Do you want your child to write stories? Find out how easy it is here.

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We all enjoy stories, whether it’s from a book or through real-life experiences that we narrate later to people. Stories aren’t just for entertainment or teaching morals but have a deeper function especially for children. It helps them develop their language in terms of their sentence structure, vocabulary used and introduces them to a whole world of new ideas.

Stories help children learn simple ideas like the concept of shapes, colours, nature, numbers etc as well as complex ideas like the importance of sharing, turn-taking, compassion for others and so on. It helps them enhance their real-world knowledge and critical thinking skills. Here are some quick tips on how you can get your child started on this fun journey.

Step 1Brainstorm Ideas for your story.

All good things start with good ideas. So first you need to come up with an idea for your story. Reading a book together is a good place to start here. Your child can make predictions about the endings of stories and this can be a great place to launch off into a new story.

You could also write stories based on real life experiences – for example, your child’s first day to school, an adventure to the beach or park, and read that to them.

Step 2The important W’s – Who, what, where, why

Brainstorm with your child and elicit details from them about the character and setting. Think about things like – will the character be an animal, a child or an adult? Will it be set in the wild, on the beach, in a park, in a town or maybe a magical forest? What’s important here is to let your child’s imagination run wild.

Step 3Have a strong story beginning

First impressions count, even when it comes to stories, so set the opening scene and expand on their character and the original idea. Possible things to think about could be what’s special about the character? Maybe it’s a boy who pretends to fight crime and save the world or a cat that fears mice?

Step 4Conflict is key

This is important to any story because, what’s a story without some drama? It keeps it from being dull and drab and creates the narrative thread for it. Revisit some conflicts in already existing stories and help your child understand it. You can then work with your child and come up with a conflict in their story.

Step 5A twist in the tale or let it fizzle out

The climax or turning point is another important point in the story. Create a bizarre twist to the story that nobody would see coming or end it with something predictable. The choice is yours. Let your child’s imagination loose here. There isn’t a right or wrong way of doing this.

Step 6The final resolution

A good story doesn’t finish without a final resolution. Think about how the conflict in their story turns out. You can make it more interesting by linking the conflict with the turning point to create a sensible resolution.

Finally, appreciation at every stage is important to feel motivated and supported throughout. Remember to not curb your child’s enthusiasm or imagination throughout the process as the more enthusiastic or imaginative they are, the more they will gravitate towards writing and reading. Time to get cracking with those stories!

-Ian Vaz, Teacher British Council

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Indian Words in English Language

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You are probably aware of many words from English which we use in our daily conversations in our own mother tongue. However, did you know that English has over 1000 words that are borrowed from India?

Here are a few of them and their origins:

1. Avatar: The original meaning of ‘avatar’ in English – the arrival of a god on Earth in human form – derives from the Sanskrit avatāra, meaning descent (or literally, ‘to cross down’). By the beginning of the 19th century the meaning of avatar had broadened beyond Hindu mythology to mean a ‘manifestation in human form’ more generally. The word has seen a resurgence over the last 30 years with its use in the field of computing, with one of the earliest uses in this sense found in the 1985 online role-playing game ‘Habitat’. It refers to the digital representation of a person or character (e.g. as a photo, sketch or 3D image), often as the individual’s alter ego, which is able to move about in its surroundings and interact with other characters.

2. Bungalow: The original meaning of bungalow meant not only a one-storied house (as in its current meaning), but also a temporary building such as a summer-house. It derives from the Hindustani banglā meaning ‘belonging to Bengal’, or ‘in the Bengal style’.

3. Coir: Coir, meaning the fibre taken from a coconut and used for making ropes and mats, was first used in English way back in 1582. Derived from the Malayalam kāyar (meaning ‘cord’), its earliest spelling was ‘cayro’ or ‘cairo’, as found in Hakluyt’s 1599 the principal navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoveries of the English nation.

4. Dungarees: Dungaree was originally a type of coarse and inferior Indian calico. It got its name from the Hindi dungrī, most likely from a village of the same name to the north of Mumbai. The more common modern meaning is for trousers made of this material, usually blue in colour and resembling denim, or a garment consisting of these trousers with a bib held up by shoulder straps.

5. Jungle: The original Hindi jangal (from the Sanskrit jangala) simply meant desert, waste or forest. The modern meaning, i.e. land which is overgrown by long grass, vegetation and forest, typically in the tropics, seems to arise from an association with tangle.

6. Shampoo: Deriving from the Hindi čāmpo (‘to press’) via ‘champing’, ‘shampoo’ originally had a similar meaning to massage. Its modern meaning, i.e. to wash the head with a cleaning product (and as a noun, to refer to the actual substance), did not emerge until the mid-19th century.

If you’d like to know more words of Indian origins, check out: https://www.britishcouncil.in/programmes/inspired-by-india/70words-project

Word meaning and origins in this article are from https://www.britishcouncil.in/programmes/inspired-by-india/70words-project and Hobson-Jobson- A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. By Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell.

-Reshmi V M, English Teacher 

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Top tips for improving your child’s pronunciation skills!

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Like it is in any language, pronunciation is an integral part of English too. A problem in pronunciation could lead to a complete communication break down at worst and a misunderstanding at best. Read on to know how you can help your child ace their pronunciation game. 

Did you know that the number of non-native English speakers in the world outweigh native speakers by 3:1? This has started a trend of an international accent to facilitate mutual understanding. The key is intelligibility – or the ability to be understood clearly. Therefore, it’s not important to imitate the native speaker accent but simply to apply certain strategies while communicating. Here are some ideas to get a head start:

1. Mimicking model language: We speak what we hear. If children grow up listening to bad models of English, then they imitate that. To improve pronunciation, ensure that your child listens to good models of pronunciation through videos, listening to songs, YouTube etc. Make the most of these age-appropriate videos for children and teens on the British Council website. You can also watch some of these exciting movies and make it a family movie night. Don’t forget the bucket of popcorn!

2. Sound it out:  Does this clip from the very popular sitcom I Love Lucy strike a chord? The English alphabet has 26 letters but 44 sounds, five vowels which can be pronounced in 12 different ways! Children are bound to get confused just like Lucy’s Cuban husband. In English, different letter combinations make the same sound. The trick is to ‘find’ these sounds in your mouth by being aware of the position of the tongue, teeth, jaw and lips.  Use this video series by BBC which demonstrates how to make these sounds. Feel free to pause, rewind and replay the video till you think you’ve got it right.

3. Spell it right: Has it ever happened with you that you have taught your child to phonetically spell C-A-T  and then you move on to spelling the word T-H-E but you are stuck! Some words in English are sight words – what we see is what we spell but the pronunciation is different. Here are some very useful sight word flashcards you can use. When reading together, ask your child to point to the sight words he knows. You can even ask him to count how many times a sight word appears in the book.

4. Use a dictionary: If you think physical dictionaries are passe, online dictionaries are perfect for you. Not only do they fit in your phones and pocket, but they also serve multiple purposes like breaking down of words, providing their phonetic transcription and an audio option to listen to their pronunciation.

Keep this British Council app handy to check the pronunciation of words whenever in doubt.

5. Pronunciation and play:  it’s never too early to start working on pronunciation. Younger children are very receptive to sounds since they learn how to listen before they speak. Repeating rhymes and singing songs develop the muscles of the mouth and makes children used to the rhythm of English. Plus, it’s a lot of fun when accompanied with actions. For older kids – tongue twisters are very popular. Organize a tongue twister challenge and involve everyone in the family for an evening full of fun.

There are some lovely pronunciation activities on our learnenglish britishcouncil kids website as well.

Want to play some games with phonics, PhonicsPlay has some great resources.

6. Reading aloud: Reading bedtime stories to your child every night is a great way not just to lull them to sleep but also to hone their pronunciation while they listen to their favourite tales. Here are some great stories to choose from for your daily night routine. You can watch the stories come to life by playing the video or print the story and read out to your child. Don’t forget to add your own versions of character voices for that extra effect!

Children feel confident to speak as soon as they realize that they can pronounce words just like grown-ups. With these easy strategies and fun games, you can give your child the tools to independently work on their own pronunciation so they won’t need an accent coach like Clouseau in Pink Panther.

                                                                                      - Ridhima Somaiya, Teacher British Council

                                 

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How to improve your pronunciation?

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One of the most important aspects of language learning is pronunciation. Learning to pronounce words in English is made more challenging by the fact that words are often spelt one way and pronounced another. For instance, how would you pronounce these words—enough, thorough, bought, though, cough?

To be a successful English speaker, one should also focus on other important features of pronunciation, such as intonation, stress, rhythm, and connected speech. Here are some tips to perfect your pronunciation.

1. Look up in a dictionary: Online dictionaries make your life easy by giving you an audio clip of the pronunciation. Forvo is a wonderful website that let’s you find the pronunciation of words in over 400 languages! While listening to the pronunciation, make a note of where the stress is and practice saying the word as often as you can.

 2. Imitation: Listening to English in real-life contexts and in a variety of accents are two wonderful ways in which you can master pronunciation. Choose interesting words, phrases, or short bits of the video you are watching. Imitate the speaker in the video by repeating the words or sentences exactly the way they are spoken. Pay attention to the stress and the tone of these phrases. Check out these podcasts and videos to practice pronunciation:

 3. Record yourself: Recording yourself speaking in English can help you notice your errors and work on self-correction. You could use it while you are learning new words or to practise longer conversations. Most phones these days have a voice recorder in them. You could also use https://vocaroo.com/ to record yourself as often as you like.

4. Befriend a mirror: The position of your tongue and the way you move your mouth affect the sound you make. For example, the difference in the pronunciation of the words ‘late’ and ‘rate’ comes from the position of your tongue. Watch pronunciation videos that explain these differences. BBC has a great playlist of videos showing different sounds in English and their pronunciation. Watch them here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/pronunciation

You could also use our app ‘Sounds Right’ to practise these sounds: https://www.britishcouncil.org/english/business/apps/sounds-right

5. Tongue twisters: If everything else we said here feels like too much work, try tongue twisters! They are great for pronunciation training and most of all, they are fun to do! Try these tongue twisters:

Lastly, be kind to yourself. It is okay to make mistakes. You will get better with practice!

-Reshmi V M, English Teacher 

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Keep calm and carry on learning!

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As home schooling continues to be the norm for thousands of families across the globe, many parents are slowly losing the steam they had at the beginning of the lockdown. Here are five ways to get you back on track.

WFH meetings, household chores and keeping the kids busy can be quite the task even for the most efficient multitaskers!  We often have parents asking how they can ensure their child is learning English even when their online lesson is over.

It’s important to remember that learning need not be restricted to books and online lessons alone. English can be seamlessly incorporated into everyday life to make learning a more hands-on experience. Here are some tried and tested ways in which you can blend English with routine tasks at home while also having fun with your child.

Everyday English: Mundane chores can turn into mini-language sessions especially while vocalizing the tasks. Expressions like ‘make the bed’, ‘do the dishes’, ‘set the table’ when used appropriately and frequently get ingrained in children’s minds as language chunks. While seemingly simple, these phrases are often used inaccurately and therefore learning it in context becomes important in order to learn them correctly. Similarly, activities like gardening and cooking are great ways of picking up vocabulary.  Here’s a delicious pasta recipe for you to try out with the kids.

And when things get a tad slow, here’s a poem to pep you up!

Be a virtual tourist: So what if all our travel plans are on hold for the near foreseeable future? We can still travel virtually! Museums around the world have thrown open their virtual doors for the world and all you really need is a screen. The Louvre has some fascinating tours like this one of the Egyptian Antiquities . And then there is The Vatican Museum offering a 360 degree tour of the Sistine Chapel. No better time than now to be an armchair tourist.

Getting crafty: Art and crafts have manifold benefits as learning techniques and even to build personality. They create a sense of calmness, foster creativity, and help to develop higher order thinking. Activities could be as basic as cut and paste posters to the more complex ones such as papier mache and origami crafts. Allow your child and their creativity to take the lead while you only assist them in the process. Don’t let the lack of access to craft stores dampen your artistic drive—find materials around the house like newspaper, old wrapping paper, buttons, card paper, fabric, pasta shells, leaves to help your child with their masterpiece.  Try to read/say the instructions out loud and if possible have the children repeat them so that they can associate the language with the actions.

Here are a ton of craft activities to help bring out the artist in your child.

Gamify learning – That saying about all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? Completely true! Gamification is a technique used in several classrooms to create a buzz and it can easily be adapted for the home too. Classics like Scrabble, charades, Pictionary, and taboo work across age groups and make for great family games. You could also invite friends and family online and make it one grand game night.

To up the challenge, get the children to create their own board game. Here’s a basic template which they can further add to and design their own challenges. Make sure they also jot down the rules so that everyone plays by the book!

Lyrical learning: There is considerable research that shows that music can be used as a tool for language acquisition.  Repeating refrains in songs, predicting the story around a song or just good old sing-alongs have found to help children with becoming fluent speakers.

Hip-hop artist Akala’s TED talk on connections between Shakespeare and hip-hop is wildly popular among teens. Here are members of GMCBeats with their incredible rap song on internet safety.

Remember that children are very intuitive and can easily pick up on their parents’ emotions. So make sure you enjoy the process of learning and they’re sure to follow suit. Do try out the activities we’ve listed for you and let us know how they worked for you. Happy learning!  

Ananya Banerjee, Teacher British Council

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Netflix and films for language acquisition

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We are always on the lookout to find resources and books to improve our language skills. But did you know that you could easily pick up a new language by watching films or television shows? Have you ever wondered if your Netflix or Prime subscription can go beyond entertaining and informing you and benefit you in learning a new language or enhancing your skills in a second language?

In this article, we will look at why films are a great way to learn English or any other language and how you can exploit them to improve your skills.

Let’s look at some of the merits of using films to pick up a new language. The benefits of watching films are plenty. Most importantly, it is entertaining. You enjoy watching films, especially if they are of your choice. This not only makes your experience of language learning more enjoyable, but also helps you remain motivated and engaged throughout the learning process. You’d be eager to do it regularly and consistently.

Another advantage of watching films is that they provide a visual input to language learning. The visual context helps you interpret the language you hear and offers a better understanding. You will also be able to catch-up quickly even if you miss out on a few words or phrases.

Finally, films are a great source of authentic contexts in which language is used naturally. You gain exposure to real-life situations and conversations which gives you an immersive experience. You no longer need to pack a bag and move to a new country to learn a language; you can get the same experience in your living room.

How can you use films or TV series to learn English?

While there are many resources online to supplement your language learning through films and television shows, it is best to start small and be consistent in your approach.

1. Choose a short film or an episode of a TV series. When you start out learning English or any other language, it is best to go for a short film or an episode of a TV series as they are short enough to sustain your interest and you can finish watching them in one sitting. You can find an interesting range of short films in English here:

2. Note down words and phrases that you liked or found useful. It’s okay if you don’t understand every word, try to guess the meaning of the words from the context. Make a note of them and look them up in a dictionary after finishing the film.

3. You could also try saying out loud the new words or short phrases that you hear. Repeating the words help in improving your pronunciation, consolidating your learning, and remembering them.

4. Watch with subtitles. If you are a beginner, watching with English subtitles should help you pick up the spellings, sounds and rhythm of the new language. It also gives you a chance to get used to the accents that you hear. If you are an advanced learner, the subtitles will offer new vocabulary, colloquialisms, and the differences between formal and informal modes of address.

 5. Watch without subtitles. Beginners may find this a very challenging experience, however, if you have seen the film already, watching it again without subtitles will help you improve your listening skills and vocabulary recall.

This chrome extension allows you to enable subtitles in two different languages at the same time on Netflix. There’s also a pop-up dictionary, and the extension suggests the most important words for you to learn.

6Describe a scene or summarise a short film to a friend. Summarising forces you to use new words and stick to the essentials of a scene or a story while also giving you an opportunity to use the new words or phrases you learned from the film on your own.

We hope that you found these tips and resources useful. What are you waiting for? Choose a short film and embark on your language learning journey!

For more collections, visit https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/

-Reshmi V M, English Teacher 

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Five easy ways to encourage your child to read

sunday postThe unprecedented effects of COVID-19 are felt around the world today, perhaps most acutely by our children, who have now shifted from a face-to-face education system to a new online realm. This has not only affected their academic pursuits, but also their reading habits.  

Are you as a parent concerned your child is not reading enough with limited access to the school or local library?  Children who are already reluctant to read now seem to have very few opportunities to pick up the habit.

Reading aids accelerate a child’s ability to pick up language skills. Not only does it stimulate curiosity in a child, but it also increases concentration, improves the attention span and aids in memory retention. Here are our top five tips to take your child on a journey from ‘Learning to Read’ to ‘Reading to Learn’ and to help them grow as an engaged reader.

1. Provide easy access to a wide variety of books

Although we may not be able to go to our favourite neighbourhood physical libraries anymore, we can still access a wealth of books on the internet. Some digital libraries which are free to use include East of the Web, which has interesting short stories and vocabulary games, and Storyline Online, where your child can listen to books being read out by famous actors. Storyline Online also has activity guides with ideas for parents to engage their child further using the theme of the book and extend their learning.

Do visit the reading section of British Council’s LearnEnglish Kids websites to access free age-appropriate reading materials.  Our digital library has a wide collection of books that are appropriate for quality and reading readiness, so, you as a parent can monitor your child’s reading choices and ensure their safety online.

2. Choose books wisely

It is important to allow your child to choose what they read, because each child has different interests. One child might like science fiction, whereas another may like fantasy. The best thing we can do is expose them to different genres, different authors and let them choose the book they like. Also, giving them the liberty to give up reading a book mid-way is okay too, because they might not enjoy it after reading a bit.

If your child is reluctant to read, you could select a humorous book or one with illustrations and diagrams. Comic books, graphic novels and audiobooks are also popular choices. Books by authors like A. A. Milne, David Walliams, Louie Stowell, Robert J Harris, Eric Carle, Julian Clary, Elli Woollard, to name a few, have proven to click with kids of all ages

3. Involve yourself in their reading experiences

Modelling a love of reading has an excellent influence on children. It sometimes seems unfair that we ask them to read when we don’t read ourselves! So modelling is essential. Reading books aloud is also a wonderful way for you to bond with your child while improving their language skills and showing them the joys of reading. If your child interrupts you when you are reading to them, engage them in conversation about the book. You can ask questions, use pictures or make up fun voices for different characters to pique their interest.

If you have older children, you could invite them to read to you or involve yourself in their reading experience by discussing the themes in the book with them.

4Understand your child’s circumstances

It is important to understand difficulties your child experiences while reading and, provide them books appropriate to their reading abilities.   Graded readers, especially of classic storybooks, are an excellent way of providing level-appropriate language as well as letting your child understand and enjoy a timeless classic.

Magazines, comics and graphic novels are good for children who are weak at reading or have learning disabilities.  Being able to complete a page gives them a sense of accomplishment and a huge self-esteem booster which in turn leads to kids naturally wanting to read more.

Lastly, remember reading for pleasure is a leisurely activity! Sometimes, the reason your child seems to dislike reading is simply because it is a timetabled chore rather than something they choose to do in their free time to relax.

5. Extend the reading experience

Reading doesn’t have to stop at the last page of the book. Parents can exploit the reading text to improve their child’s language proficiency and increase their interest in reading.  Get your child to do a task around what they have read, such as drawing characters from the story and describing them, recording new words they have picked up or video recording them narrating the story perhaps with an alternate ending to the story. You could also simply have a conversation around what they have read.  If you have older children, you could also write letters back and forth about ideas and concepts in the books.

With these steps, you can help your child to start developing a love of reading. Try them out and let us know how they worked for you!

- Priyanka Vijayraghavan, Full Time Teacher and  Shonali Khanna, Academic Manager

                                                                                                                                                      

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Flip learning for better results

In classrooms across the world teachers are flipping, but not because they’re mad at the students.

The ‘flipped classroom’ is a learning model that’s getting popular because of the positive effects on students’ capability and confidence.

A range of studies in the US and beyond have demonstrated improvement in performance and exam grades for students learning under a flipped model. So what exactly is a flipped classroom? Traditionally, the classroom has been a lecture space, with a teacher defining concepts and students doing simple practice tasks. Students are assigned homework to get them to work on the concepts in more depth. Engaging with a subject at a deeper level (evaluating, analysing and so on) is more difficult for the learner, yet this is the part that the traditional model expects students to do alone, at home, without the teacher’s guidance.

Beginning from the end

The flipped classroom literally flips this model —‘homework’ comes first and the lecture is hosted later. Widespread access to technology has made this arrangement possible. The learner is asked to get an idea of the topic before coming to the class. This is often done through a video. In some courses, audio and reading texts are also used.

Enriching experience 

So what happens in the classroom thereafter? Having been introduced to the concept, the students come armed with knowledge. The class then becomes a place for conversation, collaboration and creation, with learners engaging with what they’ve learned at a deeper level, thus providing the opportunity for a better, richer comprehension of concepts. Students can be engaged in different tasks as per their own pace and level. The teacher becomes the facilitator, who uses classroom time to attend to the needs of individual learners.

Practical approach

Let’s take a look at how this works in practice. The Teacher Online Professional Development project (TOPDI) was run for government school teachers across India earlier this year.  571 primary and secondary teachers were offered a six-week online myEnglish course to help develop their English language skills.

In their online activities, participants studied language points and communication techniques through video, audio and text models with interactive practice exercises that could be taken repeatedly.

The participants took centre-stage and engaged in meaningful, practical language use with their trainer’s guidance and feedback. After all, who needs the practice more, the trainer or the learners?

Tick the positives

The course outcomes were very positive. Participants rated it at over 90 per cent for the acquisition of new knowledge and skills as well as for the individual attention they received. They spoke about how much they enjoyed communicating with each other in classroom activities and the positive effect of individual guidance from the teacher. In comparisons between their pre and post-course self-ratings across a range of English skills, there was a leap of over 20 per cent in how they rated their own skills in just six weeks.

—The writer is head, Blended Learning & Quality Standards, India, British Council

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Four reasons how digital learning platforms are changing the L&D space – by Shivangi Gupta

Over the past few years, there has been a decided shift in teaching and learning preferences in India. With an increasing number of people and organisations moving towards online learning and especially online-blended learning, India has come a long way. There are primarily four factors which have advanced the advent of online learning in the country.

Improved teaching quality

For the longest time, online learning meant gamified and gimmicky apps or video-based content. Over the last decade, that has changed to include several education leaders investing in the development of effective teaching and learning methods for online learning.

Modern EdTech platforms are enabling this revolution with platforms like Zoom are used for delivering live online classes. Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning will further empower teachers as they can use data to respond to learners’ micro-needs, and educators will be able to use this data to develop their product-learner fit to a higher degree.

Remote working flexibility

So much of today’s work in done via email, Skype or Slack. It is natural that training delivery also becomes virtual. The need for adapting to online learning is even greater now, given to the enforcement of social distancing and working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has increased the urgency around the conversation on online learning and the digital divide across the world. In the scenario where traditional education institutions like schools, colleges and coaching classes are forced to shut shop, online learning has come to the rescue.

Adopting robust online solutions for learning are a necessity now than a luxury. Just like the flipped-classroom approach, COVID-19 has flipped our understanding of online-learning which was limited to continuing education through distance learning.

Tech is the new norm

It is predicted that by 2050, 280 million job seekers will enter the Indian job market. 2020s will be the first decade that Gen Z, the generation that grew up with smartphones, will join the job market. For them, it is a core part of their personal and professional lives. If companies are to attract and retain this talent, they must differentiate their employment offers by providing more and modern L&D opportunities like online-based learning classrooms.

Environmental factors

The companies of today are grappling with additional challenges such as climate change and security threats etc. Some companies operate in areas where it isn’t possible to fly trainers down. More organisations are turning to online delivery of their training sessions in such cases. Some studies have claimed online learning classrooms can be as less as 53% cheaper than offline alternatives.

Learn more about our online business communication learning and development solutions by clicking here: https://www.britishcouncil.in/english/corporates

The author is the Assistant Director, British Council Examination and English Services India Pvt Ltd.

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Turn into a global professional via this English language course; 6 things to know

Can your English language course transform you into a global professional?

Employers today demand much more from their workforce than simply gaining the right degrees. They require skills for the 21st century or ‘employability skills’ that go beyond subject matter knowledge. Employees who demonstrate these skills often have better job prospects. The G20 notes in its Skills Strategy report (2015) that having the right skills can boost earnings, enhance opportunities and promote well-being. Professional environments are shrinking, in terms of access, and expanding, in terms of newer connections, at the same time—giving rise to the need for enhanced workplace skills. Today, there are many ‘soft skills’ that enable an employee to stand out in the crowd, especially when the world has become more connected, and businesses more global in nature. What are these skills and how can employees acquire them?

Staying competitive with soft skills

At times, even good performers find it difficult to advance to senior positions due to a lack of soft skills. As businesses transform to keep up with changing technology and socio-economic factors and the demand for multi-disciplinary skills increases, employees too need to adapt their approach. Apart from domain knowledge, other skills valued by employers are communication, digital literacy, learning agility and cultural awareness (India Skills Report, 2017). Effective communication is one of the most sought-after job skills. In some cases, lacking the necessary language proficiency may become an obstacle to career growth. In a British Council study, employers suggested that good English language skills are important for promotion to supervisory or management roles (English Skills For Employability Report, 2015). As English is the language of global business, being proficient in it is important for employees. There seems to be ‘a critical need for English’ for career success in many sectors. Hence, English proficiency is not a choice, but a necessity.


In the business world, employees are regularly required to use video conferencing and email for day-to-day work. They may also need to use social networking sites and micro-blogs. Being collaborative and knowing how to use digital technology to communicate can help an employee bring additional value to the workplace.

How to get started

As a first step, you can access free language learning material online, including tools that can help improve reading, listening and pronunciation skills. However, taking a taught language course is likely to boost not just your overall language proficiency, but also employability skills. There are a host of courses available for employees to bridge the language proficiency gap, but the biggest challenge that people face is paucity of time. With ever-increasing workloads, expanding social circles and transportation issues, taking out time for additional practice is tough. This problem can be solved using technology. In a country the size of India, with improvements in technology and connectivity, online learning solutions are readily available for determined knowledge seekers.

Why go online?

First, the advantage of an online course is convenience and flexibility. Learners can study where and when they like. Second, an online language course can boost learners’ digital literacy, by guiding them on the rules of ‘netiquette’, or polite online communication, and maintaining basic online security. In addition to improving English, they learn to communicate using modern media. Given the proliferation of remote working, collaborative sessions and video conferencing, this gives them a competitive advantage to succeed in the workplace. Third, online courses demand learners be well-organised, motivated and have time-management skills. Successful online learners demonstrate learning agility; they set goals for themselves and know their areas for improvement. Thus, any good online language course also nurtures the essential skills of time management and independent learning. Showing initiative and self-motivation are highly valued workplace skills, and an online course can help you develop in these key areas. Another benefit is the exposure to language as it is used globally, and access to internationally-recognised course content. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have seen an exponential increase in student enrolment over the years, underlining the appetite for learning. While MOOCs may offer limited interaction, other more evolved online courses offer a holistic experience with interactive classes that allow for real-time feedback, an appropriate teacher-student ratio and interaction with peers—all ingredients of a real classroom.

Picking the right course

Committed learners have a plethora of choices, but need to invest in the right options; the right course can enhance an employee’s confidence. For starters, check the credentials of the course provider in terms of the number of years of delivering language proficiency training, the qualifications and profile of trainers, the teaching methodology and the availability of on-course support for troubleshooting, among other factors. Analyse the delivery mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of the course. Remember, while most courses will offer standard features and services, it is prudent to find out more about the class delivery, interaction and engagement, guidance, etc, to ascertain the effectiveness of the course. When choosing a course, focus on the additional value it offers to maximise the returns on time and money you invest. For instance, a carefully designed online course should offer access to world-class content and expose individuals to global standards of communication. In conclusion, each aspect of an online course mirrors the workplace routine of today’s competitive and results-oriented employees, who are required to display interpersonal skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills. In most cases, successful online learners can develop these useful workplace skills. They can also develop capabilities for future job roles, becoming adaptable lifelong learners. For this reason, both employers and employees should view online learning as an opportunity to hone their skills and embrace the new horizons it affords.

Learn more about our online business communication learning and development solutions by clicking here: https://www.britishcouncil.in/english/corporates

By Neenaz Ichaporia
The author is academic manager for the British Council’s blended learning myEnglish courses. Views are personal

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