Teaching English as the Second Language in Bangladesh: An Overview
This overview is not a general survey of English teaching in Bangladesh, instead, it is an attempt to throw light on some new aspects. The aspects can well be worked with by individuals endeavoring in the fields of education and training. It is an attempt, with sparkles of fresh thoughts and philosophy, to begin some newer lines of actions in our language education programs.
Long past are the days when students at the secondary level were found busy reading literature and grammar side by side. In their textbooks they found some fine works of literature which they enjoyed much for reading and learning. They got the poems by heart, critically analyzed the emotional lines and expressions and found themselves enriched with their expressions. They did the jobs of translation and thus learnt to express and discover a beautiful relationship between their mother tongue and English. With the exciting practice of language, literature, and translation many of the students came out to be highly successful in language performance.
The amount of works that were done to expand the dimensions of this success is a matter of forgotten history and the simple reality is the fact that our predecessors failed to work out strategies for the continuation of that age old methods and from a mere thirst of something new we abandoned those efforts.
Communicative approach !
Since the very dawn of the history of language it has been taken as a strong medium of communication. The purpose of language is communication and by its nature a language is always communicative. In this sense there is nothing newness in telling our method of language teaching a communicative approach. There is communication everywhere where there is any language; every single sentence, every single word is communicative by nature. The present writer does hardly claim to be an authority, yet he never felt any appeal for the levels of innumerable books bearing "Communicative English" inscribed in colorful manner. Language always communicate and there should be no need of saying that "our system has become communicative". In fact, any kind of use of language is communicative. The advocates of communicative English are just trying to make the real use of the language for teaching purposes. How far have they succeeded till today is a matter of measurement!
The main problem is elsewhere. Lack of ideas is a major cause which makes the learners unwilling to express. What will they express? They have nothing in their minds to communicate. What we need most is an well coordinated effort that will help us to enable our learners to do and practice sufficient language work in all forms.
Practicing of basic language skills
Over enrollment has recently become a major issue in a large number of institutions and it is giving rise to many problems in classroom management. Though all the basic language skills need to be practiced well for a better acquisition of language , we very often become helpless here for incumbent limitations. Of the four basic skills only writing (mostly memorizing and producing) is practiced to some good extent in the classes and in the exams. The remaining three skills (reading, speaking, and listening) get very few opportunities of practice. It is essential that our teachers have a profound understanding of the definitions of basic language skills, their interrelationships, overlapping and their individual role in determining the linguistic behaviors of the learners.
We are yet to find out ways to ensure the practice of all the language skills in the classes in a wider scale. Once we begin to succeed in doing this we can hope to see groups of active learners in our classes. In my hub "Redefining basic language skills" I have attempted to review some inter related aspects of basic language skills.
At all stages of language learning the learners should be made understand another major point that the constant use of memory plays a vital role in determining the success of each one of his language skills.
Adequate use of memory and understanding while practicing basic skills
For teaching English there are a good number of projects in Bangladesh. Very few of them explain to the learners the psychological aspects of the language learning activities. In their teaching strategies they just attempt to make the learning instincts of the learners. But a dramatic change can be brought about in the learning behavior of the learners if they initially are made aware of the events in their minds while learning.
For every word and sentence a learner reads or listens to there is an accompanying idea that needs to be communicated instantaneously to his mind and he must recognize it and keep it in a short term memory. For subsequent sentences he perceives a series of ideas communicated to his mind . At this stage his mind uses his understanding to make a synthesis to keep it again in short term memory. The process continues as he goes on getting ideas from reading or listening. If in a learner this process continues perfectly , he becomes emotionally saturated with ideas and begins to feel an urge to communicate in his own way. So, an enrichment of mind with ideas and information is an essential prerequisite for feeling the urge of communication. It is the responsibility of the instructors to help the learners get enriched with flood of ideas. With simple explanations like the one mentioned here the learners can be made psychologically motivated in a higher degree and their language performance will follow a brighter rising curve.
The scene at sight
Currently the English Language classes in Bangladesh are at some experimental and transitional stage. The fact that the present stage can not continue indefinitely is becoming evident day by day in the manifestations of exam results at the university admission tests. After long years of doing well in their familiar gap filling tests students are facing unforeseen "troubles" in overcoming the crucial admission tests. Over use of gap filling tests and exclusion of literature from study and tests , can, to a large extent, be said to be responsible for the total weakness of the learners as a whole.
The absence of any well designed rubric for our tests and evaluations is another cause . Time is beckoning to see many of the gap filling items of the question papers surrender their places for literature items where the learners will enjoy the true spirits of language education.