English is the most commonly spoken language in the world and English speaking both in academic and job sectors has become an advantage. But it is lamenting that in Bangladesh English speaking environment is yet to be in the optimum level due to some sorts of constrains. Still at tertiary level in Bangladesh, we hardly find an English speaking environment, while we constantly talk about the importance of English, ignoring its practical requirements.
Previously, being a student of public university I witnessed teaching and learning process very closely. In public universities, over a decade it has been said that the medium of instruction is English. Apart from English medium instruction (EMI), English education is a mandatory for students of all departments in the first and second semester assigned by University Grants Commission (UGC).In this case, Department of English takes the responsibility to conduct the compulsory English course for huge number of students who belong to different departments of the university. Teachers teach them English in the class, but is it enough for students to be able to speak fluently in English? Language researchers opine that only completing course is not enough and if it were, before enrolling at universities, students learn English almost 12 years but in most cases they fail to communicate in English. However, writing skills get the most priority because evaluation of a student is done only by seeing students’ performance in the examination script. No doubt, this probation hampers development other three aspects of English language.
Now let us talk about what happens to English medium disciplines. Different experiments show that in most cases, teachers deliver lectures in Bangla. It is not speaking friendly because teachers do not encourage the students to speak English in class. There is a common notion what we see among the students of public universities that they are not habituated to speak English in the teacher centered classroom, as well as outside of the class but there might be an exception to the students of English departments, however, apart from Dhaka city, this context is not quite common. Theory based teaching (GTM) is still existing in the classroom and students learn what they need to secure good grades in their examinations. English speaking environment is hardly found on campus. Moreover, dropping out from English class is a common phenomenon of the students of public universities as they are not motivated enough to learn English.
Similarly at private universities, English is the medium of instruction and general English courses are compulsory for all students who are studying at first and second semester. But the way of teaching English is a bit different from public universities as these private universities are growing up with a motto to establish connectivity with the world community. So they put especial emphasis on English, aware of the fact that those who have a good command over English speaking will be able to get good jobs home and abroad. Course curriculum, though, is fixed by UGC, these universities conduct extra special English course for the students where speaking gets priority. Teachers of these universities believe that speaking is the only weapon by which a student can be judged from different angles.
Activity based teaching learning has become so popular in private universities. Separate speaking course has been introduced by teachers where students are encouraged to get involved in different activities conducive to make the students skilled in speaking as the classrooms are always students friendly. Teachers involve the students in debate, storytelling, idea generating in different topics, extempore speech, pair discussion, role play, news presentation and many more oral skill development orientations that really help to make English speaking environment in the campus. Thus students being self-motivated are interested to communicate with their teachers and peers in the classroom and also outside the class.
We see that both public and private universities conduct their courses through English medium but are they English speaking friendly? ELT experts have opined that turning all courses into English medium does not guarantee that the nation is going to be English oriented. The reasons are many in this connection. Firstly, students focus on obtaining marks than practicing speaking. Secondly, students interact with teachers and peers using their mother language. Next, motivation is the driving force of learning any foreign language that we see absent in classroom activities.
If we look at our neighbouring India, what we see, they have established an English speaking environment in all spares of their life. But it is really shocking when we notice that Bangladeshi students have not come out of the cocoons of English anxiety and the recent baseline survey reported that the scenery of public universities are still not up to the mark. But we hope all universities will create such environment where students will feel confident to speak in English. Moreover, it is a practical solution to enhancing speaking skill which will add extra support to maintain academic performance. Finally, students will have greater career opportunity at home and abroad.
The writer is a researcher and an ELT expert of Prime University, Dhaka.