Author Archives: britishcouncilindia

What is it like to work in the arts in India?

“It is a very exciting time to be an arts professional in India. There is a sense of community and sharing as well as a sense of investment in growing something together”.

Latika Gupta is an art-historian and critic based in Delhi. Latika has worked on documentary films and photography projects tracing the history of Indian art and as a curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art and at KHOJ International Artists’ Association. Latika is currently studying towards a PhD in material culture and rituals in the Himalayas.

Latika tells us what it is like to work as an arts professional in India.

I think the opportunities for arts professionals, though having increased in the last few years, are still few and far between. Most work is on commission from private galleries and the opportunities to work with public spaces and museums are negligible. Additionally, professional opportunities are primarily in the contemporary arts sphere. There also continues to be the perception that if you work in the arts, it is akin to philanthropy, so in terms of remuneration, it is somewhat difficult for arts professionals to have a sustainable practice, especially as freelancers.

On the flipside however, given that the arts scene is still growing, it is a very exciting time to be an arts professional in India. There is a sense of community and sharing as well as a sense of investment in growing something together.

With this context in mind, the benefits of finding international opportunities which you can then bring back to your work are very valuable. I was commissioned to curate an exhibition from the permanent collection of the British Council in 2011. ‘Homelands’ toured Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Lahore, Karachi and Colombo between January 2013 and February 2014.  For this project, I worked with technical advisors as well as a fantastic team of arts professionals here in India- all of whom I learned a great deal from in terms of ‘best practices’. I also received a three-months research fellowship from CWIT for a project on Himalayan art. It was extremely valuable in terms of the resources I was able to use as well as the academics I worked with. This has informed my current research work as a Phd scholar at the Jawharlal Nehru University, where I am working on material culture and rituals in the Himalayas.

Are you an arts professional in India? What has your experience been like? 

Post by: Emer Coyle


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The Politics of Pronunciation

Accent is our identity, an oral fingerprint containing all sorts of information about our life.

Do you have an accent?

Helen Ashton began her talk with this question to the audience – very few said yes.

Collins in collaboration with English Partnerships department organised a talk on ‘The Politics of Pronunciation’ by dialect coach, Helen Ashton at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday 2 April 2014. The event was live streamed; and audiences in our other offices in Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Bengaluru watched the proceedings.

In her welcome address to the audience and viewers of the live webcast, Alison Barrett, Director English for Education Systems, British Council South Asia spoke about British Council and Collins’ shared vision to support teachers in their development.

Dr Elaine Higgleton, International Publisher, Collins Learning talked about the role of Collins in the field of education. Since 200 years Collins has been publishing dictionaries, atlases, school course books and has worked extensively with partners across the world. Through this talk Collins wanted to discuss a key issue faced by teachers: What pronunciation should we be teaching our students?

Also present at the event were senior management officials from Collins; Mr. Colin Hughes, Managing Director, Collins Learning, Mr. Krishna Naroor, Managing Director, Collins India and Mr. P.M. Sukumar, Chief Executive Officer, HarperCollins Publishers India.

Helen believes that accents reflect our identities, and no one way of speaking is inherently better than another. However, this doesn’t mean that pronunciation teaching should be abandoned altogether, rather it should be flexible. Voice is physical and is a result of the muscle habits that we develop over a course of time. Helen made the audience breathe, yawn, play with their tongue, do an Elvis lip and blurt out a trill, to name a few – all part of muscular exercises important in pronunciation teaching.

She mainly discussed Received Pronunciation (RP) which is said to be the ‘standard’ in spoken English. Pronunciation is one of the major aspects of language and with the language constantly evolving, RP is changing too. For instance, a study has revealed that even the Queen’s accent has changed over the years.

In English curriculum, pronunciation plays a key role and majority of the teachers have always hesitated to teach their students as they themselves aren’t aware of the correct pronunciation. To overcome this barrier, Helen presented key concepts and techniques that are useful for teaching various pronunciation models and can be tailored to students’ individual goals.

As she progressed through the talk she used different accents: Scottish, British and American to name a few.

To sum up the session, ‘Accent is how we pronounce words when we speak so EVERYBODY has an accent’. She concluded the event with the same question she had asked in the beginning Do you have an accent?

A resounding yes!

The audiences across our four offices comprised teachers, professors, principals, students, publishers, teacher educators and representatives for other educational institutions.

The Q&A session was opened out to all cities via Twitter. The talk helped the audience understand how they could incorporate these easy-to-use techniques into their teaching of pronunciation in a way that was practical and effective and created a huge impact on teaching and learning. The success of this event has prompted the roll out of similar talks for the English teaching and education sector.

More photographs of the event can be viewed here.

Helen Ashton trained at The Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with Distinction from the MA in Voice. She specialises in speech and accent work, which she teaches at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London. She has coached actors in many different accents for Stage and Screen appearances.

Helen is co-author of the pronunciation guide Collins’ Work On Your Accent which was published in 2012, and teaches English pronunciation to speakers of all languages. Helen also holds an MA with First Class Honours in History from The University of Edinburgh.

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The politics of pronunciation – talk by Helen Ashton

Collins in partnership with British Council India invites you to a talk on The Politics of Pronunciation by Helen Ashton.


Helen Ashton trained at The Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with Distinction from the MA in Voice. She specialises in speech and accent work, which she teaches at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London. She has coached actors in many different accents for Stage and Screen appearances. Helen is co-author of the pronunciation guide Collins’ Work On Your Accent which was published in 2012, and teaches English pronunciation to speakers of all languages. Helen also holds an MA with First Class Honours in History from The University of Edinburgh.


Dialect coach, Helen Ashton believes that accents reflect our identities, and no one way of speaking is inherently better than another. However, this doesn’t mean that pronunciation teaching should be abandoned altogether. There is a middle ground: there is a difference between training people to talk like Received Pronunciation drones, and helping them to speak in a way that is expressive and clear to anyone listening. Although individual accents should be respected, there comes a point where pronunciation habits can be a limitation to fluency.

In this presentation, Helen will argue that pronunciation teaching should be flexible, and tailored to students’ individual goals. She will include examples from the Indian context and consider one of the key issues here that gets teachers arguing: should our children be taught English models of pronunciation or is it acceptable in this global world – for them to speak with Indian accents? She will also present key skills and concepts that are useful for teaching different pronunciation models.

There is space for both sensitivity and rigour within pronunciation teaching in India, and without either one of them, we are letting our students down. Read more here


Collins is one of the world’s leading dictionary, schools, reference and language publishers. Founded in 1819 on the principle of “creating knowledge for all”, Collins continues to offer an exceptionally wide choice for all language needs.

With almost 200 years of dictionary publishing experience, Collins is one of the world’s most authoritative education and language publishers. By pioneering new approaches to publishing Collins will always provide people with the most up-to-date and accessible dictionaries and language learning products available.

Collins is best known in India for its dictionaries, language reference books and course books for international schools. In a major new initiative Collins has now launched skills books for phonics, spelling, ELT, mathematics and reading for children in Indian schools in grades 1 to 8, and will shortly be publishing course books covering ELT, mathematics, science and computer science also for grades 1 to 8 focusing initially on the requirements of the CBSE board.

Globally Collins publishing continues to grow, with over 60 eBooks and hundreds of apps now available.

You can follow some of the discussions on Twitter @inBritish and @TeachEngIndia with #Pronunciation

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Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers

IMG6026We launched our global publication, ‘Innovations in pre-service education and training for English language teachers’, edited by Julian Edge and Steve Mann in India in February 2014. The two editors undertook a six-city book tour, after delivering the first joint plenary at the Teacher Educator Conference 2014 in Hyderabad.

Julian Edge visited Chennai (25 February), Bangalore (26 February) and Pune (28 February), while Steve Mann delivered talks in Delhi (24 February), Kolkata (26 February) and Chandigarh (28 February).

At each stop the editors met with a large number of enthusiastic audience comprising in teacher educators, English teachers and trainee teachers. The focus of volume on pre-service teacher education and training (PRESETT) of English language teachers chimed particularly with the audience as PRESETT tends to be a neglected area within the wider field of ELT.

In Delhi, Steve Mann was the keynote speaker at the ELTAI Delhi chapter’s annual conference and the book was launched at the end of the lecture. In Kolkata the book was launched by Dr Chhanda Ray, Director SCERT, West Bengal, followed by a talk on “Innovations in PRESETT” by Steve Mann. The Kolkata event saw a full house of more than 80 inquisitive participants ranging from accomplished teacher trainers, current teachers and trainee teachers. The book event in Chandigarh was co-hosted by the Regional Institute of English, attracted over a 100 people and the book received excellent press coverage in the local press.

Julian Edge kicked off his leg of the lecture tour in our Chennai library, with the book being launched by Pooja Kulkarni, State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Mission, Tamil Nadu followed by an interactive lecture. Elsewhere in Bengaluru, Mohammad Mohsin (Commissioner for Public Instruction, Karnataka) launched the book and Julian Edge’s presentation was very well received by the audience, majority of them being B Ed students. In Pune, the lanch was well attended as well where the local press also wrote about the book.


This book is part of British Council’s ‘Innovations in…’ series. The series aims to bring to the reader a range of ideas and practices in English language teaching (ELT), and to stimulate new thinking and experimentation, by providing accounts of innovative experiences from a range of international contexts.

The book is available for free download on our website. For more information on our research and other publications visit this link

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Nirbhaya: what is the way forward?

Yael Farber’s internationally acclaimed play, Nirbhaya is currently touring India. It is a play based around the personal testimonies of women who have survived sexual violence and an evocation of the Delhi rape case of 16 December 2012. Nirbhaya has played to audiences around the world and met very similar reactions to the global problem of sexual violence: how do we move forward from here?

As part of Nirbhaya’s India tour, the actors and associate partners – the British Council, Oxfam and UN Women are supporting several ‘Way Forward Discussions’, which are open forums for people to share their ideas on we can advance on this issue.

In the ‘Way Forward’ discussion in Delhi, we were joined by great speakers: Huma Masood, UNESCO, Sonali Khan, Breakthrough, Keerti, ActionAid India, Manak Matiyani, Must Bol Campaign and Poorna Jagannathan, actor in Nirbhaya.

During the discussion, some very important points were raised, including:

  • The key to this problem is the prevention of violence and being critical of our social norms. Violence against women is accepted and normalised in India.
  • We need to reach out to various audiences, we can’t continue to speak to the ‘converted’.
  • Violence is about power and subjugating another person. This issue is about the framework of power.
  • All genders are responsible for this issue, the onus is not on just women or just men.
  • The culture of shame and silence about sexual violence is universal.
  • Sexual violence is a cultural and a social development issue.
  • The time is right to take action and engage more people in this issue.

But most importantly, the discussion focused on actions that we can take to change attitudes and strengthen our support systems:

  • Use popular culture and new media to engage different audiences, especially young people.
  • Demand that more budget is allocated to implementing the laws against domestic violence.
  • Women are kept without resources and thus unable to acquire power. The government needs to strengthen the social security system to enable women to be independent.
  • Translate Nirbhaya into Hindi and play around with different pricing structures so we can take this to more people.
  • We need to work at all levels, grass roots to policy, in a decentralised manner with various mediums and forums.

Do you agree? What do you think is the way forward?

Post by: Emer Coyle

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Nirbhaya: can theatre make a difference?

NirbhayaNirbhaya is a tapestry of personal testimonials from women who have survived sexual violence and an evocation of the Delhi rape case of 16 December 2012. The stories are harrowing and are delivered with such intensity, that the anger and strength of the actors reverberates across the stage and into the audience. The play aims to end the global culture of shame and silence around sexual violence and act as a catalyst for engaging more people with this issue that affects one in every three of us.

Nirbhaya premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2013. It won the coveted Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, the Scotsman Fringe First and the Herald Angel Award for Outstanding New Play.

The play is currently playing to packed out auditoriums across India. Two of the actors, Sapna Bhavnani and Priyanka Bose, took time out to share their thoughts with us.

You have performed this play around the world, are there any differences in the way people react to or speak about this issue?

Priyanka: Yes, we have had the privilege of sharing the play with an international audience and to my surprise, we have been flooded with similar stories of trauma and shame that surrounds people who have experienced sexual violence. So many people express their need to own and accept their experience, and then the struggle to move on.

Sapna: After most of the performances, I get a lot of women wanting to ‘break their silence’ to me. I think this might be because my story is full of the stereotypes by which most societies judge women (the way they dress, how they act and where they go). So many women from all over the world seem to recognise elements of my story in themselves.

When humans witness others breaking down and opening their soul to them, the reaction has been the same. The audience bears witness to the story and in turn we bear witness to theirs.

Do you think theatre can inspire social change? Does theatre have certain qualities that other media may not?

Priyanka: I hope so. The play is not so much about teaching lessons but is a source of inspiration for the survivors of sexual violence and catalyst to get them speaking about their experience. It is a part of human nature to separate ourselves from people who are different and live in different situations. The theatre breaks that barrier of separation. Unlike any other art form the focus of theatre is on the human being, his or her existence, and his or her relationship with society.

Why do you feel it is important to break your silence?

Priyanka: Because staying silent makes me part of the problem. The change came when I wanted and was able to create change by just speaking up about my truth.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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How to teach the phonemic script

Every ESL teacher knows that teaching the phonemic script is indispensable. The best way to start off is to make sure that students are aware that the phonemic script can be divided into three main components – vowels, diphthongs and consonants.

The teacher can start with one at a time; usually consonants are the easiest to start with. Lay stress on certain difficult consonants based on the student’s first language. These are often the th, v/w, r, s/sh, z/zh and p/b sounds

The vowels can be broken up into short and long vowel sounds and can be taught through drama techniques. The teacher could make up a poem such as the pin on the tree, the bush like the boot.

Done with a lot of action, this can be enjoyed by both children and adults. So, the phonemic script need not only be taught with the mouth, jaw, tongue movements but the entire body can be a part of it.

Teachers can a few tricks that are listed out here. It has individual sounds of the entire phonemic script and three words with that particular sound in it.

Post by: Veera Sabzeh, Teacher of English, British Council Hyderabad

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Kamila Shamsie: where does a writer belong?

Kamila Shamsie, one of our ‘Best of Young British Artists’ launched her latest book, A God in Every Stone in Delhi last week.

She shares her thoughts with us on the complexities of writing about place and identity.

The idea of place has a strong presence throughout my works. I seem to think more about cities than countries, cities are much more likely to have identities than nations and I feel a strong pull to explore them and their spirits. Lahore, for example, is a deeply imagined city surrounded by ancient stories. Karachi is much newer. It is a city of migrants who don’t have monuments or histories reaching back to ancient times. Karachi is a new and restless place and so a writer has to learn to imagine Karachi in order to capture it’s essence. My relationship with London very meaningful but it is a little hazier with England.

There is always a tension between distance and place for writers. Some say that they are able to write their most vivid work about a place when they are in a different country or have just recently returned to a place after a long period of absence. Others would say that you have to truly ‘be’ in that place so as to really capture the nuances of the surroundings. For me, I start writing about one place and then the story spills into other locations. When a writer moves through geographical places, it takes longer to write; especially when you are writing about somewhere you haven’t been before. I have to spend time in my head getting to know a place through research but also my imagination.  Also, when you spend so much time thinking about place and how that affects your characters, you really start to question where you belong.

For me, national identity is something very porous. I have been called both a British writer and a Pakistani writer and I love that. Pakistan has quite negative connotations for some people in the west, and so if the words ‘Pakistani’ and ‘writer’ can sit together through me, then I am very happy.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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Contemporary dance in India: a tension between tradition and modernity


Photo credit: Sudeep Bhattacharya

Dancer and choreographer Jayachandran Palazhy has watched India’s contemporary dance scene grow and begin to flourish. He shares his thoughts with us on how to shape the future.

I think that Indian dance and music have deep roots because they are linked with religion. That means they have benefitted from religious belief but they are also limited by what is permissible. In the beginning of contemporary work, a lot of people were trying to make work but they didn’t have any specific techniques or skills or modes of creating work. So they were primarily interested in attempting new ideas, contemporary ideas, but their language, structure and approach remained classical and traditional, because they didn’t have the physical techniques or choreographic knowledge or stage technologies…”

Read the full article here

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Study India Programme: Reflecting upon my stay

Asking me to only write a 500 word reflection on these three incredible weeks is like asking someone to condense all the stories and teachings in every holy book that ever existed into just a few hundred words. It’s impossible! This trip was everything and more. It’s freed me from so many restraints I had placed on myself. Restraints from following my passion for different faiths, beliefs and religions to the simple restraints of always trying to please others and worrying about others opinions. Now I have released these passions and confidences I shall not restrict them again. This trip has bought a new fascination every day. From the simple act of placing flowers over my head to the complex understanding of the social sciences. I discovered so much that sparked a bonfire of fascination in my heart that I never want to douse. Often the trip bought about frustration. How is it that India has managed to do so many things that large, richer western countries are still busy arguing about without actually doing anything. This goes the other way too. There are so many simple suggestions put forward to the Indian government and country, that would be relatively straight forward to achieve but instead the rest of the world receives a collective head wobble and a shrug.

So, as well as being freeing, fascinating and frustrating I could use any adjective, good or bad, and I would be able to write about something I heard, saw, smelt or did on this adventure that would fit it. When we first arrived Nick said to us ‘for every true thing about India the opposite is equally true.’ As a mathematician myself, this made no logical sense and I almost took it upon myself to prove this wasn’t the case. You can’t have two completely opposite statements being equally true! However, sure enough, even now I can’t think of anything in India that goes against Nick’s statement. It, as a country, is two extremes that live side by side without ever disproving the other. It is a country that can only be summed up by the Indian head wobble, “it is both this and it is that.” It’s everyone’s paradise and everyone’s hell. I am still unsure what it was I went to India with in mind, everyone had told me different things to expect but I don’t think anything prepared me. I arrived as a country bumpkin with my rose tinted glasses on, immature and naive. Slowly, over the three weeks, I removed my glasses, with help, to reveal a scene more colourful that I could have ever dreamt. Yes there were dark patches, but they boarded the colour and made the brightness more intense. My eyes have been opened, my heart stolen and my mind filled. I have, for better or worse, been changed. Thank you, I could not recommend this opportunity enough!

Post by: Libby Down

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