Teaching English Language: Some Insights | 2018-09-28 | daily-sun.com


Teaching English Language: Some Insights

Sariful Islam     28 September, 2018 12:00 AM printer

Teaching English Language: Some Insights

In the present time the importance of learning English is highly emphasized in our country. If you want to get yourself admitted into a good university or carry out your higher study in any discipline, you will have to have a good command of English. In today’s job market if you want to get a good job, it will also require on your part to have a fair knowledge of English. And if you look to take part in the competitive public exams like BCS or bank-jobs, a thorough knowledge of English is a must.

However, although the students of our country spend so many years dealing with this language, their skills in English and their performance are hardly satisfactory. Students in the country start learning English since their childhood. From grade one to ten, our students study English as their compulsory subject. After finishing school, they further get two more years at the college level (during higher secondary education) to study the language in the same way. Therefore, for the students who pass their HSC examination, they have actually studied and been familiar with English language for long twelve years. Yet, it is frustrating that most students fear English despite studying the subject for so long as their compulsory subject at different levels. A huge number of students fail to get chance at a public university owing to their poor knowledge of English language. And it turns up as a matter of greater disappointment when even students who have obtained A+ in English both in their SSC and HSC exams fail to secure the pass marks in English in their university admission tests.

Reportedly, a total of 40,565 examinees attended in the Dhaka University admission test held in 2014; and 22,000 of them failed in English. Only 1,364 took the 'Elective English' test (which was compulsory for enrolling in the English Department). But only two students were qualified to be enrolled in the university's English department for the 2014-15 session (reportedly, the admission seekers did not do well in English in the previous university admission tests too). Well, that time Dhaka University had to relax English Department admission test rules. This makes obvious that the high grades that the students obtain in their SSC and HSC exams hardly reflect the students’ actual ability in English language.


But why this long-term training in this language turns almost ineffectual is a question. Well, the kind of syllabus usually designed for the high school students in the country is a colossal barrier in their way to learn English. If you have a look into the syllabus of a student of class six or seven (who is studying under the country’s general curriculum), you may easily find out the faults that it contains. For example, at present, the high school students have to sit for two big examinations in a year, i.e., a half yearly exam in the middle, and the annual exam at the end. And in between these two exams, there are two more tests for the students as well. So a student has to prepare for four English 2nd part exams every year. But the inconsistency is that the syllabus for each English exam includes an overwhelming number of grammatical items, which students can hardly prepare for within the short period. Suppose, one is supposed to prepare for dealing with a number of grammatical items like ‘parts of speech’, ‘tense’, ‘voice’, ‘articles’, ‘narration’, ‘suffix-prefix’, ‘punctuations’, ‘right form of verbs’, ‘appropriate prepositions’, ‘clause’ ‘transformation of sentences’ etc. at a same time, in the same exam. After that, a student will have to study all these items together again for his next English exam. This is why students can never have the opportunity to study a single item thoroughly and deeply. And their study on the superficial level goes on from class six to ten, only to result in a disappointing outcome. On the other hand, it is not possible on the part of an English teacher to teach the students all the topics within a period of two or three months. But they cannot help finishing it within the time frame, however fruitless it might be.


Hence an analogy can be drawn to illustrate the inconsistency of the syllabus. Perhaps, you have often seen people selling sugarcane juice, setting up a cider-press on a trolley. If you ever stop to observe how the man extracts the juice, you will notice that the man puts the pieces of sugarcanes one by one and, not more than two at a time. The machine presses the stems and the juice is gradually extracted, drained and collected in a pot. However, what will happen if the man tries to push ten sugarcane sticks (tied together) at a time in the machine? Surely he will not be able to enter the sticks together in the hole at a time, no matter how long he tries, and how much effort he puts into it. And if he still tries hard, the machine might even fail at the very moment.  Similarly, in an effort to teach the students ten or more items of English grammar at the same time, in the same semester, and to test the young students’ ability of those items in a single exam, the teachers of the schools and colleges as well as the educationists are invariably failing in their attempts.      

Another problem lies with the teaching methods that are followed in the schools and colleges. Except the English-medium schools all other educational institutions in our country teach language to the students adopting ‘grammar-translation’ method which is already an obsolete method of teaching in the advanced world. In this method the emphasis is put on memorization of the grammatical rules. As a result students get the rules by heart and then apply those in translating sentences between the target language and the native language. This method does not allow the students to explore much about language and is known as deductive method of teaching language. Instead of this if teachers are trained and instructed to teach language using inductive method (as advocated in the ‘direct method’), then the students’ fear of language learning could be eliminated from their minds to a great extent.   


In reality, because of the existing teaching method and syllabus students cannot concentrate on a single topic, lest they should fail in the forthcoming exam. And many of them finally form the wrong impression about themselves that they are weak in grammar or English language. The semi-government high schools in a district usually form a committee, decide on a syllabus, and together prepare the question papers for the exams. This is why a teacher in a school cannot make question specifically based on the items he has taught to his students. But it is the students who pay the price of such inconsistencies in the system.   

Finally, it can be recommended that it would be much wiser to teach one or two items of the language to the students for a single examination. A thin book based on a single item of language can be provided to the students, which will make their learning very effective and easy. In addition, the teacher should make the questions based only on what he has taught to his students. Unless the existing system is changed immediately, the students’ performance in English subject can hardly be expected to improve in the near future.