Easier said than done …

… but if worse comes to worst, just hang in there!

Umes Shrestha, Lecturer, blogger and a podcaster

Right on the outset, let me state that I am taking a very controversial stance here. Because many supporters of World Englishes believe that for second language learners of English, gaining native like competence of English is a myth. It’s not possible, and, in essence, it’s not necessary. Let’s face it, they also tell you that the‘coded-down’ version of English (or the English as Lingua Franca) is the only way forward because English will eventually lose its standard-ness.

Fine by me but here’s my stance. If a learner wants to speak (or write) English better, he/she has to try and learn how the native speakers of English use the language in real life context. In addition to acquiring the sense of vocabulary, structure, forms and semantics, the learner also has to develop the pragmatic fluency in English. (I am not talking about American accent or British accent or any such accent, though.) Therefore, I strongly believe that only by learning and acquiring unique characteristics and nuances of English language will the learners become more competent and proficient in it.

Some of the areas of such nuances in a language are the use of figurative expressions (idiomatic expressions, phrases, proverbs, etc). Similar to our own Nepali language, English language is also very rich in such figurative expressions. Using these expressions (let’s say: idioms) add color and imagination in speech and in writing. This obviously holds true for all the language. Nepali language would most certainly be pretty bland if it didn’t have any figurative expressions. So, by mastering the use of English idioms, one’s English can become more natural and less awkward, more articulated and less dull. Learners and users of English will be able to produce and interact in English at a different creative level.

Normally, we don’t find any trace of this concept in standard textbooks because the curriculum and syllabus are usually ‘water-downed’ for general learners of English. Just flip through Our English books for Class 9 and 10. Why there’s no focus on this aspect of English is quite beyond me. English magazines, newspapers, stories, TV shows, movies are however full of figurative expressions. Imagine the shock and dismay when learners discover the real English used in real contexts, when they find that the English in real life can be quite different than the English in textbooks. Hence there are always chances that students and learners know English language but do not know how to use and understand English language competently and fluently.

And even when students use or try to understand the meaning of idioms, they try to translate them word-for-word at a very literal level. But translating the idioms into one’s mother tongue will only compound the problem. Figurative expressions are unique properties of a language and when translated into another language, they usually lose their true essence and purpose.

For instance, let’s consider the sentence with a very common idiom:

Sentence 1: He insulted me and I lost my temper.

In Nepali the literal meaning of ‘to lose’ is ‘haraaunu’.

Sentence 2: I lost my money. (maile paisa haraaye)
Sentence 3: I lost my book yesterday. (maile hijo kitab haraaye)

These two sentences 2 and 3 make sense even when translated into Nepali. But. If a Nepali learner of English translates the Sentence 1 in the similar vein, he/she will only come up with confused and even nonsensical meaning. This is the reason why the figurative expressions are difficult to learn, acquire and eventually master.

Similarly, the following sentences can be difficult for Nepali learners to understand and to use in their real contexts because, again, translation doesn’t help.

Sentence 4:      I can’t stand Science class because it is way over my head.
Sentence 5:      You don’t stand a chance of getting good score in Science because it is
way over your head.

And, here are some real instances from my classroom.
Me:                 Alright students, let’s wrap up today’s lesson.
Student:           (with a confused face) Sir, wrap ta gift lai garne hoina?
Sir, we only wrap gifts, don’t we?

Me:                 Guys and girls, keep it down.
Student:           What to keep down?

Thus, unless a learner ‘develops a knack’ for figurative expressions through practice and enough exposure, it will be difficult for him/her to develop English language competency.

Moreover, using figurative expressions adds ‘fun’ to the English language. It’s thrilling and it’s entertaining. Many a times, it’s defamiliarizing. (Here’s the buzzword!). And it goes without saying that ‘enjoying the language’ is one of the most essential requirements to learning and acquiring a second language. We can also call this fun element an ‘intrinsic motivation’ or ‘internal drive’ to get better and to prosper in the language one is learning.

So, I request my fellow English language teachers to incorporate figurative expressions in their teaching as per their discretion. We all know… we will have to put in a little extra effort because it may not be in the textbooks. But don’t give it a second thought. Implement it. You’ll enjoy it. The students will enjoy it.

I hope you will just give it a shot!

Some links:

Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF

Chia Suan Chong speaks about English as a Lingua Franca

Developing creative- linguistic abilities through classroom poetry

 Dinesh Kumar Thapa, Lalitpur


“Poetry and hums aren’t things which you get; they’re things which get you.  And all you can do is go where they can find you.”-Winnie.

Classroom poems are funny and full of variety. They make a class really lively and motivating. Poetry can be oral or written, or both. They can be read aloud for developing oral- pronunciation ability, or they can be written to develop creative- linguistic abilities in English. Poems demand a lot of expressive ability on the part of the learners, so they engage the learners for the creation of meaning. Besides, using poetry in the class allows the children to express in the ‘little English’ they have developed in the beginning years of learning. It develops confidence in the learners for producing English and motivates them to learn more English. Poems are interesting for all, and even more interesting for the little kids.

For the purpose of this article, I have used the term poetry to encompass all English teaching activities which involve musical quality, which are aesthetic and expressive, and which do not demand rigid grammar rules to carry them out. Activities such as rhymes, songs, riddles, musical compositions, jingles, etc. have been included under classroom poetry here. The teacher here does not need to worry about such concepts as the theme, form, metaphor or the criticism of poetry, as they are not such academic poems for critical study. Rather, for us, poems are simply a tool of developing English in the learners! The activities suggested here are appropriate for junior/ primary level students, yet they can equally be employed in the higher levels with modifications.

1.     Naming poems: This technique involves creation of a poem out of the names of the students with some additional details for the name.

Laxaman is always late and Geeta is great,
Hari becomes hungry, but Rabin becomes red.

The list goes on for each student. Here, the initial sound of the first name has been matched with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective that tells something about the person.

2.     Event- making poems: Here, learners create a poem based on the theme of an event, e.g. making a party, celebrating the school day, organizing a cultural show, etc. Each line in the poem will be telling who will be involved in the event in what way.)

Making a Party
This is Bina with a big banana,
This is Suman with some soup,
This is Rabina with red raspberry,
And this is Kanchhi with a clean cup.

Each upcoming line here includes the necessary preparation to be done for the event including each student’s roles. Here, the initial sound of the name has been repeated with the corresponding initial sound of the adjective and the noun that tell about the event.

3.     Attribute poem: It is a technique which involves creation of a poem using common adjectives and nouns in a pattern of rhyme.

My Family
My mummy is thirty- nine
But she is very fine.
My dad is good,
But he has a sad mood.
My puppy is nice,
But it eats much rice.

The lines continue until all/ most family members are included through with appropriate attribute words. Here, common nouns and adjectives have been used in patterns, both in structure and rhyme; the use of conjunction, ‘but’ shows a contradiction in meaning.

4.     Chain poem: It is a technique to create a poem expressing as much as possible on a single topic, possibly adding something on each upcoming line.

Wai Wai Noodles
Wai Wai,
Wai Wai is delicious,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying,
Wai Wai is delicious, marvelous, satisfying, so tasty,
Sweet Wai Wai for all.

Here, more and more words have been added to tell different feelings about the topic.

5.     Narrative poem: In this technique, a poem is created for telling a story, a past experience, a journey or an event.

Lagankhel Trip
I was going to Lagankhel,
And I was carrying my favourite bag,
My little, brown beautiful bag,
My father had recently bought for school,
And it was the rainy time,
I was looking my head downs and ups,
Into the tall houses and big shops,
And I slipped on the banana cover,
Very painful, I felt so bored,
Because me and my new bag got splashed in the muddy road.

The lines go on until the complete story is narrated. Here, more and more past experiences and feelings are added to the initial beat.

7. Instructional Poems: for creating a poem using instructional lines, students here think of diverse ethical/ moral codes of conduct and write either positive or negative statements with expression of results intermittently. 

Mind Your Manners
Don’t drum on the table,
Don’t play with your food;
Don’t talk while you’re chewing;
Because it’s terribly rude!

Don’t litter the room,
And don’t slam the screen door.
Don’t throw dirty laundry;
Because it’s making mom angry more!
Don’t fight with your young sister,
And don’t pull the cat’s tail;
Don’t pelt stones on the street,
It might be more dangerous than a nail!

8.     Metaphorical poems: in this technique, the teacher and the learners work together to brain- storm ideas and create a poem using poetic devices like metaphor and simile.

[Theme: My Country; associated adjectives: small, famous, peaceful, amazing, historic, etc. Other nouns associated to the descriptive words, as for the adjective ‘small’- doll, fingers in the hand, etc.; for ‘famous’-  our president, Meri Bassai Serial, Pele, etc.]

My country is small
Like the doll in the bag and the fingers on my palm;
My country is peaceful,
More silent than the market and school.
My country is amazing,
With so varied cultures, languages and mountains.
My country is so beautiful,
I must feel proud and grateful.

Here words (especially noun words) related about a theme are collected first; then adjective words are associated to each initial noun words, and further extensions are made until students’ vocabulary permits. Then the associated words are stated in sentences attempting a higher order of imagination.

9.     Bio- poem: Employing this technique involves creating a poem using biographical information of persons/ places using WH- question probes, real or metaphorical.

[Topic:  Nepal; Some words that describe the place: beautiful, peaceful and romantic

What it has? Who loves? Who gives? Who feels? Who wants? Who fears? Etc.].

Beautiful, peaceful and romantic;
Has a lot of mountains, lakes and rivers;
Who loves the varied races, cultures and people;
Who gives education, peace, security and progress;
Who wants us all to grow and to learn the best to live happily;
Who fears war, insecurity and national challenge;
My motherland Nepal.

 Here the teacher arranges for a brainstorm using different WH- bio probes in order to include most salient pieces of information as they are needed for a biographical understanding of a place/ person or thing. After having adequate information, lines are composed in line with the probes.

10.  Other techniques

We can also use jingles, rhymes, mimes and other expressive techniques. We can also ask the students to tune the poems with the local rhythm, like folk song- tune, pop- tune, etc. and to perform to the whole class individually or in groups.

Some thoughts about teaching English in Nepal

The English language is the most important international language in this century. These days, English is not only the language of Britons and Americans; rather it has become a world language. It is now the language of international trade, business and diplomacy, language of higher education, wider cultural understanding and more job opportunities. Recognizing the very importance, the public and the Government have also given due consideration in the promotion of English in Nepal. Expenditure on teaching English is also huge for developing courses, materials, assessment and so on. Besides these, every workplaces and classrooms are also ripe with the talks of learning English. Today’s parents also demand at least communicational literacy in English for the children. Also, many Nepali medium community schools have started teaching through the medium of English at different levels. Besides, the charm of English medium school is quite obvious for us. But, despite all these assets, the result of our children is not so encouraging. The exam results and different assessment studies show that the proficiency of learners’ English in Nepal is not on par with the expectation; be it in the primary or tertiary grades.

The low level of student achievement, however, is the result of multiple factors. The teacher alone is not and cannot be made responsible for such. It is true that our children come from difficult backgrounds; parental level of conscious is low. We also may not have audio- visual support in the classroom. Besides, we are also not well trained in teaching English. These are our realities. However, we cannot get free from our responsibility; neither can we skip from the problems. So it is wiser to search for the bright side of the dark cloud. At least our parents have believed in us and have sent their children to us; at least we have the physical presence of the child, so we become teacher. If there would be no children, whom would we be teaching to? So, it is upon us, specifically the English teachers, and all teachers in general, to realize the aspiration of the parents and the students. Our sincere efforts and dedication are the only solution for the time being, as we cannot expect a drastic change overnight. Our small initiatives will definitely result into the improvement of English teaching scenario. The future of the innocent ones is in our hands, is not it English language teachers!

[I was inspired for writing this piece by the Asian English Teachers Creative Writing Group Seminar held in Nepal in 2009, especially from the presentation by Mr. Lekhanath Pathak and Ms. Maya Rai.]

Socio-Cultural Identity of EFL Teacher in Nepal

Ashok Raj Khati

Many school authorities rejected Shiva Luitel, a member of one of the teachers’ union and a 15-year teaching professional, when he sought for confirmation for his transfer from the present workplace. Moreover, he was immediately provided permission for transfer from his present workplace. Shiva Luitel, who holds a strong sense of socio-cultural facets of Nepalese society, is not understood as a ‘professional’. Manushi Dahal, a young EFL teacher, on the other hand, is much concerned with her students, English language teaching (ELT) pedagogy, content and new trends in the field. Despite of being highly professional, she had to quit teaching job in her 3rd year, as she was not ‘preferred’ by a community in Nepal for several reasons. She faced the problem of identity reformation in a new situation. Many teachers face socio-cultural and professional challenges in different stages of their career. It is more significant in Nepal where the sense of professionalism is very weak and the writ of the concerned authorities is ineffective. If someone gets him or her jobless and failure in other professions, then he or she is expected to join teaching. Further, majority of teaching professionals bring fixed assumptions, beliefs and attitudes to the profession which remain unchanged throughout the career.

This write-up attempts to provide a basic insight on teacher identity. It further examines the socio-cultural identity of English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher in Nepal.

Teacher identity

Identity generally refers to special characterization of something or someone. Wenger (1998) views identity as showing social, cultural and historical aspects of a person. She stresses the role of social settings; through our attendance in social situations, we construct our identities and learn to understand ourselves, our actions and our mind. Identities are therefore temporary, constructed in social settings, constantly in process, containing historical, present and future experiences of a person. In many respects, identities are about negotiating new subject positions at the crossroads of the past, present and future. Individuals are shaped by their socio-histories but they also shape their socio-histories as life goes on (Block, 2007). Hence one’s identities are products of the culture that one is born into or one’s identities can be considered to exemplify cultural aspects (Wenger, 1998).

EFL teacher identity in recent literature has been described as an immensely complex phenomenon and a profoundly individual and psychological matter. EFL teacher identity is closely linked with foreign language learning itself. Becoming a teacher is often considered a constantly moving and developing process; one needs to develop constantly and adapt to new situations, development and changes in the area. Many foreign language teachers are migrants. They have traveled and lived in other countries either to learn or to teach a foreign language. Language teachers in any setting naturally represent a wide array of social and cultural roles and identities: as teachers or students, as gendered and cultured individuals, as expatriates or nationals, as native speakers or non-native speakers, as content area or TESL /English language specialists (Duff and Uchinda, 1997). EFL teachers, like other groups, also get stereotyped which may be based on gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, social class. In many instances, socio-cultural identities of teachers have been found split, hybrid and mixed.

Native and Non-native Identity

Teachers’ identity is not fixed but is developed and accentuated by being compared with others. Native vs. non-native is related to the center and the periphery. The Center/Peripheral dichotomy was imported into ELT by Philipson (1992). To the center belong to powerful Western countries where English is native language, whereas, the periphery is constituted of underdeveloped countries and English is the second or foreign language. In recent years, the glory once attached to the native English speaking teacher (NEST) has faded, and increasing numbers of ELT experts assert that the ideal teacher is no longer a category reserved for NESTs.  It is becoming a generally accepted view that outstanding teachers cannot be squeezed into any pigeonhole: all outstanding teachers are ideal in their own ways, and as such are different from each other (Medgyes, 2007). Nonnative teachers usually feel a sense of threat and otherness with a marginalized line that might be given by themselves and their students; as in a lot of English as second language (ESL) programs, the majority of the students showed a decided preference for White teachers over non-White teachers (Amin, 1997). When the students put out a message that they consider their teacher to be a nonnative speaker and therefore cannot teach them “native-like” English, the teachers are unable to effectively negotiate a teacher identity. Their confidence that teachers are supposed to have before their students is harmed, resulting in their construction in the identity of teacher less successful. The concept of native and non-native English speaking teachers has been gradually declining in Nepalese contexts; nonetheless there are many occasions, when these EFL teachers and even students themselves do prefer NESTs. However, in recent decades, there has been a greater global mobility of people for education, and Nepalese EFL teachers seem to be fully confident in diverse socio-cultural settings in terms of proficiency in English, content and pedagogical knowledge. Some theoretical and historical foundations interest me to examine primarily the socio-cultural identity of Nepalese teachers from inside and outside perspectives.

‘Homogeneous’ identity

An inside viewpoint entails a more uniform and pre-scientific nature of professional identity. Connelly and Clandinin (1999) have studied teacher identities from a narrative point of view. They stress that identities and stories depend on the life situation and social situation one happens to be in. There are multiple identities that appear in different situations, e.g. at work, home, with friends and relatives and so on which are considered to be fairly fixed but in case of tensions or conflicts they can change. The narrative approach has similarities with the structural stage approach. There have been multiple ways of analyzing structural stage approach of identity but the main thing remains the same; identity is considered to develop through stages over time (Kroger, 2000). These stages change and develop but the basic structure remains the same.

A teacher brings certain qualifications, training skills and experience when he or she is employed. University degree or pre-service training plays the most important role in building teacher identities where content knowledge, pedagogy, teaching philosophies and practice become interwoven. But there are always some gaps between teacher education and what teachers actually do in their classrooms. Teachers’ personal beliefs and attitudes toward truth is also important part of it. They hold a set of moral values, and right and wrong concepts in Nepal. They commonly bring some positive attitudes to the profession, love of children, for instance. They are passionate, creative, fair, kind and happy. In the psychosocial philosophy, professional identity is seen to be developed and internalized gradually. It is  considered as a part of one’s individual development. Thus, personality also plays a huge part in one’s identity formulation. For instance, the choice of a profession can be taken as an expression of one’s personality. Each teacher’s personality can affect the way they perform and the way they feel their roles. But this view does not take account of the social settings, past experiences, each school, class and students separately, culture, socially set ideals. In our context, female teachers are more favored in lower grades as they are supposed to be loving and they handle children with care, it seems to be uniform as the gendered identity across the country. Another inside perspective of identity is the necessity to choose teaching for survival. Teachers live in a highly competitive and materialistic world where ‘helmet teacher’ identity is popular in urban areas. At their workplace, they find themselves as actor, poet, author, manager, singer, dancer, researcher and orator and so on.

‘Heterogeneous’ identity

This outside perspective contradicts with earlier one. It is not the teacher who creates his/her identity, it is made by others. Teachers primarily exist only because of students. Students not only in inside the classroom but also outside the classroom create teacher identity through different interactional discourse. This dialogical perspective emphasizes that teacher identity is formed in social situations, particularly in interaction with others; hence it is constructed in dialogues. Feedback and other’s responses frame conceptions of oneself as a teacher and according to those they mould their future identity (Kroger, 2000). Therefore EFL teacher identity is always relational, dialogical and, socially and culturally constructed. Perception and approval of teachers’ identity around them is always inconsistent. Approval of teacher identity in surrounding assists for more life satisfaction and enhance greater effect in different social activities.

University lecturers, researchers and schoolteachers are perceived differently in terms of recognition and different roles they perform in the society. At the other side, teachers at private English-medium institutions seem to be more hard working and result oriented than government aided ones. Many novice EFL teachers grow professionally in these English-medium institutions in Nepal. Government appointees enjoy more financial and in-service training opportunities as well as complete job security. Teachers in urban setting enhance more professionalism, they enjoy more economical opportunities, they are more techno-friendly and they have adequate teaching resources than those of rural settings. In the past, there was a common belief that Sanskrit language teachers and teachers from Brahmin communities seized more prestige and they were more accepted in the society. But this trend has shifted to the teachers of English education background.  Scholars educated in western universities and in Darjeeling are equally preferred particularly in private institutions nowadays. In Nepalese multicultural context, there are very less instances of comparing each other. They are different in terms of ethnicity, topography and schooling, rankings and so on, which ultimately lead the different identities of teachers. This seems to be the most suitable to state that teacher identify is discursive as it takes into account several crucial issues such as history, social settings, interactive relationships and the possibility of reformation. Accordingly, it considers identity to be under constant reformulation where one’s past, present and future have important roles and they together affect the formation of identity. In our society, teacher’s positional and authored identities retain power as an active change agent, and sole source of knowledge and information. They bear more social responsibilities in Nepal like countries in the east than in the west (Poudel, 2013).

Likewise, professional identity of a teacher is formed and reflected through the policies and guidelines of the nation-state, which outlines definite values, duties, and structures of basic education and it gives frames for teaching. When these policies, values and duties are not identical for all teachers, teacher identity will be more heterogeneous. Mid-term evaluation report of SSRP (2012) has raised concern over the substantial variations in pay structures, perks and privileges, opportunities for career advancement and professional development of teachers in Nepal. Multiple identities of teachers ‘manufactured’ so far have deepened ‘endorsed’ divisions in the same profession in Nepal.

Nevertheless, EFL teachers in different social and cultural situations are contributing the society in a larger frame.  Rima Magar, an EFL teacher in Ramechhap, leads a language association for Magar community. She is investing her effort to preserve and promote Magar linguistic identity. Another EFL teacher in next village is an active member of association for managing the product of sweet oranges (Junar). Bishal Shah, an EFL teacher in Lalitpur promotes the sale of handicrafts. Shusila Karki from Bhaktapur empowers girls in her community through education and vocational training. Madan Raut in Pokhara, in his free time, guides tourists and arranges their visits to different places. Padam Sapkota from Chitwan advocates for child rights. Kalpana Singh donates to a childcare centre. These different social responsibilities, roles and activities definitely affect the way EFL teachers think and the way they perform in EFL teaching and learning situations. Kalpana seems to be kind and more supportive to the students. Rima always provides the place for learning English for instrumental purposes. Bharat Shah inspires his students for drawing, painting and preparing handicrafts in school where as Madan always gives focus on fluency in spoken English. Shusila always supports the girls in schools who need especial cares and assistance. Teachers carry certain social values, attitudes and aptitudes into their profession. It shows that sociality, ethnicity, gender and other socio-cultural aspects form distinct identities of EFL teachers.


Teacher identity is both an individual and social matter. The discipline of teaching one comes into has its own history, and it cannot remain apolitical. Going back to recent decades, teachers retained charismatic identity in 80s, they were regarded as liberator, inspirational teacher and guardian. In 90s teachers held the role of educator. They were reflective practitioners, teacher as learners and theorists. Later teachers became trainers, skilled craftsperson, organizers and technicians for novice. In post 2000 teachers holds the pragmatic identity as an effective and eclectic teacher, and teacher as a non-political agent. Though the notions of being a teacher are much more personal, they sit inside these historical, political and social discourses (Moore, 2004). Teacher identity is an evolving construct as it is constructed and reconstructed in particular time and context. At this hour, socio-cultural identity of Nepalese EFL teachers is markedly dominant contributing in a wider socio-cultural milieu.


Amin, N. (1997). Race and Identity of the Nonnative ESL Teacher. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 580-582.


Block, D. 2007. Second language identities. London: Continuum.


Connelly, M.F. and Clandinin, J. D. (1999). Shaping a professional identity: stories of educational  

     practice. New York: Teachers College Press.                                                                           

Government of Nepal (2012). Mid-term evaluation of school sector reform programme. Kathmandu:

Ministry of Education.                                                                                                                     Kroger, J. (2000). Identity development. Adolescence through adulthood. California: Sage Publications.

Moore, A. (2004). The Good Teacher. Dominant discourses in teaching and teacher education. London:

Routledge.                                                                                                                                        Morgan, B. (2004). Teacher identity as pedagogy: Towards a field-internal conceptualisation in bilingual

and second language education. Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 7(2/3), 172-188.

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.                                

Poudel, T. (2013). Class notes: Facet of English studies. Kathmandu: Kathmandu University.       

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.



I am grateful to Mr. Arjun Basnet, a research scholar at Kathmandu University for his insightful ideas and comments on the topic.


English Language Teaching and Larger Pursuits of Life

Indra Bahadur Ter

Far Western Development Region, Nepal

For decades we have been teaching the English language primarily as an end in itself. The question whether English should be taught as an end in itself or as a means to achieving larger pursuits of life has been a matter of constant debate among ELT scholars, language experts and language theorists. Equally mighty question is whether larger pursuits can be achieved only after gaining a proficient command of the English language, or any other language for that matter, or, the desired proficiency comes only after we engage in larger pursuits of life.

By larger pursuits of life I mean all those creative sorts of activities that demand either field-specific professional excellence or that bring happiness to our lives with a sense of well-being or euphoria which I take art and literature for preciseness. The latter sort of pursuits become imminent from the very idea that the chief end of everybody life is the pursuit of happiness. Undeniably, this type of happiness derives from self-actualization, the highest level of need in Maslow’s hierarchy, and art and literature are the best ways towards self-actualization.  In this article I shall attempt to establish a relationship between language command and these larger pursuits of life with special reference to the English language.

Field-specific professional excellence

In the past English was taught solely as a language of communication and was by and large used as a means of communicating with the world community, and its secondary application was for literary activities. However, within the last two decades, the world has undergone a vast transformation with its explosion of knowledge and English has pervaded our life and culture. The world has been anglicized, so to speak, and new types of professional needs have emerged. Now, the scope of the English language has broadened. In this changed context an ESL/ EFL teacher has now not only to deal with English and its grammar, linguistics, ELT but also there are a number of disciplines like philosophy, literature, anthropology, psychology, mass communication, journalism, and above all those registers of English that are used in an indeterminately large number of fields and situations, that most often pass over the heads of a majority of English teachers.  As a side note, English teachers need  to acquaint themselves with all those varieties of English used in different English speaking communities and different professional contexts so they can help their students deal with world realities in relation to English use.

English for Specific Purposes: English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is the English for professional needs of learners and requires field-specific knowledge of English. Why ESP? This question should be clear from the following anecdotes from my own life.

I had just passed Master’s in English when my spouse complained of abdomen pain during her last months of pregnancy and we visited a doctor, who noticing my flaunting of English, replied in English. He used medical register: “She has a minor cervical fissure. Miscarriage might result if we don’t resort to caesarian.” I didn’t have the faintest idea of what he said but I just uttered a faint “Yes”. So deplorably I wished I could have a dictionary handy then.

At another time I was invited to write a bank guarantee for an organization for a loan that would be sanctioned to the organization on their written request along with the collateral. I spent the whole day trying and re-trying and ended up with what looked like an abstract literature. Ah, it was a horrible experience.

As a matter of fact, some of us might aspire to write a proposal for an organization that might bring up ludicrous incomes to us; some of us might aspire to write an influential article for a newspaper, a film script, a dissertation, a legal document, an advert, or a book, for that matter. But our own English comes as a barrier when we proceed. We lack the knowledge and skills of field-specific register of English. In a world where knowledge is a measure of power and where English sells as a commodity, why can’t we sell our knowledge of English? Why in certain vacancy announcements where sound knowledge of English is a must, preference is given to other disciplines rather than English? Rarely have English language graduates got the posts like manager, project coordinator, executive officer, proposal writer, and the likes solely on the basis of their English skills. Why can’t we sell our English skills in larger world markets? It may be perhaps because we don’t study/ teach field-specific professional English that can in technical terms be called ESP. Certainly ESP is a lot different from General English.

So what? Teaching the English language as merely an end in itself is not the demand of time. The demand of the hour is teaching need-based English. For this, whole the programmes and curricula of English right from beginners’ level have to be re-looked and revised.

English for art and literature: a euphoric pursuit

After so much reading of the English language, grammar, linguistics, research articles, critical theories, newspapers, journals and so on and so forth, we should be prepared to create something of worth for the real world audience – a poem, a piece of fiction, an essay, a travelogue, or a book worth reading. Well, yes, we do really well when our audience is our students but our ability starts to answer when our audience is the literati from the world community. Many of us might even fail to interpret and appreciate a piece of art or literature written in the current trend, for we are still reading/writing structured literature of the romantic age and modern age. Facing postmodern literature is a challenge for us. If we cannot read and enjoy art and literature, we have no right to call ourselves connoisseurs of art and literature. Reading, appreciating and creating art and literature to cultivate a sense of well-being or euphoria is what I mean by “euphoric pursuit”. Art and literature are something that make our life meaningful and worth living, and there is no gainsaying the fact that these entities are the stairs that lift us towards self-realization and self-actualization. These pursuits should be at high end of ELT/ ELD.

However, the way we teach literature in English classes is no way better than spoon feeding – mere discussing the gist or summary of the literary text, dictating the summary or a stereotypical summary to them and getting them to learn the end-of-the-text question answers, which WILL only blunt their creative potentialities rather than sharpen them. When shall we encourage our students to read, interact with and appreciate the literary texts, making out their own enquiries into the text to distill their own interpretations of the text, and generate their own critical thinking and creative writing?

Is There Any Best Approach, Method and Technique for ESL Classes? I Like all; I Like none

                                                                                                                                                 Jagadish Paudel

Nothing is right, nothing is wrong; everything is right, everything is wrong.

Nothing is best, nothing is worst; everything is best, everything is worst.

One day, I asked my B. Ed. students, “Which is the best method for teaching English?” They quickly responded in a single voice that the communicative method (CM) is the best method. I remained silent for a while looking around the class.  All the students had the same answer. Even the students who did not respond seemed to agree in the same matter. Similarly, when I went to Bhajhang, Bajura, Doti, Dadeldhura for examination conduction and research work, I asked the same question to some English teachers there. They also answered that CM is the best method. Like them, I had the same understanding when I was a student, and before familiarizing myself with the concept of postmodernism and post-method pedagogy in ELT.

They do not seem to have postmodern mind. They were guided by the truth; rather than by a truth. They did not strive for potential perspectives and alternatives in ELT. They did not become critical rather became blind supporters. They viewed CM from BANA perspective. Postmodern mind believes that everything considerably varies according to contexts. In this connection, Tarnas (1993) writes, “There is an appreciation of the plasticity and constant change of reality and knowledge, a stress on the priority of concrete experience over fixed abstract principles, and a conviction that no single a priori thought system should govern belief or investigation.”

In this world, nothing is final, nothing is absolute and fixed; everything is relative and fallible. Postmodernism accepts multiples truths and realities in everything. The concept of postmodernism also applies in ELT. Many teachers and students are still unaware of this fact. Like in many spheres of life, innovations are also being explored in the field of ELT. Teachers and students should be familiar with the changing trends of ELT around the world. They should not be guided by the fixed ideas and values. This is the world of postmodernism; it is the world of options, possibilities, and alternatives. There are many options in every sector, for example, in education, media, communication, auto-mobile, mobiles, business, transportation, politics, manpower, politics, and fashion, etc. There is no hegemony of a single thing. The same applied in ELT. Postmodern pedagogy allows ELT to be flexible and contextual. It gives freedom to use teachers and students’ experiences, values, cultures. It also considers socio-economic status, political realities and local circumstances. Hence, we need to teach in local realities in which we find our values, cultures; rather than following others’ practices blindly. Teachers and students should keep abreast of the new trends and best practices of the world emerged in ELT, but act locally and contextually. Pertaining to it, Freeman (2008) has rightly remarked ‘think globally, act locally’.

In the past, ELT was virtually led by methodologists and experts. What they told was followed strictly by the teachers and students. The teaching learning activities which followed certain methods strictly would be counted as the good teaching. In the field of ELT, different methodologists have introduced different approaches, methods, techniques one after another rejecting and criticizing the previous ones and claiming theirs as the best ones. Over the last 100 years, the ELT professionals searched for a single, ideal method, generalizable across widely diverse student bodies around the globe. They vainly searched for the absolute method that would serve as the panacea in language teaching. However, they always failed to do so.  It is because they had wrong the assumption that they could find a universal method. As a matter of fact, searching a universal method is like peeling off an onion and never getting into its core.

During 1990s, the ELT professionals came to realize that no approach/method/technique can be ideal. Actually, all approaches, methods, techniques are context specific. They can be very effective, depending on a particular context, place, students, purpose, etc.  It is the context which determines how teaching and learning should take place. Hence, while teaching we should consider the contextual factors such as the place where teaching learning activities are taking place, the students and teachers, culture, time, available resources, socio-economic condition, purpose, motivation, etc. Teachers need to be able to use approaches, and methods flexibly and creatively based on their own judgments and experiences. They should look for alternatives, question the existing practices if they have doubts and explore their own practices that best befit in their contexts.

Going through the literature of language teaching, we find myriads of methods, approaches and techniques discussed by methodologists. Grammar translation method, direct method, audio-lingual method, communicative method, nativist approach, functional approach, oral structural situational approach, task-based approach, behaviorism, rationalism are to name but too few. All these have own importance in their own places. Most of these have well-established background and theory. Yet, they cannot be regarded as the best methods in all the places, for teaching all language items, and for all teachers and students. There are various views regarding the best way to teach a language. Prabhu (1990) writes:

…no single method is best for everyone, as there are important variations in the teaching context that influence what is best. The variations are of several kinds, relating to social situation (language policy, language environment, linguistic and cultural attitudes, economic and ideological factors, etc.), educational organisation (instructional objectives, constraints of time and resources, administrative efficiency, class-size, classroom ethos, etc.), teacher-related factors (status, training, belief, autonomy, skill, etc.), and learner-related factors (age, aspirations, previous learning experience, attitudes to learning, etc.). (p.162)

Regarding the best method, the prevalent notion is that if a method yields the best results in terms of learning outcomes that is the best method. Different methods are best in different teaching and learning contexts. A method which is regarded best in one context can be far removed from classroom reality, and become impractical in another context. Brown (1994, p. 15) maintains that “the best method is one which you have derived through your very own careful process of formulation, try-out, revision, and refinement.”  Likewise, Tarnas (ibid) writes: “One must try the new, experiment and explore, test against subjective and objective consequences, learn from one’s mistakes, take nothing for granted, treat all as provisional, assume no absolutes.”

Brown (ibid) says that different philosophical theories have appeared and disappeared in history, so have language teaching methods ‘waxed’ and ‘waned’ in popularity. Likewise, Harmer (2008, p. 48) writes: “Both             abstract theory and practical techniques have been debated,    have gone in and out of fashion, and have influenced what was and is included in classrooms and teaching materials.”

The above mentioned discussion implies that no approach or method or technique, etc. can be best or worst in its own right. It is the context which makes it effective or ineffective. None of them is universal.  Brown (ibid) mentions that no method can guarantee success, because every learner is unique, teacher is unique and every learner-teacher relationship is unique.

No single method can suffice to fulfill all the needs and expectations of all the learners at all times. If we talk in the context of Nepal, it is more complex. It is difficult to meet all the widely differing expectations held by individual students and too difficult to ensure that everyone learns by a single method. If we glance at most of the Nepalese ELT classrooms, we will find heterogeneous learners in terms of levels, competence, age, academic background, family background, economic background, mother tongue, personality, sex, language aptitude, learning style, culture, geography, etc. . Hence, it is a big challenge to teach ELT effectively and successfully by a single method. Hence, teacher needs to practice “enlightened” eclecticism. The teachers of English can use different approaches, methods, and techniques that can be suitable for their own classes. Therefore, some professionals started to speak death of the methods and the term ‘post-methods era’.

Richards and Rodgers (2002) have made some criticisms of approaches and methods.

 The top-down criticism

Almost all the methods typically prescribe for teachers what and how to teach; they fail to consider their potential application to practical situations. The role of the teacher is sidelined; his or her role is to understand the method and apply its principles appropriately. There is often little freedom for the teacher’s own personal initiative and teaching style.  Likewise, learners are sometimes viewed as the passive recipients of the method and must follow the prescribed exercises and activities strictly. But, today, it is commonly acknowledged that learners bring different learning styles and preferences to the learning process that they should be considered in the process of developing a teaching program, and that teaching methods must be flexible and adaptive to learners’ needs and interests.

Role of contextual factors

Pedagogical experts often propped up their approaches and methods as all-purpose solutions to teaching problems that can be applied all over the world and under any circumstance. That is to say, they regarded their approaches and methods as universal.   In the application of approaches and methods teachers ignored the context in which teaching and learning takes place, including the cultural context, the political context, the local institutional context, and the context constituted by the teachers and learners in their classroom.

The need for curriculum development processes

Curriculum planners view debates over teaching method as part of a broader set of educational planning decisions.  A careful examination of all available sources of knowledge, objectives, piloting of those methods and materials which are judged most likely to achieve the objectives which teachers agreed upon, the assessment of the work and objectives and feedback of all experience gained are to be taken into account in the process of curriculum development processes (Nicholls and Nicholls, 1972 as cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2002, p.248). Choice of teaching method cannot, therefore, be determined in isolation from other planning and implementation practices.

Lack of research basis

Approaches and methods are often based on the assumptions, claims, and assertions, without research evidence, so as to have the understanding of second language learning process. There is lack of clear evidence to be believed. Assumption cannot always be true in all contexts. Most of the approaches and methods are not empirically tested. Hence, there is the need of research over these approaches and methods.

Similarity of classroom practices

It is very difficult for teachers to apply approaches and methods in the ways that precisely mirror the underlying principles of the method. Theory and practice are not consistent with each other.

For Brown (1994) language teaching and learning should be “a principled approach” that is, having a finite number of general research-based principles on which classroom practice is grounded. He has mentioned the twelve principles, for example, automaticity, meaningful learning, the anticipation of reward, intrinsic motivation, strategic investment, language ego, self-confidence, risk taking, the language-culture connection, the native language effect, inter-language and communicative competence. This principled approach is oriented to diagnose the needs of students, to treat the students with successful pedagogical techniques and to assess the outcome of those treatments. For him, a teacher has to be engaged in diagnosing their learners’ needs, offer treatment as per the needs and assigning the effectiveness of their own practices.


To conclude, we can say that all approaches, methods and techniques cannot work in all contexts. We should not take them for granted. We should raise vital questions if we have some doubts and adapt them as per our contexts instead. Therefore, we should remake, reset, rethink, revisit, and reinvent the teaching learning activities for our lessons ourselves.


Mr. Paudel is a teaching assistant at Dandeldhura Campus ,Dandeldhura and he has been teaching English for Nepalese learners of English over the last seven years.                     


Brown, H. D. (1994a). Principles of language learning and teaching. London: Prentice Hall.

                ___(2002). English language teaching in the “Post-method” Era: toward     better diagnosis, treatment, and assessment. In Richards and Renandya

(eds.). Methodology in language teaching. Cambridge: CUP.

Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.

                   (2008). How to teach English. London: Longman.

Prabhu, N. S. (1990). There is no best method- why? TESOL Quarterly Journal.

Richards, J. C. and W. A., Renandya (eds.) (2010). Methodology in language teaching. Cambridge: CUP.

Trana, R. (1993). The Passion of the western mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our ideas. Random House Publishing Group

Reflecting on the Talk on the ‘Critical’ in Language Education

Ashok Raj Khati

I attended a guest lecture on The ‘Critical’ in Language Education delivered by Bal Krishna Sharma on the 3rd of July 2013 at the School of Education, Kathmandu University. Bal Krishna is a one of the past editors of the Journal of NELTA and a doctoral candidate in applied linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA. There were 24 students of MPhil in English Language Education. In this brief reflective essay, I am going to share some key points of the lecture and discuss how the ‘critical’ aspect of language education is an important for language teachers and researchers.

I had come across the term ‘critical’ many times during different courses in MPhil and discourses of English language education; however the talk made me broaden my perspective particularly on how we can introduce ‘criticality’ in the classroom in Nepalese ELT settings. Before the class, he had assigned us to read an article on ‘the practicality and relevance of second language critical pedagogy’ by Graham Crookes (2009) so that we could have better perspective on the topic and better participated in the talk session. I found that the article (see appendix)  addresses eight different areas including EFL critical pedagogy and it also highlights the practical relevance of critical pedagogies of second language (L2) in several areas. This write up is very relevant and useful to see the practicality of critical pedagogy in EFL or ESL classroom.

The aim of his talk session was to introduce the ‘critical’ in language pedagogy. Nevertheless, his talk did not only introduce the term ‘critical’ but also illustrated with examples giving practical insights on how it can be integrated into language education. Bal Krishna’s talk mainly focused on four kinds of the ‘critical’ in language pedagogy. They were critical discourse analysis, critical pedagogy, critical language awareness and critical literacy organized together in the talk. He first presented the general overview of such terms and then the examples. Each of them contained an assignment or project work for the audience. Firstly, critical discourse analysis (CDA) takes place through an analysis of how power and inequality constructed through different discourse like naturally occurring interactions (e.g. classroom), photographs, images, media (movies, newspapers and documentaries), websites, textbooks, policy documents, etc. We critically observed the cultural and authenticity aspect in some examples of English textbooks. Finally, we attempted to explore possible critical discourse analysis through a list of assignments given as follows:

  • Collecting naturally occurring interaction data in a language classroom and analyze how the teacher and the fellow classmates treat a stuttering student.
  • Analysing how professional roles are represented in terms of gender in English textbooks of Grade 9 and 10.
  • Analysing how ‘Nepali’ culture is constructed in English textbooks.
  • Critically analyzing how VP Paramanda Jha’s oath in Hindi is constructed by media.

It was an exciting discussion in the sense that the instances taken in the talk were of Nepalese context.

Secondly, Bal Krishna discussed critical pedagogy. He defined, following Freire (1972), Giroux (1981) and Apple (1982), critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with critiquing existing educational institutions and practices, and subsequently transforming both education and society. I came to know that critical pedagogy has several names like radical pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, pedagogy of possibility, pedagogy of empowerment and transformative pedagogy. I understood that Social Responsibility Interest Section in TESOL and Global Issues Specific Interest Group in IATEFL are address the concerns of critical pedagogy. I realized that there are two important aspects of critical pedagogy—Give students voice and Critical analysis skills. At the end of the discussion on ‘critical pedagogy’, he introduced an example of the Tamang Project entitled ‘Privileging Indigenous Knowledges: Empowering Multilingual Education in Nepal’ led by two Nepalese and a foreign researchers. The major focuses of the project are on:

–          herbal medicines and healing practices,

–          traditional and modern knowledge and skills,

–          History, numerical systems, weights and measures,

–          Relations, belief systems and practices and

–          Life rituals, feasts and festivals, songs, lyrics and poems.

Thirdly, in his presentation he defined critical language awareness as it refers to importance of ‘noticing’, applicable to marginalized language speakers and it argues to deconstruct the standard language ideology. It covers dialect awareness, non-standard language awareness, pidgin and creole awareness native/heritage language awareness (think of internal migrants). The following assignment was given at the end.

–          Develop a lesson or activities which ask all of the students to discuss and present on their languages and cultures and how they make use of their languages in their lives, both in and out of school. The students can bring in an artifact from home which represents their home language(s)/culture(s), and they can be encouraged to teach the class some expressions in their home language. The Tharu language in Chitwan, for example. The students should also be encouraged to work with their parents.

I found the discussion on critical literacy was more useful from the perspective of global citizenship. I was highly interested in the issue. We came to know that critical literacy as an educational practice that focuses on the relationship between language, social practices, citizenship, intercultural relations and global/local issues, with several implications for our understanding of language, our pedagogical practices and the role of teachers. I occasionally used issue-based teaching in my class but came to know this time that it was critical literacy. To teach life skills to the learners through critical literacy was quite convincing to me. The inspiring examples for critical literacy like makingsmall scale interventions within the existing institutional constraints (Shin and Crookes, 2005), raising students’ consciousness on matters relevant to their lives (Konoeda and Watanabe, 2008) and connecting ESL pedagogical practices to issues of power, equity, and social justice (Ajayi, 2008) added value to the discussion.

The assignments based on different ‘critical’ in language pedagogy were so useful on the part of the students since they worked as clue to prepare theses, design project work, develop a lesson plan or activity and organize a workshop from critical perspective. Besides, I found his talk very relevant to Nepalese context where there is a need to look into such issues and bring a change in traditional chain of learning. It has really enabled all of us who attended the talk and made us really thoughtful on such issues with reference to multilingual context of Nepal. Following the talk, we some of our friends had larger discussion and interaction realising our concern to work together for this. I will largely incorporate such issues at different professional avenues in the days to come.

Before he concluded his two-hour talk, he shared with the audience his research project and opened the floor for question answer session.  At the end of the session Associate Prof. Laxman Gnawali, Kathmandu University, summarized the talk and appreciated Mr. Bal Krishna Sharma for his contribution to the M.Phil in ELE program of Kathmandu University.


Mr. Khati is a life member of NELTA and currently pursuing his MPhil in ELE from Kathmandu University, Nepal.


Here is the pdf version of Mr. Sharma’s presentation slides and the article by Crookes (2009).

1. Critical at KU for Choutari

2. Crookes, critical pedagogy

Interaction in English language classrooms to enhance students’ language learning

Chura Bahadur Thapa & Angel M. Y. Lin *


EFL contexts like Nepal seldom provide students with opportunities for authentic communication in English. Therefore, deliberate ‘interaction in the classrooms’ is emerging as one of the leading conventions to enhance the students’ linguistic resources as well as equipping them with appropriate skills for communication. The major intent of this entry is to share a teacher’s insider experiences of developing interactions in an ESL classroom in Hong Kong while fully recognizing that the contextual differences between Hong Kong and Nepal will necessitate teachers’ own creative adaptation or re-invention of whatever tips shared from elsewhere. We shall, first of all, present the concept of interaction from sociocultural perspectives and discuss various challenges for the front-line EFL teachers to plan and implement lessons that incorporate interactions in ESL or EFL classrooms. Then, insider experiences of the first author of this entry in overcoming those challenges are shared. Assuming that the textbooks and teaching materials play a vital role to promote and facilitate the interactions in classrooms, a sample activity designed for the Secondary Two (Class 8) ESL students in Hong Kong is also included and discussed.

Interaction in language classrooms

Classroom interaction has been considered one of the most important pedagogical research topics in language classrooms in recent decades, mostly due to the influence of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotskian sociocultural theory (Hall & Walsh, 2002) views the act of language learning as a social activity in which children build their knowledge through the help and scaffolding of more knowledgeable peers or teachers. Interactions in language classrooms are important social activities for students through which they not only construct knowledge, but also build confidence and identity as competent language users (Luk & Lin, 2007). In an in-depth ethnographic study of teacher-student interactions in Hong Kong, Luk and Lin (2007) found out that students develop multiple identities through their classroom interactions with their language teachers. Although the study took place in an ESL classroom where native English language teachers are available, Luk and Lin (2007:188) present a telling story about how students negotiate identity and cultural resources, which are “translated into non-institutionally sanctioned language practices and identities”. Perhaps, the social knowledge students bring into the classrooms might be those “non-institutional language practices”, which schools and teachers are supposed to build on in order to enhance their learning.

Interaction in the classroom refers to the conversation between teachers and students, as well as among the students, in which active participation and learning of the students becomes vital. Conversations are part of the sociocultural activities through which students construct knowledge collaboratively. Conversations between and among various parties in the classroom have been referred to as educational talk (Mercer and Dawes, 2008) or “exploratory talk” and “presentational talk” (Barnes, 2008:5). Presentational talk is the one-way lecture conducted by the teachers in the classroom, mostly featured in Nepalese EFL contexts, which contributes little to encouraging and engaging students in a communicative dialogue. Exploratory talk is a purposeful conversation, often deliberately designed by teachers, which provide opportunities to students to engage in “hesitant, broken, and full of deadend” conversations enabling them to “try out new ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns” (Barnes, 2008:5). Given the limited linguistic resources the EFL students possess in their school years in EFL contexts like Nepal, these hesitant, broken and deadend conversations could be developed into spontaneous conversational skills. When students engage in interactions, they produce “symmetric dialogic context” (Mercer & Dawes, 2008:66) where everyone can participate, get respected and get the decisions made jointly. Students’ participation in interactions, therefore, can help them enrich their linguistic resources and build their confidence to communicate with others in English.

Designing interaction: challenges and ways ahead

When I started teaching English in a Hong Kong school, I noticed that students in Hong Kong like to talk a lot. These talks are often characterized as responses to the multiple stimuli such as various gadgets and social media. To realize the importance of students’ talks in their knowledge building was a paradigm shift in me, as my high school days in Nepal still remind me of the very quiet classrooms where often only the teachers talked. The process of designing lessons with meaningful interactions in my ESL classroom in Hong Kong posed several challenges such as incorporating various forms of interactions, achieving the lesson goals through such interactions, participation of students in meaningful interactions, and making sure that all the students engage in conversations and learn from the teachers as well as from themselves.

Secondly, of course students’ varying language abilities, topics that generated the conversations among them and matched their abilities presented a micro level challenges in managing interactions. Students in my class came from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and I believed that they brought with them their own unique knowledge base. Their varying English language ability might sound simple to some or unnoticeable to others, but addressing them in the classroom would very much influence how they view themselves and others (Luk & Lin, 2007) and make them feel how their cultural and linguistic knowledge base could be important in furthering their academic journey.

To overcome the underlined challenges, I took a closer look at other teachers’ practices and suggestions by researchers (Jong & Hawley, 1995). I found Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions particularly setting up group roles, teacher monitoring and evaluation, peer evaluation, appropriate group size and configuration quite useful. Assigning group roles and group configurations could be thought during the planning stage. Teacher monitoring should be conducted at the while-teaching stage, and teacher and peer evaluations are elements to be incorporated at the post-teaching stage. I often incorporated three stages of interactions in my lessons.

  1. Interaction of the students with the teacher (Teacher Student Whole-Class Interaction): I often asked students to respond to a certain question related to a emerging topic or a topic that was already taught as part of the whole-class interactions. For the responses, students were randomly selected based on their ability, seating arrangements, gender and cultural groups to make sure that they all get represented in the interaction process.
  2. Pair Interaction (Interaction with their peers sitting together or next to them): This interaction often took place during the pre-teaching stage, for example to activate their schema on a topic. As part of assigning group roles, students were usually asked to interact with their partners on a topic given by the teacher and present it to the whole class.
  3. Group Interaction (Groups of 4-5 students): This form of interaction often took place during the while-teaching stage. After students read a text, for example in a reading lesson, they could pick up a concept for discussion. Their discussion could dwell on expanding the practical meaning of the concept, finding solution to a problem or bring up a creative issue out of the topic. Based on Jong and Hawley’s (1995) suggestions, students’ roles were often divided based on the nature of the topic such as a note taker, a facilitator, a presenter, and so on. Assigning these roles was crucial to prevent the students to digress from discussion their topics or and contribute meaningfully in the whole learning process.

The idea of teacher monitoring took place during the process of pair or group interactions. Teachers could evaluate the extent and forms of interactions students conducted during the process, and at the same time, provide feedback and support to the weaker students. I often walked around the class and monitored the students’ interactions to make sure that they are up to the tasks and are supported when in need.

Timing the interactions was another important aspect handling the students’ conversations purposefully and meaningfully. I often gave the students 5-10 minutes to interact among themselves and prepare a presentation poster or speech. The timing depended on the topic’s extent of difficulty and students’ ability as well.

Students were often asked to present the outcome of their interaction to the whole class in poster or speech forms. In order to ensure every students’ participation, they were trained and assigned with roles to make contributions individually even during group presentations. This was at this stage that the teacher and peer evaluation took place. I often adopted a range of techniques to evaluate students’ performances such as asking students to fill in an evaluation rubric or asking students about their peers’ performances and grade them on the board. Sometimes this process generated heated debates and quarreling, friendly though; among the students because they thought that some of their peers were not evaluating them fairly.

Last, but not the least, I also created teaching materials and worksheets conducive to the diversity of the students particularly in order to scaffold on their linguistic and cultural resources. Textbooks nowadays are found incorporating activities for some forms of interactions, but they often become irrelevant in the classrooms because these textbooks cannot address the range of students’ ability levels, skill levels and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Most textbooks in Hong Kong, for example, incorporate elements of Chinese and Christian festivals and ask the students to interact on that. However, students from Nepal, Pakistan, India, or Sri-Lanka in Hong Kong would not be able to use their cultural resources and construct knowledge from the interactions. Although English language textbooks in Hong Kong are considered to be the most advanced resources for ESL students, modifications often needed to suit to my students’ needs. These changes sometimes also needed to address the students’ willingness and skills to spontaneously engage in interactions. For example, some students in my class were very poor in English and found it hard to even properly construct questions to ask their friends, while others were at a native English speaker’ level.

Taking these questions into consideration, we present an activity (Activity 1) that can potentially be used to promote pair interactions in an EFL classroom. This activity is a modified activity from a secondary two (Class 8) English language textbook in Hong Kong, which is believed to suit students with moderate English ability. The moderate language ability in this context is the students’ ability to use connectives and quantifiers in authentic situations. This activity incorporates multicultural elements in the context of Nepal as it contains pictures of various Nepali festivals as well as Western festivals such as Christmas. Students can ask their peers about their likes or dislikes and jot down their answers to present to the class. Phrases given in the boxes are meant to cater for learner diversity. For higher proficiency students, this activity can be presented in a different way to suit their levels.


Activity 1:

Worksheet A

1. Study the pictures in the boxes in pairs. Ask questions to your friend about items that he/she prefers or doesn’t prefer more (or less) and why. Write your friend’s responses in the checklist at the bottom.

You may begin like this: Which festivals do you like more/less/most/least? Why?


Check List

2. Write your friend’s answers below. You may need to present it to the class.

* My friend likes ___________________________ more, because ______________

* My friend likes __________________________less, because _________________


* He/She likes ___________________________ the most, because _____________


* My friend likes ___________ the least, because __________________________


This entry presented the concept of interaction from a sociocultural perspective sharing the first author’s teaching experiences in a Hong Kong school. The sharing included the challenges as well as possible strategies a teacher might adopt to devise, implement and evaluate interactions in an EFL classroom. The sharing could present a model for EFL teachers to choose from many other pedagogical options in order to enhance the students’ English language learning. The activity presented in this entry is only one example of hundreds of such possible activities. The original activity might not be suitable to adopt exactly in Nepalese EFL classes, as there are diversities in terms of language, culture, students’ abilities as well as available resources based on geography, developmental level and proximity to urban life. Teachers need to bear in mind that they understand their students the best and they need to know how students can best interact and learn the language in the classroom.

*About the Authors:

1- Mr. Chura Bahadur Thapa is a PhD Student in the Faculty of Education at The University of Hong Kong. He was an English language teacher in a local college in Hong Kong for almost 7 years before joining HKU as a postgraduate student. He is currently researching the language learning and motivation of ethnic minority students in Hong Kong. His other research interests include- education of ethnic minorities, linguistic and cultural identity, intercultural communication and citizenship education. He can be reached at chura@hku.hk

2- Dr. Angel Lin received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, Canada. She is an Associate Professor of English Language Education at the University of Hong Kong.  Well-respected for her versatile interdisciplinary scholarship in language and identity studies, bilingual education and youth cultural studies. she has published six research books and over eighty research articles. She can be reached at angellin@hku.hk.


Barnes, D. (2008). Exploratory talk for learning. Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 1-15.

Hall, J.K. & Walsh, M. (2002). Teacher-student interaction and language learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 186-203.

Jong, C.D. & Hawley, J. (1995). Making cooperative learning groups work. Middle School Journal, 26 (4), 45-48.

Luk, J.C.M. & Lin, A.M.Y. (2007). Classroom interactions as cross-cultural encounters. Native speakers in EFL classrooms. Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Mercer, N. & Dawes, L. (2008). The value of exploratory talk. In Mercer, N. & Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.). Exploring talk in schools. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi: SAGE, 55-72.

Editorial, July 2013: Local Pedagogies in Multilingual Settings

Madhav Kafle

So what happens when a place gets deterritorialized? Does the local expand beyond its borders and become global or does it evaporate all the localness because the borders disappear? And I could ask similar questions about language too: what happens when we teach a language as a separate entity with fixed meanings rather than teach Language as a dynamic semiotic process?

Evidently, both local and multilingual in the title of this issue are hotly contested categories. The term local is often tied with a boundary whether that is a rural village like Togi, my birthplace or a megacity like New York or Kathmandu. For me local used to mean homegrown. But, mainly because of migration of people, ideas, artifacts, and technologies on much broader, often global scales, it is becoming more challenging for many people to pinpoint where the local and the global meet. Easy availability of cell phones, as well as relatively cheaper rates for international calls, and faster travel have made flow of social and cultural practices even more intense. It is interesting to note that while most of us in Nepal look toward the West as the point of reference for the methods and techniques of  ELT education, we often fail to see that pre-colonial communities in our own area had such practices, although in different forms (see Bal Krishna Sharma’s article below).

To talk about the next part of the equation, the concept of multilingualism as a conglomeration of multiple languages learnt and processed separately is a myth as argued by the contributors of this issue. While it might be hard to ignore the current fact that our instructional objectives are based on fixity of multiple languages, we should also not forget that these languages were once invented (often along with the birth of the nation-states) and they have all gradually but dramatically evolved into the forms they are used today.

The articles in this issue guide us to find appropriate pedagogies when the “borders” of both nation-states and languages are getting porous. This special issue as a whole should help us to answer questions such as: what kind of  pedagogies we can adapt and adopt  in language teaching in the face of increasing globalization? Should nation-states be still the frames of references for our pedagogies? How can we possibly assist in  diminishing the divide between the hegemony of Standard and emerging vernacular practices? In terms of teaching English, are we always supposed to be norm dependent? Additionally, I believe the issue also helps in brainstorming about how we reached in the present condition where we have viewed multilingualism from the perspective of  monolingualism, and  how we draw the borderline between local and non-local practices. It also helps us rethink the power dynamics of the medium of education (language) versus the mission of education (making learning relevant).

If we are to understand the dialectics of social change,  it is necessary to destabilize the binary of local and global and better understand the shifting relations between space and place,  whether real or metaphorical, as well as recognize existence of multiple positions along the continuum. After all, as Canagarajah argues in his 2002 book Geopolitics of Academic Writing, global knowledge is basically one particular local knowledge with power that is presented, promoted, and adopted as globally relevant.  If we are truly living in a knowledge society where one’s value is determined by what one knows, what counts as knowledge is of prime importance. If we do not care to reflect upon our own practices, call ourselves a minority when in fact that is not the case, and easily buy into discourses that discredit our own identities, we are self-colonializing ourselves. The writings in this issue confront issues like this critically.

Basically the question is what should be done in today’s language classrooms where the teacher has to mediate between  global and local discourses. When the quality of education is measured by evaluating what students do not know rather than what they do know, most of the emerging voices get crushed or washed away by a system that fails to serve the majority. And I’m not speaking from an ivory tower as I have taught in rural parts of Kaski, Lamjung, and Myagdi and sadly seen nil results in multiple public schools of the country. I hope all five articles in this issue will provide us some food for thought in reimagining better pedagogies.

In the first article, Ofelia Garcia offers a vital approach to that end.  She argues that rather than language we need to be looking after translanguaging. Translanguaging refers to the process of meaning making by dynamically utilizing one’s repertoire.  The failure of nurturing emerging voices, Garcia reminds us, is in fact a global problem. By destabilizing major myths about language and language learning, she shows how multiple languages students bring to schools can be used as resources.

Along the similar lines, Rama Kant Agnihotri argues that if we were to develop local pedagogies, we should start to learn to respect the languages student bring in the classrooms. Unlike our common view of seeing them as major obstacles, Agnihotri indicates that to lessen the gap created by the private-public school divide, we can explore cross-language relations.

Another reason of not seeing our own local practices as authentic comes from the inferiority complex caused primarily by the discourse of non-nativeness.  Challenging such status quo, Davi Reis encourages all of us to attain our professional legitimacy by being cognizant of the damaging effects of such oppressive ideologies, and by dismantling the false dichotomies, by not undermining ourselves but by reaching out for help to the global community.

In a country where diversity of languages, religions, and cultures has existed for centuries, researching older practices might provide some insights even for today’s societies as Bal Krishna Sharma exemplifies from ancient Hindu texts. It is our task to study many more traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism and others that have co-existed there for years and save them from being lost, left and thwarted.  We can even develop wholeness of body, mind, and spirit and integrate teaching, learning, and evaluation as they once were in the past. Ironically, as Sharma emphasizes, we might be surprised to find that these “neglected” practices had features that we borrow today from the advanced societies.

Finally, reflecting on our assessment practices at SLC exam, one of the key stages in Nepalese education system, Shyam Sharma urges us to accept the harsh reality of how we English teachers tend to be disinterested in the big picture of education as we often buy into the myth that English medium means quality education. It seems that we are hardly successful in creating global citizens demanded by today’s knowledge economy because we are not even successful at developing pedagogies that are  socially and culturally meaningful. It has been now well argued that over-emphasis in the “Standard English” amounts to short-sightedness.

I hope articles in this issue along with lists of further resources provided by the authors will help us to reflect on important issues about the global/local dynamics in English language teaching and education at large.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

1. Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal by Ofelia García

2. What should one do in a language classroom? by Rama Kant Agnihotri

3. NNESTs and Professional Legitimacy: Fighting the Good Fight by Davi Reis

4. Hindu educational ethos and practices as a possible source for local pedagogy by Bal Krishna Sharma

5. SLC, ELT, and Our Place in the Big Picture by Shyam Sharma

Before closing, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all who made this issue possible despite their unimaginably busy schedules. And I’d like to request you to please leave comments in order to encourage writers (as well as share your ideas), to like and post entries to your social network, and to consider contributing your own blog entry to Nelta Choutari’s future issues.

On Behalf of Nelta Choutari Team

Madhav Kafle

Translanguaging to teach English in Nepal

Ofelia García*



            English language teaching throughout the world has suffered from a monoglossic bias; that is, the view that English could only be taught in isolation and separated from the languages spoken by students. This was, of course, the pedagogical tradition that emerged from the West, and especially from North American and British scholars in particular, who saw the teaching of the English language as a monolingual imperialist enterprise. But in the 21st century, English teaching has gone global, no longer in the hands of colonial masters, but taught throughout the world by many who share language and culture with students. And yet, our pedagogies have remained as monolingual as ever, robbing students of opportunities to use their home languages to make sense of the complex use of English that is demanded in the world today.

            I argue here that we need to adopt a translanguaging lens, a lens which allows us to think about language, bilingualism and learning from the perspective of emergent bilingual students themselves. I start by considering the concept of translanguaging.  Using the translanguaging lens, I then provide counterarguments to some of the constructions about English language speakers, English language acquisition and learning, bilingualism, and language education that have been responsible for much failure in the teaching of English to students throughout the world.


The term translanguaging was coined in Welsh (trawsieithu) by Cen Williams. In its original use, it referred to a pedagogical practice where students are asked to alternate languages for receptive or productive use; for example, students might be asked to read in English and write in Welsh and vice-versa. Since then, the term has been extended by many scholars (e.g. Blackledge & Creese 2010, Canagarajah 2011, García 2009; García & Sylvan 2011, Hornberger & Link 2012). I have used the term to refer to the flexible use of linguistic resources by bilinguals in order to make sense of their worlds, and I have applied it mostly to classrooms because of its potential in liberating the voices of language minoritized students.

I use translanguaging here to refer not to the use of two separate languages or even the shift of one language or code to the other (for simple Questions and Answers on translanguaging for educators see my introduction to Celic and Seltzer, 2012). Rather, translanguaging is rooted on the principle that emergent bilingual students select language features from a repertoire and “soft assemble” their language practices in ways that fit their communicative situations. Translanguaging in education can be defined as a process by which students and teachers engage in complex discursive practices that include ALL the language practices of students in order to develop new language practices and sustain old ones, communicate and appropriate knowledge, and give voice to new sociopolitical realities by interrogating linguistic inequality. In today’s globalized world what is needed is the ability to engage in fluid language practices and to soft-assemble features that can “travel” across geographic spaces so as to enable us to participate fully as global citizens.

Counter-narratives about English, its speakers, learning English, bilingualism, and teaching English

            The education of emergent bilinguals suffers from five major misconstructions about English, its speakers, the learning of English, bilingualism, and the teaching of English that can be counter-narrated through a translanguaging lens as follows:

  1. English is not a system of structures.
  2. “Native” English speakers are neither the norm nor objective fact.
  3. Learning English is not linear.
  4. Bilinguals are not simply speakers of a first and a second language.
  5. The teaching of English cannot be enacted in total separation from other language practices.

I will develop these counter-narratives to deconstruct some of the myths with which we have been operating in educating emergent bilinguals.

English is not a system of structures

English forms and meaning are not auto-sufficient, but arise in and through social practice, as linguistic practices get used repeatedly in local contexts for meaning-making. Language is a series of social practices and actions that are embedded in a web of social relations and that orient and manipulate social domains of interactions.  Pennycook (2010: 9) explains:

A focus on language practices moves the focus from language as an autonomous system that preexists its use, and competence as an internal capacity that accounts for language production, towards an understanding of language as a product of the embodied social practices that bring it about (my italics).

English is not a system of language structures; rather, languaging through what is called English is practicing a new way of being in the world.  This understanding of what English is and is not has enormous implications for our conceptualization of English speakers, the next counter-narrative that I propose.

“Native” English speakers are neither the norm nor objective fact

It is important to recognize that monolinguals are not the norm in the world. Although estimates are difficult to make, well over half of the world’s population is bilingual or monolingual. In the second language acquisition literature, the “native” speaker is always held as the ideal. But the notion of who is a “native” speaker has been questioned in the fluidity of today’s global world. Often “native” has become indexical of being white. The ideology of the existence of a monolithic “native” English creates an order of indexicality (Blommaert, 2010) that favors the language practices of white prestigious monolingual speakers. Thus, the other “native” practices are reduced to being “corrupted,” “stigmatized,” “deficient,” “needing remediation.” As many have argued, there is no “native English standard.” Being a “native English speaker” is not simply being monolingual or speaking a certain way. At the same time, learning English does not happen in a vacuum, and is not linear. This is the misconstruction addressed by the counter-narrative in the next section.

Learning English does not proceed from scratch, is not linear

The learning of English has often focused on an end point, the ultimate attainment of a “native English standard.”  When students haven’t achieved this, they are said to have a “fossilized interlanguage”; that is, their language system is said to be permanently deficient. Rarely has the learning of English paid attention to the resources students bring and to the dynamic process through which language practices emerge. But students are much more than just blank slates that are subsequently filled with English structures. They bring to classrooms knowledge, imagination, and sophisticated language practices. In addition, they do not forget what they know in order to take up English. These students are emergent bilinguals with full capacities. Their new language practices do not surface from scratch, but emerge in interrelationship with old language practices.

If the English language is not, as we have seen, simply a system of structures, then it follows that it is not possible just to add up structures in linear fashion in order to learn. Instead, English learning emerges as a flexible continuum, as students take up practices in interrelationship with others. The result is never an end point at which students “have” English. Rather, emergent bilinguals “do” language, languaging in ways that include practices identified as “English” in order to negotiate communicative situations and meet academic expectations. Emergent bilinguals are not simply in a stage of “incomplete acquisition.” The next section questions the misconstructions about bilingualism held by schools that have served to alienate the complex language practices of emergent bilingual students from English learning and provides an alternative narrative.

Bilinguals are not simply speakers of a first and a second language

Bilingualism in schools is often understood as being additive. Additive bilingualism refers to the idea that a “second language” can be added to a “first language,” resulting in a person who is a balanced bilingual. The views about languaging that I have been developing here lead us to reject the idea of “first” and “second” language, as well as balanced bilingualism.

Although most bilinguals may be able to identify which language they learned “first” and which language they learned “second,” the assignment of a “first” and “second” language to bilinguals is as much a theoretical impossibility as is the concept of being a balanced bilingual.  New language practices emerge in interrelationship with old ones, and these language practices are always dynamically enacted.

I have argued that bilingualism can be better seen as dynamic.  In contrasting dynamic bilingualism to an additive perspective, I go beyond simply the perspective of language systems and refer to the multiple and complex way in which the language practices of bilinguals interact and form a complex language repertoire. I have used the image of a banyan tree to suggest that language practices emerge and develop in intertwined ways.

As bilingualism emerges, the identification of language practices belonging to one or another “language” has to be questioned. Bilinguals translanguage, disrupting conventional ideas of what languages are or of the languages that bilinguals have. Bilinguals are clearly not two monolinguals in one. They use their complex language repertoire to fulfill the communicative needs that emerge from the different landscapes and speakers through which they shuttle back and forth. I have used the image of the All Terrain Vehicle to suggest that bilinguals use their complex language practices selectively as they adapt to the ridges and craters of communication in different languagescapes.

Traditionally, bilingual use has been understood as following a diglossic compartmentalization, with one language spoken at home, another one in school. But the translanguaging lens we have adopted makes clear that the language practices of bilinguals are transglossic, and that their full repertoire of practices is used in homes, and often “invisibly” in schools. The structures of language and education programs and their pedagogies have to respond to greater fluidity. This is the misconstruction addressed in the next counter-narrative.

The teaching of English cannot be enacted in total separation from other language practices

Traditionally, the teaching of English has taken place in English only. But as the complex translanguaging practices of bilinguals are made more evident, structures and pedagogies that separate languages artificially have to be abandoned. The language separation approach that is often used has to be abandoned.

All teachers must adopt translanguaging strategies in teaching.  It would be important for English teachers to leverage the children’s entire language repertoire in making meaning and to develop the children’s metacognition and sense of self-regulation as they translanguage.

Oral discussions that include all students’ language practices enable their class participation, deep and reflexive thinking, and rigorous cognitive engagement with texts. The reading of difficult text is facilitated when students can access background material about the content of the text in other languages. Engagement with writing English texts is also facilitated when students can discuss, read and write first drafts that may include other language practices besides those that are in English.  Translanguaging is an important tool.

A translanguaging lens enables us to understand the teaching of English to emergent bilinguals in new ways. Focusing on translanguaging practices enables us to shed notions of system structures that can be linearly taught, of the proper usage of natives, of the value of monolingualism, of bilingualism as simply double monolingualism, of the teaching of English without considering the entire language and semiotic repertoire of students.


Blackledge, A. and Creese, A. (2010) .Multilingualism. London: Continuum.

Blommaert, J. (2010). The Sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Canagarajah, A.S. (2011). Codemeshing in academic writing: Identifying teachable strategies of translanguaging. The Modern Language Journal 95(iii), 401-417.

Celic, C. and Seltzer, K. (2012). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB Guide for Educators. New York: CUNY-NYSIEB. Online document: http://www.nysieb.ws.gc.cuny.edu/publicationsresources/

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st Century: A Global perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley/Blackwell.

García, O. and Sylvan, C. (2011). Pedagogies and practices in multilingual classrooms: Singularities in Pluralities. Modern Language Journal 95(iii), 385-400.

Hornberger, N. and H. Link. (2012). Translanguaging and transnational literacies in multilingual classrooms: A bilingual lens. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 15(3): 261-278.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a local practice. London and New York: Routledge.

*Ofelia García is Professor in the Ph.D. program of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.   She has published many book chapters, articles, and books. She is the Associate General Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

What should one do in a language classroom?

Rama Kant Agnihotri*

What students and teachers should do in a language classroom is best left to them. Language teaching is so complex and so contextually rooted that except for very general guidelines, nothing may really help in the actual task. What language professionals can at best do is to make available in as accessible a manner as possible content, form and format (oral, printed, digital etc.) material about the potential of the learner, aspects of nature, structure, acquisition and change of language, features of language variation, nature of learning processes, materials, methods and evaluation procedures. In this short article, I focus only on one issue that may be of some use to language teachers: How languages of learners in a given classroom is not an obstacle in the trajectory of language learning; it is in fact a resource not only in language teaching but also in enhancing cognitive growth and social tolerance.

Most teachers and several language professionals believe that languages of students are an obstacle in the process of learning another language. Many actually believe that they cause major interference and therefore students should not even be allowed to use their languages in the class and the school. The typical paradigm in which they work could be defined as ‘a class, a teacher, a text and a language’. Nothing if you reflect for a moment could be further from the truth. All classes are by default multilingual. Examine your own and examine your own language profile and that of your friends. Secondly, languages student bring with them are and can be used as a resource rather than dismissed as an obstacle. Languages always flourish in each other’s company; they suffocate in prisons of isolation and purity. English today is rich because it keeps its doors open; so were Sanskrit and Hindi till they started closing their doors. Thirdly, it is not at all difficult for all teachers and students to appreciate that all languages are equally rule governed and rich. This is something which is so effortlessly achieved if the strengths of a multilingual class are recognized. For example, all languages will have some technique to indicate the relationship between the subject and the verbal elements. That some languages may look more powerful than others is NOT a linguistic matter but one of history, sociology and politics and these aspects can also be easily demonstrated if the teachers are open to such a discourse. Languages like Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Persian etc. were once very powerful; the power of English is only a few decades old and there is no reason to believe that it would stay like that. If you leave out china, Russia, Africa, India etc., the English speaking world is actually very small.

In any case, we do need to think why theories of interference hold such power and what’s wrong with them. These theories hold power because they are the most convenient answers to what is going on and they stop any deeper inquiry into the issues involved. It is a cosy corner that looks very attractive to a teacher who breathes some relief in saying: They will never learn; their languages always come in the way. What teachers don’t realize is that errors are necessary stages in the process of learning and what is being dismissed as interference may actually be a part of the UG driven way of acquiring a language or a milestone in the process of learning. Let’s consider some typical examples.

Let’s start with syntax. The fact of the matter is that there is actually no major difference between the basic syntactic structure of say Indian English and British or American English. All children, including those from the so-called native English communities, will make such errors as ‘he go to school’; the structural pressure of English syntax dictates that it should be so. Imagine everybody including ‘I, we, you, you plural, they’ ‘go’, why should poor ‘he, she, it’ ‘goes’!!! But if we stop comparing the behaviour of school or undergraduate learners with fluent speakers of ‘standard’ English, we will realize that all speakers of English, whether they acquire it as L 1 or L 2, learn to say ‘goes’ in due course. Take another oft quoted example of the invariant tag-question. When many speakers of the Asian subcontinent use ‘isn’t it’ with all kinds of statements, it is often pointed out as a major interference from say Hindi ‘hai na’ etc. Nobody takes the trouble of finding out how many ‘native’ varieties of English do the same. Some varieties of Canadian English certainly do it with a different invariant tag. Two points may be noted here. It may be a part of the standard commonly used Indian English and there is nothing wrong with this fairly understandable overgeneralization. In fact, in the speech of the teachers and the community, there may be no exposure to the variable tag question. Secondly, in the case of fluent users of Indian English, there may be many who actually use the variable tag question. What you eventually accept as a standard ‘correct’ usage is a matter that is located in a spatial, temporal, historical and sociological space.

Consider morphology. It is well attested that all children irrespective of whether they learn English as L 1 or L 2, go through a stage of using first ‘go, went, gone’ (as unrelated items) and then ‘go, goed, goed’ (as morphologically demanded items) and finally acquiring the exception ‘go, went, gone’. Imagine that all learners go through this stage and the set of irregular English verbs is rather large including such commonly used verbs as ‘come, cut, dig, do, eat, get, give, make…’ etc. Word formation strategies have nothing to do with interference. Yes, languages frequently borrow from each other, particularly cultural items. There is nothing you can do about it. English simply adds an additional appendix to its dictionary every year; speakers of course always move ahead of the dictionary.

Take phonology. Do all the so-called native speakers of English speak the same way? Will any one of you, unless she belongs to north of England, claim to understand a word of Yorkshire English? Or do you all understand rural Texan English? I don’t. I don’t even understand my grand-daughter studying in Malone in New York State. She finds it equally difficult to understand my Indian accent. Phonology is a marker of group identity and if you are really interested it will not come into your way after a while. But if you are already beyond 15-16 years of age, you will notice that your jaw is set and you may not get the ‘English English’ inter-dental fricatives, or the aspirated alveolar stops or the distinction between /v/ and /w/, which is really nothing to write home about unless you want a job at the BBC etc. Every variety has a right to its distinct identity.

So if languages of learners are not in our way, why do we make such a miserable mess of language teaching? At most places I know of, most learners don’t even manage to master the basic skills of reading comprehension and writing coherently. We do need to examine the language profile of our class. Every child brings a different linguistic and cultural resource to the class and these can indeed be sensitively assimilated into the teaching-learning process. The first requirement is of course that the teacher needs to walk out of the position of being the fountainhead of all knowledge and have faith in the ability of children to use their resources creatively. In actual classroom transactions it implies that the time taken by individual learners and their interactions in peer group would be much more than normally consumed by the teacher.

We today know that multilinguality is a default human situation and is constitutive of being human. Every classroom by default is inherently multilingual. Further, in a variety of ways, recent research has established how this multilinguality can be used not only as a resource but also as a teaching strategy and a goal. It correlates positively with language proficiency, cognitive growth, scholastic achievement, divergent thinking and social tolerance. It is also now well-established that levels of language proficiency enhance significantly with metalinguistic awareness which would tend to grow if we allow children to reflect on their languages.

What kind of strategies would be most useful in such situations? In fact, there is no limit and also no defining ‘models’. Freedom from the bondage of script is the first step. With very small effort on the part of learners and teachers, it becomes evident that all languages can be written in the same script, with some modifications. What we do need to understand is that all children and all their languages need to  be involved and the teachers need to create situations in which children can work in groups collecting data from their languages, classifying it into different categories, examine the relationships among different parts and arrive at conclusions and hypotheses that would account for their data. Consider for example, the making of nouns from adjectives in English. Adjectives like ‘dark, lazy, rough, kind, small, rich, soft etc’ can be turned into nouns by adding ‘-ness’. However, this is not where teachers would start; they would instead start by talking informally about adjectives and nouns for a few minutes. Then leave it to groups of children who share some languages to make list of adjectives and related nouns in different languages available in the class. Hindi may not have any such strategy; but it may have some others. Or take the case of making plurals. With very limited guidance children will themselves work out the problems of saying that the plural in English is made not by adding ‘-s, -es or –ies’; once it is explained to them that they should focus on the sounds with which a plural ends, they work out that significance of ‘-s, -z and –iz’ in making plural, themselves pointing that the plural of say ‘dog and baby’ is made by adding the same sound. Another group will come up with a strategy for making plurals in Hindi which has not one but 3 plurals for each noun e.g. in the case of laRkaa ‘boy’, we have ‘laRke, laRkoN and laRko’, being the nominative, oblique and vocative plurals respectively. Consider the case of making ‘negatives’ in different languages. It is possible that children would themselves (and so would the teacher) discover that negatives in all languages are made by putting the negative element close to the verb of the main clause and if a rule is discovered in this way, it is rather unlikely that children would make mistakes in speaking or writing negative sentences. Take the case of translation. Nothing enhances language proficiency more than peer-group attempts at translation, not the traditional type of ‘literally and accurately translating from language X to language Y’. A small poem for example could be taken from any language. Notice that the power structures in the classroom at once start getting democratised; teacher is at the back of the classroom listening like others to a poem in an unknown language which is then written and explained by children in the script they are already using. The poem is then translated into several languages in small groups. Stories, plays, cultural events, social issues etc. could also be treated in a similar way. The kind of phonological, syntactic, semantic and semiotic issues such an exercise raises is overwhelming. The idea is to go through the process, not to arrive at a final, perfect translation.

*Rama Kant Agnihotri, D.Phil. (York), retired as Professor and Head, Department of Linguistics, University of Delhi. He is interested in and has taught and written extensively about Applied Linguistics, Morphology, Sociolinguistics and Research Methods for several years. He has lectured in Germany, UK, USA, Canada, Yemen, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, among other countries. He has also been working with several NGOs across India in the area of elementary school education. He co-edits, with A. L. Khanna, the Sage series on Applied Linguistics. He was Chair of the NCERT Focus Group on The Teaching of Indian Languages during NCF 2005.

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