How we teach English in India.
Our teachers have been struggling to find out ways to help students with reading, speaking and writing in English language. The task becomes all the more difficult when we are targeting children. How should we write a word if we’ve only heard the sound or how should we pronounce a word when we are seeing it for the very first time? How well we recognize and apply sounds to a physical representation (written group of letters), is an art! If we include non-native English speaking regions, broadly there are two approaches followed to train learners on a language in schools:
Sound centric approach is followed to teach learners on their native language. Learners already know how to speak in the language before they start school. In school, they learn to read and write, and they build vocabulary. Learners are introduced to new words and eventually they build vocabulary. Consciously and sometimes unintentionally, they start memorizing word sounds and spellings. They hear word sounds so often that they successfully memorize words without much effort. Native language learners normally don’t have confusions about word sounds. Even if they face some difficultly with foreign origin words, they read according to their understanding of structure. It is not that native speakers are not struggling with spellings. English spellings are causing a lot of difficulties to native speakers as well. So, teachers ultimately encourage them to memorize spelling.
In native English speaking countries teachers adopt following techniques:
1. Whole language: Focus is on meaning and interpretation of literature.
2. Whole word, Sight word, or look and say: Focus is on the appearance of words and recognition thereon. Often taught by picture next to the word and encouraging students to associate words to meaning. This technique is only effective initially as learners automatically recognize a small selection of words. However, the ability to recognize words stalls when encountered with complex word in the course of learning.
3. Initiate teaching alphabet: Limited to only segmental level, as the focus is on individual letter sounds.
4. Phonics: a) Synthetic: Students are taught individual letter sounds, sounds of commonly used letters, consonant blends and diagraphs. b) Analytic phonics: Students are not taught sounds in isolation. However, consonant blends are taught as units. Also, they are taught to break down words into onset and rime. Children are taught to find similarities among words. However, the techniques are not well defined.
Script- centric approach.
Script-centric approach is followed to teach learners on a second language. As a learner of a second language, even if you know how to speak a little in the language before you start school, you are often not aware of actual word sounds. So in school, second language learners learn how to speak, read and write simultaneously. They are encouraged to memorize spellings and word sounds. Even if they falter while vocalizing words or reading words, it is conveniently ignored because they have to write to pass examination; or they are given sounds which are quite not the actual pronunciation of words and also asked to memorize thereon.
Different techniques that we follow to teach learners in regions where English is taught as a second language, are borrowed from countries where students know of word sounds and they struggle with spellings only. Learners are left with their individual prediction of sound value and quality. Focus is not at all on right enunciation of words.
When they read a word, they try to break it in to smaller chunks. Learners are left to their whims and fancies when it comes to reading. Students don’t have any clue about stress location in words and they don’t read or vocalize actual word sounds.
Applicability in a non-native English speaking region:
“Given both the widespread belief that English spelling is irregular and the previous studies that stressed visual memory for words, it’s no surprise that many teachers teach spelling by writing words on flashcards and exposing students to them many times or by having students write words 5 to 10 times”. (ref: aft.org/americaneducator/winter0809/joshi.pdf).
However, in regions where English is taught as a second language, teachers not just teach through flash cards and having students write words multiple times, they also recommend them to break words in smaller parts while reading. This method of breaking words in smaller parts in an attempt to read multi-syllabic words doesn’t support actual sound of the words. Learning under the influence of this reading technique, learners develop their scripting style built on commonly mispronounced words; which in turn serves as a paradigm on which learners build their reading and speaking style (perceptual understanding of writing system).
This sub-scripting style is reflected in the way learners read, write their native language words with the help of English alphabetic script and the way they speak in English.
In a non-native English speaking region, a child can possibly learn to read, write and speak:
1. By memorizing spellings and their corresponding sounds with “whole word” and other non-effective techniques.
2. By adopting a sub-scripting style.
3. By developing orthographic memory and applying logical explanation on stress allocation and syllabification learned through readmyscript outreach program.
Content for readmyscript program comes from a well researched Spelling reform suggestion called Onescript. Onescript gives us a new perspective towards training English as a second language through a pioneering investigation on every possible aspect of human speech; from physiology of speech to morphology, phonology, auditory phonetics, perceptual phonetics and articulatory phonetics.
The idea is that if a learner goes through readmyscript program, he would be in a position to identify each and every sound that we have in English language right by just looking at structural arrangement of letters. He would be able to write the right spelling of almost all the words if he is getting to listen to the right sound of words.
Learners would not need to waste time memorizing spellings & pronunciation.
They would read, speak and spell like an expert. They would become expert spellers and be able identify the right pronunciation of almost all of the words that we have in English by just looking at spellings. They would develop automaticity in reading, save time, concentrate on core subjects instead and enhance overall academic score.