Training Manual for Language Teachers: What Should be the Focus?

Ranjit Podder

25 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Training is important to improve knowledge and skills of the workforce serving at any sector. When the question of the nation builders arises, training of the nation builders arises, it becomes more important as the making of the future generation depends on them. Language is a skill-based subject and in order to achieve any skills, continuous practice for a longer period of time is essential. When the language teachers at any level are recruited, it is assumed that they are skilled in the listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In reality, situation in Bangladesh is different; most English teachers are not able to communicate in English as their listening and speaking skills are poor. Their language skills are poor as they did not practise those skills for a required period of time. CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for languages) claims that the language skills level of a user mainly depends on the length of time s/he spent on the skill.

The CEFR says that the English language skill level of a beginner is A1 and the level of an expert user is C2. There are some other language levels such as A2, B1, B2, and C1. C2 is the highest level in language learning and it is said that if one has practised a skill throughout one’s life for 1000 hours, s/he has achieved the native like proficiency. For example, if someone has completed one thousand hours of speaking, s/he will be able to speak approximately like a native speaker. Now the responsibility of the teachers, as professionals, is to increase the length of each skill practices. They can speak with colleagues; they can also speak with students during teaching and in other times. This speaking of the teachers would also encourage and engage the students in speaking. Ultimately, the English speaking skill of the teachers and the learners will improve gradually. It is not possible to develop listening and speaking of a teacher only in 20 or 24 hours although that could be a good start. After that intervention is over, teachers will have to continue practices for tangible skills improvement. However, if the teachers want, it is possible to improve their listening skill through watching English movies, listening to news and English songs. English speeches by the famous personalities of the world could be used from TED.com in this regard. Alongside listening, the participants must communicate orally to improve their fluency and pronunciation. Similarly, other two skills, reading and writing, should also be practised because teachers need to teach all the four skills in the educational institutions. Then what should be the focus of the training for the English teachers?

It is a popular opinion that the language level of most of the teachers is low. Therefore, the training should be a good mixture of language skills practices, learning theories, pedagogy, and andragogy. Pedagogy of teaching and learning is important as teachers need to develop their own language skills as well as their students’ English language skills. With a view to developing four language skills of the learners, the NCTB (National Curriculum & Textbook Board) introduced communicative language teaching (CLT) to class six in 1996 and then to other classes on an incremental basis. Even after 25 years, English is not taught, in most cases, using the CLT approach. CLT approach creates opportunities for four skills practices for both students and teachers. In the CLT, students learn through pair work (pair practice), group work (discussion), individual work (reading, writing, listening), debate, pair and group work presentation; and answering questions from others, etc. If we want to train up the teachers who are expected to teach English in a better way, we need to minimise the linguistic weaknesses of the teachers and at the same time, we need to enable teachers to teach methodically.

Methods and techniques are those strategies which help us make learning and teaching easier and enjoyable; strategies work as a lever making some jobs easier. In the manual of English teachers, there should be contents that will help teachers to develop their own four skills and how to develop students’ English language skills. If only listening skill development of teachers are more focused in the training sessions, teachers may improve their listening skill to some extent but they are not expected to develop the language teaching skills. All who can speak English and understand English cannot be recruited or regarded as good English teachers. In order to be better English teachers, they need pedagogical training and good knowledge of the learning theories. Unless pedagogies are included in a training program, that cannot be considered a good training. A research report (Podder, Bilkis, & Rahman, 2020) reveals that continuous speaking intervention yields good result to improve the speaking skill of the participants but similar lengths of listening intervention was not found to be equally effective; listening intervention yielded half of the speaking improvement because listening requires a longer period of time to see the impact (Bilkis, Podder, & Rahman, 2021). Now the question is – is it wise to include more sessions on listening ignoring the importance of other three skills, pedagogical aspects, and assessment strategies of language skills? The target of providing training to the English teachers is to improve the four language skills of the students. Therefore they need to know the strategies for developing those four skills; and as a byproduct, the teachers’ English language skills will also be developed. Therefore, there should be a good combination of contents covering four skills practices, strategies how these skills of the learners can be improved, what in a language testing should be and how language skills can be assessed. Of course, all these contents of the manual should be aligned with the national curriculum as teachers work for the implementation of the curriculum. Unless teachers can be prepared to implement the English curriculum, only skills development of teachers would not be fruitful.

Finally, I would like to say that focusing listening skill more in the training manual would be a weak decision and any organisations working for the development of training manual should be judicious in planning the training program. If not all the aspects mentioned are covered in the manual, the purpose of developing the students’ language skills would not be served. As an experienced teacher educator and teacher trainer who also has the experiences of textbooks and training manual writing, I would like to assert that a training manual for English teachers must contain some linguistic and pedagogical contents, language assessment strategies, and a strategy about how to create a friendly environment where all the participants will use and practise English language fearlessly.

 

The writer is Associate Professor at Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka

 


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