on their own, excelling in math and science and technology, etc, and IF the “medium” of English was a significant reason for our students’ elevated standards in all the above areas, then NO we would not have this conversation either. We would just call the adoption of English as the “only” medium of instruction as a straightforward, non-political, purely pedagogical decision. But that’s not the case. We know for fact—and we have been in denial for a few decades now—that the English medium that we have imposed in the name of improving the “quality” of education has VISIBLY affected the effectiveness of just too many teachers’ teaching, thereby their students’ learning, the teaching and learning of math and science and social studies and economics and environmental studies and agriculture and you name it. The English medium is certainly justified for teaching the English language—although even in this case, I have a hard time understanding why we teach it for 12-16 years and our students’ English is not as good as the Nepali proficiency of my Christian missionary friend who has been in Nepal for less than a year. Yes, our students’ English proficiency—and indeed our own as English teachers—may be too low. And it is for us as teachers (plus scholars) to develop solutions by having serious curricular, pedagogical, and educational discussions. But our good intentions to solve a problem don’t justify just “any” means. For instance, it would be terribly absurd for us as English teachers to tell our colleagues teaching social studies and math and physics and chemistry and their students who are solving algebra problems or playing khopi or eating samosa in the canteen that they must use English because— oh, wait, I forgot what I was about to say! English, you know, English, and like English education. Like globalized world. Opportunities. The internet. Facebook…. Okay, I can’t think anymore. Let me do something different. Let me tell you a story.

I have a nonnative English speaking (Chinese) student named Bao in my “intermediate college writing” class (here at the State University of New York). During the first class meeting in a one month long intensive writing workshop, while I was describing one of the assignments, a “rhetorical analysis” of a text that students would choose, Bao raised his hand, with his face looking like he was terrified of something, and said: “Professor, I don’t have the ‘professionalism’ to criticize the author’s writing style….” Bao’s English language “speaking” proficiency was so low that I couldn’t help thinking how many of the international students (15 out of 20, from 6 different countries, with different extents of exposure to “native” English speaking communities) were going to pass. Bao’s case was particularly striking: he not only struggled to express himself in English, as a student who had just come from a sociocultural background that doesn’t value “challenging” or even “analyzing” the ideas and expressions of established writers and scholars, he was saying that he neither could nor would like to “criticize” how a scholarly article was written. I gave a short answer and invited Bao to my office for further discussion. During the first discussion I realized that Bao was “confusing” his low proficiency in English with his lack of “knowledge” about what “rhetorical analysis” means; so I gave him a text (an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech), a sample rhetorical analysis that he and I found online, and a long list of questions with which I broke down the assignment (as supplement to the assignment description). Long story short, the rhetorical analysis that Bao wrote within the first week of class (before the class moved to another project) was in many ways better than the writing of most other students in class, including the native English speaking students (some of whom, by the way, implemented what they had already learned in high school and turned in their papers, and their papers showed little new learning). One of the things that Bao had done was to copy, adapt, and echo the rhetorical analysis “moves” made by other writers in the many samples that he had gone on to find: he deliberately avoided looking at rhetorical analyses of the text he was analyzing so he was not plagiarizing. When he submitted the finalized analysis, I had to start by asking whether and to what extent someone else had helped him write the paper and/or he had copied from another writer’s analysis of the same text. He had not, as I found out that he had done what I just described.

So, it was not because Bao mastered the “medium” (indeed, it was “in spite of” the medium that still lagged significantly) but because he was engaged with ideas (a highly thought-provoking text), because he had an unyielding commitment, because he learned how to learn, because of his commitment and motivation that Bao was able to do what seemed so impossible. Even as he imitated and echoed and adapted and ventriloquized sentence structures and phrases and worlds from the samples that he gathered from all kinds of sources, Bao learned a whole new “discourse,” indeed a new language, in his incredible one-week long learning journey, thereby tremendously improving his overall English language skills (including skills for critical thinking, analytical reading, and composition). When I read Bao’s final draft, I questioned some of the conventional teaching wisdom that only rare situations like this make me ask, only situations like this can so beautifully blow up in the air.

Reading the question about how great it might be if we too were speaking English all the time, I was almost depressed to think about the state of our education—I mean about the learning part, the part where the nature and content of education matters, the part where our students are being prepared (or not) to become intellectually and professional capable of navigating (and indeed competing in) the complex, connected, global world that they live in and need to be even better prepared for.

Let us (of course) develop practical solutions for practical problems. But let us do so without being so naive as to think that we can be more effective at doing so by eschewing the larger context of education–motivation, rationale, fairness, etc–in the name of being practical. Let us not allow the politics of denial (or the claim that one is not being political in order to stay above the discussion when the issue is politically significant) to justify an active forgetting and overlooking of the larger purpose of teaching English, or social studies or science for that matter. It is only within the larger social context that our problem-solving of any ELT issues—the questions we ask, the answers we seek—will make sense.

And to connect that to what I was saying about the importance of joining and promoting such conversations like this in choutaris like this, I have the same old, humble request for you. Dear colleague, after you read a post, or two, maybe all, please do not forget to add a line, or two, or many lines, sharing your idea, experience, feedback… as encouragement to the writers and good example for other readers.

Editorial, January 2013

Shyam Sharma

I hope that 2012 was a wonderful year for everyone and I wish everyone a Happy New Year, 2013!

Nelta Choutari’s fourth year was a great one. And as a new–younger, more enthusiastic, more resourceful–team of scholars takes over the role of editors for the blog-zine after this issue, we, the outgoing team, are excited.

As we present you the first issue of the new year, we share our reflection about the year behind us (which has become a kind of tradition); one essay by Bal and Prem and another one by Hem present that reflection. As usual, we have also asked our readers to share their comments and feedback for the blogzine toward improving it further in the new year. Similarly, we also pause to urge you again to join the conversation, thanking you for your contribution in the past year.

Personally, Choutari has been a wonderful mode of connection with a professional community back home, a community I love very deeply; I know that the same is true for my fellow editors and many readers, wherever we are. I call Choutari a “wonderful” platform because our communication here is based on substance; it helps us as a community build knowledge out of the work that we do, the challenges that we face, and the ideas that we share. Because we don’t have many venues for sharing ideas, like academic journals, and because even those that we do have are not easily available across the country and the world, I cannot imagine in what other ways I would be able to read the ideas about ELT written by younger scholars across Nepal; in fact, this blog might have served as the most available and accessible venue for those scholars to share their ideas with the ELT community.

That said, we as editors do not want to claim that Choutari is a “high quality” online magazine or anything like that. Our idea of quality and of scholarship is different: we value the voices of the novice teacher over whether their submission is “academically significant” or professionally polished, and instead of maintaining “standard” by rejecting materials that don’t meet the criteria, we try to support writers toward making their work accessible and interesting to the readers. Within the flexible guidelines that we have developed, we try to run conversations that are thought-provoking and useful. We are sure that the new team will build on the spirit of support and encouragement that this platform has created for fellow teachers/scholars ranging from those who have limited experience to those who have a lot of it. We are also sure that readers will continue to encourage the writers (as well editors) by joining the conversation regularly.

The outgoing team will be stepping aside and not away from the blog; we will be contributing entries, posting comments, promoting the blog, and providing  support and mentoring as needed to the new team. And we wish all the best to the new team as they take their turn at running this wonderful professional forum.

Here are the entries for the month:

  1. Introduction to the New Team of Choutari Editors (compiled by Shyam Sharma)
  2. Critical Thinking in Language Classroom, by Prem Prasad Poudel
  3. Event Report from NELTA Lalitpur, by Dinesh Thapa
  4. Have Your Say (Readers’ Views and Comments), compiled by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  5. Nelta Choutari’s Four Year Journey, by Bal Krishna Sharma and Prem Phyak
  6. A Site-Generated Statistical Overview of Choutari’s 2012
  7. Wish for a Bigger, Better Choutari, by Hem Raj Kafle

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE WONDERFUL FOUR YEARS OF VERY PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATIONS IN ELT! Please do not forget to comment, share, like, or submit a new post. This forum will be greater when YOU share your thought with the community. 

Happy New Year again!!!

-Shyam Sharma
Stony Brook, New York

On behalf of Choutari’s Outgoing Team
(Shyam Sharma, Bal Sharma, Prem Phyak,
Sajan Karn, Hem Kafle, Kamal Poudel)

Introduction to the New Team

Let us welcome the New Team!

Praveen Kumar Yadav is a Development Coordinator at the Child Rights and Youth Promotion Projects in Community. A near-graduate from Tribhuvan University’s M.Ed program (plus MA in Rural Development), Praveen is a self-motivated, enthusiastic, creative scholar in English language education, a subject that he creatively combines in his work in community development and social mobilization. Praveen is working on his M.Ed thesis which happens to be on the subject of “professional development in Nepalese ELT through blogging” and he focuses on this blog, Nelta Choutari. Praveen has organized a variety of events in both fields of ELT and community development. He is a technologically savvy worker and scholar in both fields. Some of the many other experiences that Praveen was involved in during his highly productive professional career include teaching at the Institute of Community Health and Technology, grade schools, and the Consular Office of India. Praveen has a number of publications to his credit.

Madhav Kafle is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University in the United States. He was quite fascinated with the previous issues of Choutari as they cater to multiple tastes that he wishes to rejoice to. The quality of the scholarship and the commitment of the current editors to the profession has amazed and encouraged him to join the ongoing conversation. He thinks that building on what has been already established is quite crucial. He has been on both local and international ELT rivers for at least 10 years. He is a member of Penn TESOL East, Big TESOL, IAWE, AAAL, & NCTE. His major professional interests include globalization and ELT, academic literacies, and critical pedagogy.  He is also interested in language policy and education, and advocacy for minority students. Currently he is exploring how international students in the US negotiate vernacular and academic literacies. When not doing academic work, he loves to go trekking and interact with the people in the rural areas of Nepal. Although he is currently studying abroad and might not be quite familiar with the contemporary state of ELT knowledge in Nepal, he still believes that we can come together in Choutari to show the rest of the ELT world that we DO exist. He hopes that despite various challenges, people across different regions of Nepal as well beyond will exchange their tales and travails so that we can, as Shyam sir says, grow collectively.

Lal Bahadur Rana is a lecturer of English language education at Surkhet Campus (Education), Birendranagar, Surkhet. He has been teaching English at the campus over the last seven years. Besides teaching, he is interested in trekking. He was involved in NELTA from 1996, the time when he was studying at campus in Surkhet as a general member and from 2004 he has become the life member of NELTA. Mr. Rana is also a life member of Goreto Nepal and CT Society Nepal, both of which have been established in Nepal with a view to imparting quality education through critical thinking.

Suresh Kumar Shrestha is From Birgunj, Parsa. He has been a language instructor for over 18 years and is currently teaching at Birgunj Public College, Birgunj as an English teacher and at Birgunj Access Center as an Access teacher, too. He is a B.Sc. (Maths), B.Ed.(English), and doing an M.Ed.(English/ thesis in process). He has done two online English courses from UMBC and attended different training courses, local, regional and international conferences held by NELTA. He is an executive member of NELTA Birgunj , as well as a member of the editors’ team of ‘ELT Today’, an annual journal by NELTA Birgunj He has written several articles for ELT Today and Nelta Choutari and presented a paper in NELTA’s 17th International Conference in Kathmandu.

Ushakiran Wagle is a graduate of Kathmandu University. She is teaching English at National School of Sciences (NIST) Lainchour.  She has the experience of teaching English—and of being a member of NELTA—for three years. She loves to apply new ideas to her teaching, especially by finding out new ideas and issues from her students. Teacher development and the issues related to it professionally attract her to the field of teaching. She has published one article in Nelta Choutari and conducted research studies for her academic work, including an action research whose result was highly beneficial to the students and teachers of a school where the study was conducted. She has also been presenting at NELTA Conferences, as well as working as a volunteer during this conference. Beside the NELTA she is also a member of IATEFL. Usha was drawn to Nelta Choutari because she not only found a lot of useful information about NELTA and issues about ELT on this site, she could also use materials in it for her academic work. She observes a lack of sufficient venues for students and scholars to share their ideas with broad communities in Nepal; so she finds Choutari a place where younger scholars can share their ideas. She looks forward to stimulating the conversation on the blog as she takes on the responsibility as one of the editors.

Bal Ram Adhikari teaches at Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University where he has been teaching for the last seven years. He is a graduate with MA and MEd from Tribhuvan University. He joined NELTA as a life member in 2000. To his credit, there are a dozen publications in English grammar for students and teachers, and translations in English and Nepali. He has contributed to textbooks prescribed by the University for its B Ed and MEd students. His research-based articles have appeared in Nepalese Linguistics, Journal of NELTA and Nepalese Art, Literature and Cultures published by Nepal Academy. His areas of interest include teacher training, translation and editing and creative writing. Chautari has been a locus of his interest, especially because of its role in providing a forum for Nepalese ELT practitioners in sharing their experiences and knowledge. How we can bind varied Nepalese ELT experience and knowledge with theoretical strands will be his prime concern. He thinks that we need more readers and critical observation from them to make the Choutari initiation more relevant and success.

(compiled and edited by Shyam Sharma)

Critical Thinking in Language Classroom

                                                                                                            Prem Prasad Poudel

Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tribhuvan University

Learning is the continuous process of obtaining knowledge and skills. Language is the medium for learning and thinking. As Vygotsky said that learning proceeds from pre-intellectual speech that includes crying, cooing, babbling, bodily movements to the complete production of the linguistic utterances. Children learn better through sharing and playing. This is also true for language learning. There are various methods that focus on learners’ participation in the learning process. Children as well as adults learn through cooperation. In the countries like ours have inappropriate classroom management, which do not support learning through communication and cooperation. If the classroom situations and teachers help in learners thinking, they may develop decision and judgment skills.

Webster’s New World Dictionary (1988) defines the word ‘think’ as the general word which means to exercise the mental faculties so as to form ideas, arrive at conclusion, etc. If teachers foster thinking environment in the classroom, the learners will be the top class beneficiary. The most successful classrooms are those that encourage students to think for themselves and engage in critical thinking (Halpern, 1996, Kurland, 1995, Unrau, 1997). We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation and inference as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. Critical thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, critical thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life (Facione, 1990). Critical thinking has become a hot topic of discussion in the field of education today.

Critical thinking allows learners to think about their own thoughts and the reasons behind their points of view. It means that they reflect on their own ways of making decisions or solving problems. Thinking like this means that their thoughts are consciously directed to some goals. Their  thoughts and ideas are not only based on their biases or prejudices but also on logical or information they might gather and filter from many sources. As they think critically, they are always mindful of what and how they are thinking. When they detect an error or a different way to think about a problem, they explore it eagerly. Students who think critically are typically excited about their learning. They see challenges and opportunities for learning in even the most difficult intellectual tasks. Critical thinking methodology is useful in all the subject areas and it has been very much influential in the area of language teaching as well.

Language teaching classroom must foster critical thinking on the part of the learners. Some think that critical thinking is useful for only the adult learners, but there are a number of chances that we may engage children in wide range of thinking activities. Thinking activities depend on the objectives of teaching. The type of objectives and type of questions create active learning and thinking in the students. They may ask questions ranging from very lowest level to the highest level. The following list includes categories of question and objectives that range from the lowest level (simply remembering) to the highest level (creating).

Lower level activities:  drawing and coloring,  copying, reading aloud, silent reading and watching, memorizing, revising, simple comprehension, looking things up, etc.

Higher level activities: imaginative writing tasks, collecting evidence, problem solving, deducing, reasoning tasks, application tasks, analysis tasks, synthesis tasks, evaluation, creation, summarizing, etc.

In my reflection of my own teaching experience and observation of other language teachers’ (novice and experts) classroom presentations, I found the following problems-

  1. Teachers  don’t encourage students to think
  2. Their students do not want to spend time for thinking, if their teachers ask them to think for one or two minutes, they take it as a waste of time or an opportunity to make fuss.
  3. Teachers are not worried about students learning.
  4. Classrooms are not resourceful. The available resources are even not properly used.
  5. Most of the classroom situations do not favor group work or pair work activities.
  6. Teachers find difficulties in forming groups appropriately.
  7. The teaching is focused on some students only, teaching doesn’t cover whole class.
  8. Some students (especially shy and slow learners) get frustrated, humiliated and develop inferiority complex because of the class domination by some quick learners.
  9. Teachers teach the content more than the language. They do not realize ‘language focus’ in language classes.
  10. Students and teachers most often spend more time in single activity.
  11. Some teachers conduct group or pair work activities but they are ill-managed, not organized, etc.

To minimize most of the above mentioned problems, the critical thinking based activities will be more supportive.

Activities for generating critical thinking in the language classroom

  1. 1.      Jigsaw technique: Jigsaw is one of the highly influential techniques for generating students’ cooperative learning in the language classroom. This technique requires students to help each other learn some grammar topics or vocabulary items. It is equally useful in teaching listening, speaking, reading and writing. That means it can be used when students are reading a text, listening to presentations and even while carrying out a group investigation. This strategy of teaching learning employs both home groups and expert groups. This helps all the students to study and learn all of the materials. The learners may become experts as they teach each other parts of the material. Each student thus has an active role in teaching and learning and experience deep understanding and higher order thinking.

 

Procedures

–          Teachers prepare beforehand. They review the learning materials, write questions to guide students’ learning.

–          Teachers assign students to groups. The students count the number one-two-three-four-five- six and students counting from one to the other number (the number may depend on the number of the students kept in a group)stay in one group. Other groups are formed in the same way. Each group includes the reasonable number of students. Groups are formed based on the nature of learning material and availability of the resources. The groups comprise of the boys and girls, more capable and less capable students.

–          The tasks are assigned, the tasks may be ‘reading stories, writing paragraphs, summarizing paragraphs, solving problems or project works’, etc. Each group is given a different task of the same teaching lesson.

–          Student work in their groups, they select their leader. Teachers need to control during the nomination of the group leader. In every next learning session, there will be a different leader so that all the student may be participating and working as a leader.

–          The teacher invites expert group and instructs the group about the activity. The  experts go to their respective group and help others do the task accordingly.

–          Students complete the task, come with an outcome within a stipulated timeframe. They become expert in the task provided to them.

–          Teacher monitors, assists and makes sure that they are engaged in the task assigned.

–          The students remix to form another type of group. The students counting number one stay in one group, two in another group and this continues until the last group is formed. Here, all the groups include the students having knowledge on the different task assigned to different groups before. There is information gap. They discuss each other and make complete information of the whole learning material.

–          Group leaders make presentations of the tasks one by one, other members of groups  comment on the presentation and finally they consolidate the learning outcome.

Let me discuss about a lesson I presented using this technique at grade eleven. The presentation was on reading a story that included five paragraphs, the number of students in the class was 32.

I prepared one day before I taught. I prepared separate reading texts breaking down the story into five paragraphs. I divided the student into five groups. Three groups consisted of six students and two groups consisted of seven students. In the class I asked the student speak out the numbers from one to five and asked students with the number one to five in one group and another one to five into another group and so on so the five groups were formed. After formation of the group, I asked each group to select one student to be an expert. I invited five experts in an expert group, instructed them about the learning task (the task that each had to do- it was reading a paragraph). The experts went back to their home group and instructed others about the task. They read the paragraph assigned to them. Again I asked each member of the group to form group of the similar numbers. For example, group A was formed of the students who had the number ‘one’. In the similar way, other groups were formed. Each group included students who were experts of all the paragraphs of the story. There was information gap among them. The student from the first group shared the information of the first paragraph; the student of second group shared the information of the second paragraph and so on. Finally the new groups made understanding of the whole story. If any of the members was confused, they discussed again in the group and finally came to the teacher with the summary of the story. There was a quick write exercise to check if they understood the story. Some comprehension questions were designed and they were further suggested to answer working in the pairs. Their queries were answered. They were also asked to make critical judgment of the story.

 

From this activity, I found that students experienced being teachers and also had developed a sense of being responsible for learning and sharing. They were more empowered and had to speak at least something. While sharing, they had good confidence and all of them were very much attentive and active in the learning process. From this activity, I found jigsaw to be useful for teaching language skills and vocabulary too.

  1. 2.      Pair reading-pair summarizing technique:  This technique is mostly used to practice reading and speaking. It can be used in the very beginning classes and the advanced levels also. The nature of the reading text will be different accordingly. This technique also allows students to take more initiative in their own and each other’s learning. It may take times more than simply reading aloud but there is more chance of making comprehension of the text more closely. It could be used in the large classes also.

Procedures

–          Teachers choose more informative text with short paragraphs. If paragraphs are not available, they may indicate the limitation of the text for each pair to read.

–          Students pair up.

–          One student of the pair reads one paragraph or marked section of the text and provides summary of it.

–          Teachers ask some cross questions to other students in order to check understanding, some of them may report the summary they heard from their peer.

–          Other students are asked to make questions related to the paragraph if they have confusion.

–          The same procedure continues till all the paragraphs are finished and all pairs do the activity. If the text is short, some pairs may read and summarize and other pairs may re-summarize, ask questions and give opinion on what was mentioned in the text.

My own experience of using this:

I used the same procedure in class eight (it was a class presented as a model class during teacher training). At first students were hesitant doing this. They thought that they will be unable to do the task. I encouraged them and finally they did it. There were 46 students. I made 23 pairs. The pairs were heterogeneous. There was a reading passage of 35 lines. I instructed each pair read three to four lines. Once a student of the pair read the text, s/he immediately summarized. Other student of other pair summarized the text again, and another student of another pair asked questions related to the text. I asked other interested students to deliver their own opinion on the text information mentioned on the text too. It was very much interesting because students were acting and reacting, making judgment and giving their own logic. In the similar way, reading all the paragraphs of the text was finished successfully. Finally I asked all the students to summarize the whole story working in groups of five for five minutes. I requested two groups make presentations of the summary of the text. They shared and other added more information that were missing. At the end of the session, they said that it was really good way to practice.  

 

  1. 3.      Read- summarize-question technique: This technique of teaching and learning is useful for practicing reading, listening and speaking skill simultaneously. It also develops their thinking too. People find it more difficult to use at the very beginning level. It is certainly fruitful in the upper grades.

Procedures

–          Teacher selects the reading passage or paragraphs.

–          S/he clarifies the way it takes place in the classroom.

–          One student reads the text, s/he points another student to summarize what    he read, the student summarizes it after making close listening to the       paragraph read by the first student and that student again asks another             student sitting little further in the class ask questions about the text    read     and summarized  before. The answer of the question may be given by          somebody other than those who participated.

–          This process continues until the whole task is finished. The teacher monitors            and guides in order to make sure that all students took part in the learning   process.

My experience of using this technique

When I used this technique in the classroom, my students were very much attentive on what was going on. They were so because they thought that they might need to say about it at any time. This worked well in the classes like ours where the benches are fixed in such a way that sometimes there is no space for the teacher to move around. Once I clarified the process, students themselves conducted it well. Finally I summarized the text following some questions asked to check their comprehension. To develop their higher order thinking skills, we may modify the questions and activities and relate them to synthesizing, evaluating and creating.

 

Conclusion 

Thinking activities develop learner’s motivation. There are many other activities that generate critical thinking on the part of the learners. If the teachers are well-known and prepared, they may design their own activities that help the learners  develop lower level to higher level thinking skills. The three techniques I mentioned above develop integrated learning of language skills of aspects. All of these activities enhance learners’ readiness, feeling of responsibility and sharing. Finally they will be the critical thinkers. Many of the present classroom related problems could be solved and some of them could be minimized.

NELTA Lalitpur holds district conference


Dinesh Thapa

NELTA Lalitpur organised a district conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) amidst a grand gathering of ELT practioners on Dec 29 and 30, 2012 at Kitini College Godawary, Lalitpur. There were about 180 participants including guests and presenters in the program. The theme of the conference was ‘Promoting English in Local Context’.

The program was presided over by Mr. Nabin Mahat, president of NELTA Lalitpur while Senior Vice President of NELTA Ms. Meera Shrestha was the chief guest of the inauguration ceremony. They jointly inaugurated the conference by kindling a candle. Former President of NELTA Centre Mr. Ganga Ram Gautam, Kitini College Chief Mr. Narayan Prasad Banskota, PABSON Lalitpur Chair Mr. Nawaraj Mahat, DEO NELTA Focal Person Mr. Damodar Timalsina, Mr. Rameshwor Lamichhane from District Education Office, Associate Editor of Shikshak Monthly Sudarshan Ghimire, President of Science Teachers’ Association Nepal and Resource Person Mr. Babuhari Marasini and other guests were present in the ceremony.

Following the inauguration, Ms. Shrestha delivered a key speech on the conference theme. Similarly, Immediate Senior Vice President of NELTA Centre and Associate Professor of Kathmandu University Mr. Laxman Gnawali facilitated a plenary session on ‘English Teachers’ Dilemma’. Similarly, Mrs. Madhu Neupane, executive member of NELTA Centre facilitated a plenary on ‘Teaching English as an International Language’. Another interesting plenary ‘Handwriting and Creative Arts in the English language Class’ was hosted by Mr. Bamdev Yogi, Creative Arts expert. Teachers from Lalitpur and across, ETAs and former ETAs were chiefly the ones to give their presentations. The presentations facilitated in the two-day program were focused on classroom issues of ELT and hence they were much relevant and useful to the participants.

The most unique feature of the conference had a panel discussion on the beat of community schools converting their Medium of Instruction (MoI) into English. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Dinesh Thapa with the panelists as Mr. Mohan Bhurtel expert from TITI Nepal, Mr. Deepak Maharjan of PABSON Lalitpur, Mr. Thakur Prasad Upadhaya, one of the principals changing the MoI, Mr. Ashok Sharma and Mr. Ashok Raj Khati from NELTA.

The gathering in bulk was converted into the AGM in the last session of the second day. Following a discussion on the existing committee’s reports, a new executive committee of 11 members was formed. The newly formed committee consists of Mr. Dinesh Sanjel as Chair, Mr. Bharat Babu Khanal as Vice- chair, Mr. Gokul Sharma as Secretary, Mr. Dinesh Thapa as Assistant Secretary and Mr. Hari Kafle as Treasurer. The presenters, participants, sponsors and volunteers were recognized duly with vote of thanks, certificates and tokens of love. The program ended with the immediate past committee handing over the responsibility to the newly formed committee. The new committee held their first meeting and an interview with the team was broadcast live by local radio station Jana Aawaj FM for 30 minutes. Let’s not forget that it is the third district conference NELTA Lalitpur has organized. It was, indeed, a grand successful, wonderful and historical event of NELTA Lalitpur.

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