More Than Status Updates: Choutari Chat with Some ELT Professionals
We log on to Facebook–or at least many of us do–when we want to find out what member of our social network are doing. But how do we learn about what the most experienced Nepali scholars and emerging professionals in our field at home and abroad are doing? One of the things we’ve always tried to do in Choutari is to invite experienced colleagues to stop by in order to share their stories and tell us about their current engagements. Especially in the special anniversary issues, we also ask veterans of our field–or our “agrajs” as we call them around here–to share their time with us. We believe that even simply listening to their stories of struggle/success and learning what they are currently doing can have tremendous impact on younger members of the community. In this post, we have tried to present golden nuggets from their experience with the help of three simple questions. We are grateful to our guests for stopping by at the Choutari as they went about their very busy work and lives!
Without further ado, then– we present the voices of six personalities:
Choutari: What is the current project or responsibility that you are engaged with in the field of ELT? As an ELT scholar, our audience would be inspired to learn about it.
After teaching English for over thirty-six years at Tribhuvan University (TU), the government of Nepal gave me a responsibility of starting a new university at Mahendranagar … since 2011. As a Vice Chancellor, I had to start everything from a scratch. … For the first time in my life I felt alone and helpless. However, my colleagues from TU helped me out to design new syllabi and we started the ELT courses at the undergraduate level from December 2012 along with other 13 undergraduate courses. For the first time in the history of Nepalese education, we made all our undergraduate programs of four years duration in line with the international parameters. This year we have launched the M Ed TESOL program for the first time in Nepal. While designing the courses, we have kept the international standard in mind. Since we have started a four- year undergraduate and two year graduate courses under the semester system, we have from the inception of the university proved that we can follow the calendar operation and run classes uninterruptedly. Our aim is to go for M Phil leading to Ph D in TESOL soon.
Currently from the year 2070 B.S, Tribhuvan University decided to implement the semester system at the University Campuses. The big challenge for us is the preparation of courses for the new program. Not only me but also all the teachers are busy in rounds of meeting for devising new courses so that the new system will be delivered through two different modes: face-to-face and online. Online delivery will start from 2015 AD but the preparation has already on the way.
Besides my regular service at TU, I’m contributing to government established Far-western University and Mid-western University in the year 2011. I feel fortunate that I have been currently involved in developing the ELT/TESOL/EFL curricula of the undergraduate and graduate programs of these two universities. With the support of the colleagues and the experts involved in this field, we have been able to introduce some of the new courses for the first time in Nepal. Such courses include Nepalese English and Nepalese ELT, Critical Discourse Analysis, Bilingualism and Multilingualism, World Englishes, EFL Seminars, etc.
I have my hands on several ELT initiatives at the moment but I would like to mention the English grammar series writing project which is in progress. Why I picked this project to share is that the team is working with the principle of the Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP) model in actual sense. When we surveyed the grammar books produced and/or being used in Nepal, we saw that they include only the first two components and fail to continue with the third. If the learners have no opportunity to produce language chunks with the grammatical items they just learnt, the retention is very low, let alone the proper contextualization. The series in progress follows the inductive approach and the PPP model which I believe will not only be meaningful for the learners but also a principled resource for the teachers in the classroom.
I am planning to publish a book on creative writing; a collection of my poems and stories that links with the narratives of journey of language learning.
As a Lecturer in English Language Teaching at the Department of Languages, The Open University, UK where I have been working since January 2006, I am currently involved in a number of ELT projects both in the UK and abroad. My projects have two broad strands which include research as well: UK-based and international development. In terms of the UK projects, I chair an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) module which has about 1,400 students. I oversee 42 tutors tutoring on this module. In addition, I supervise two PhD students (one Greek and one Indian). I have just completed a UK Higher Education Academy funded project which investigated formative writing assessment at the Open University. In terms of my international development projects, until recently I worked as an English language specialist for the £50-million project (UKAid funded) called English in Action in Bangladesh for over five years. It involved both designing mobile technology enhanced teacher professional development materials and research on their use. Since November 2012, I have been working as the academic lead for the mother tongue education strand of the Teacher Education through School-based Support project (£15 million, UKAid funded)) in India (TESS-India). I have been working very closely with Indian colleagues to produce open educational resources (OERs) for elementary mother tongue teachers in seven states of India (Assam, Bihar, Karnatak, Madhya Pradesh, Paschhim Bangal, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh). In addition, I currently lead, as the principal investigator on an IELTS research project funded by the British Council (BC). The project runs in Bangladesh and Nepal, examining the impact of the use of IELTS test in these two countries. Another BC project that I work on is INSPIRE in Bangladesh in which we explore the use of ICT with ELT in government secondary schools.
Choutari: Please consider sharing about any challenges and/or opportunities that you see for ELT in Nepal? It could be about present or future.
Teaching of the English language is both a challenge and opportunity in Nepal. We can easily see the increasing craze of the people toward the English language. A recent study reveals the fact that many more people are attracted toward it and they are ready to sacrifice the MLE at the cost of it, though I don’t think it’s a positive sign for the initial literacy years. The challenges we face here are both methods and materials suitable to our children and the teachers who can handle them efficiently to yield the desired results. The studies carried out in the past have shown a very gloomy picture of the achievement in English at all levels of examinations, claiming a big loss of the stakeholders. On the one hand, the status of teaching English in Nepal is changing drastically and heading toward a second language and on the other we are not yet prepared to take this challenge. We have to address different EL related issues in time to facilitate its teaching so that we can minimize the loss.
English Language Teaching, a global profession, opens many doors to the opportunities. Take for example, being a translator we can contribute to the exchange of ideas, opinions, views and also earn our livelihoods. Similarly, a lexicographer can contribute to the preparation of bilingual dictionaries for the users of different languages. Most importantly, we are teachers dedicated in producing the new generation that can use English as a second language for multiple purposes. I take it as one of the most challenging fields, for we, teachers, must change the attitudes of our students. We should encourage them to review themselves and their views critically, to exchange those views among themselves by creating blogs, to read online books and articles. Moreover, the major challenge is making our students aware of online resources so that they can be intrinsically motivated.
The key issue that remains at the forefront regarding the role and position of the English language in the forthcoming new constitution of Nepal. It is urgent that discussion should be initiated in this regard and we need to redefine the role of the English language in the country. In case of teaching and learning, English is still taught in the formal education merely as a content area subject, not as a language. Systemic interventions and collaborative approach is needed to make English teaching an experiential experience for its learners.
The biggest challenge in the Nepalese ELT has been, is and is perhaps going to be, the English language proficiency of the teachers. Most English teachers lack the basic of the English language teaching: the proficiency to communicate in English, written and oral. Without the command over the language one is supposed to teach, one cannot do justice with the other nuances of the teaching of this foreign language. I believe this problem is going to stay for quite some time as the problem persists not just in the lower level but in the teacher educators’ level. Unless the English teacher education programmes stress on the language development component, the learners will be exposed to English that will not provide adequate exposure to the target language that they are supposed to learn, if not acquire. When the teachers have the “what”, the “how” will be less worrying.
Students from Government schools still feel that they are poor in English compared to other “smart” students in the classroom. Why is this? However, I see a great opportunity in language learning all around, even outside the classroom. If one has passion, No one is poor in the beginning, nor are we born with perfection in mastering the fluency of any language. It’s all about the part of our determination to learn a new language. So modern technology has made English a fun, convenient and practical part of your daily life, may it be through mobile phones, TV or other social media, students can connect their learning to the things they enjoy, and English learning becomes a real life experience. This may demand a lot of patience, but it gets easier and easier as our students advance and get engaged.
As a professional who has been away for many years from the reality of the ELT situation in Nepal, I can only say what I have observed from a distance and what I have read. To me, with regard to opportunities, ELT would highly benefit from exploiting already existing technologies used by learners and English teachers. As far as I know, mobile devices such as mobile phones are ubiquitous in Nepal and they are not exploited enough. NELTA can surely push government agencies and its own members towards this direction. In terms of challenges, I want to mention only two things though there are many: a clear national policy on language education and strategies of its implementation, and making improvements to English language assessment both in schools and higher education. To me, English language education in higher education seems to be an area that has not received much attention. Therefore, NELTA in collaboration with universities and international bodies such as the British Council could help to ameliorate the existing situation.
Choutari: Please consider sharing an incident/story from your early years (or even recent past) as an ELT scholar and leading figure. We’re trying to add something light and fun but thought-provoking for our readers.
If I flash back my memory of learning English and the journey that I took to become an ELT lover, I cannot believe myself. I studied English in Hindi from the Gurus who came to teach us from the neighboring country. I even studied Nepali in Hindi. When I started teaching it, I did not have a pedagogical degree. I learned to pronounce English sounds while I was doing my Master’s degree at TU. It was only then I came to know that English has 20 vowel sounds. I still remember my teacher, Ms Susan Fortescue at the master’s level, who made me pronounce the word ‘vocabulary’ 15 times in the classroom because I could not pronounce it the way the British people pronounced it. I did not feel otherwise. Since then I have developed a feeling that every moment is a learning moment for us and learning does not have an end in itself. It is a lifelong process. If we work hard we can achieve our goals.
I completed my education up to B Ed in a small town of the Eastern Nepal, Dhankuta. After completing IA in political science I did B Ed in English. I was the only female student in the class. You can imagine the situation! With the limited exposure to English, my B ED degree came to completion. Then I decided to do MA in English at Kirtipur. The challenge was immense. After completing MA in 2042 BS, I decided to go for M Ed in 2047. The completion of M Ed paved the way for M Phil and PhD which I completed in 2058. English language learners in education think that completing Master’s degree is enough. Contrary to this, I think that it works only as a foundation. They need to construct the whole building of their career by doing many other supporting courses. At present, many online courses available have made it easier.
I finished my high school from Baglung and joined Butwal Campus for further study. When I attended the English class, I realized that I had very little English. I could not speak English at all and writing in English was even more difficult. I could hardly write a paragraph. When my English teacher asked me a very simple question in English and I could not respond to it, there was a big laughter in my class. Feeling a bit frustrated and embarrassed, I decided to choose English as my major and worked extremely hard since then. When I found myself as one of the top ten candidates to pass the English subject in the annual exam, I learned that it is never too late to learn anything. It is the dedication and commitment that takes you to your destination.
Let me share an incident that took place in 2001. I was doing my Masters course at the College of St Mark and St John (www.marjon.ac.uk) in Plymouth, England. On a sunny Sunday in June, the college organised a bus trip to Bath for international students. We left early. We had a beautiful view of the English countryside on the way. Next to me was sitting an officer of the college chapel. We were talking about the weather and the scenery. I wanted to talk to her about something related to the Bible.
I started, “Jenny, I have a question related to the Bible. Can I ask?”
“Go ahead,” she said.
I asked elaborately, “According to the Bible, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He punished them by expelling them from the paradise. They were thrown down to the earth. Can you tell which country they came down to?”
She said she had never thought about it.
I said I knew the answer. I drew my answer from the story “The Apple” by H G Wells.
“Which country?” she was curious.
I said, “Armenia”
She said, “Which country?”
“Say that again!”
“Can you spell that to me?”
I spelt it, “A-R-M-E-N-I-A”
“Oh, Armenia.” She was putting stress on the second syllable. I heard that very clearly. I had put it on the first syllable. I saw the value of the word stress for the first time. I tried to pronounce it the way she had, but it was difficult. I knew the stress shift made a difference in meaning, but only theoretically. I had never had an experience of mis-communication just due to the stress shift even when the correct phonemes were uttered.
I asked her what she had heard when I said “Armenia.”
She said “Harmony.”
After that, I always tried to imitate the stress pattern when I talked to the local people at the college. When I left England, I felt that I was less misunderstood than when I travelled to Bath.
Those were the days (a part of my upcoming autoethnographic research textbook, in print): Our class teacher at Niranjana High School, “Y sir” was a kind of strict man, yet nice to good students like “me”, of course a hard master for others. Go – went – gone = “Janu” – “gayo” – “gayako” a method of direct meaning making was his approach, or recite the whole text in whatever way it was given in the classroom, were several of the approaches we practiced during the initial years of my learning English. Teachers would come to the classrooms and ask us to read the text, making sure we were able to re-tell it — the complete literal comprehension approach.
The success was even measured how we all could write the answers in final exams at the end of every academic year. All we did was prepare ourselves overnight for the tests and write it as a summary, not bothering much on the question pattern. If something was already asked in the previous years, the students would simply escape from it thinking that was dim-witted idea to prepare for what would not come as a question that year.
I remember one incident which I can never forget. It was in the summer of 2004 when I was appointed as a pre-sessional EAP tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. A pre-sessional EAP course is offered to international students (below IELTS band 5.5) who are offered a place at a UK university provisionally. It was my first pre-sessional EAP job in the UK and so I was very much looking forward to it. On the day of our induction, there were about 15 tutors including myself. Except the line manager, I had not met anyone else before. After we had our first few induction sessions, we were at a lunch break. I was sitting next to a female tutor (short, brunette hair). She looked towards me and said, ‘So you are from Nepal! And you teach English here?’ I had already heard some rumours that some people were making fuss about me being from Nepal. The lady’s comment confirmed what I had heard. I said, ‘Yes, indeed. I am from Nepal. And I have been teaching English here for a year now.’ The lady realized that she asked the wrong question or made inappropriate comments and said, ‘I was just curious, but don’t take me wrong!’. I said, ‘No, worries at all. I can understand!’. This incident keeps reminding me of the professional journey I have travelled, and linked with this thought in my mind is my current line manager’s touching comment referring to Braj Kachru’s three circles of countries where English is used ‘you came from an outer circle country (Nepal) to the inner circle country (UK). It is such an achievement.’ So all I can say to all readers of this forum is: however challenging your situation may be, you can do it if I can!