Author Archives: Nataasha Southwell

#ELTHeroes interview: Dr Neena Jha

Dr. Neena Jha is an educationist who has traversed both rural and urban landscapes as part of her work with various schools, universities and NGOs. She has mentored children from rural backgrounds, conducted various capacity building programmes and teacher-training workshops and recently worked in developing public libraries into digitally inclusive spaces. Switching from teaching Commerce in Delhi University, she moved to teaching English and communication skills formally as well as non-formally. Currently she is an independent consultant engaging with the education and development sectors. Find out more about Neena’s journey here.

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
Growing up in multiple cities of India gave me ample insights into English being spoken in all its regional senses and savours. It fascinated me to absorb various intonations and mother tongue influences on this globally unifying language.
While pursuing my doctorate in public finance, I taught commerce to undergraduates in Delhi University in 1989. The ELT journey began after my relocation to Champaran, Bihar post marriage in 1991.The kids here were good at Maths and Sciences but struggled with English. They felt alienated from the language despite studying in English medium instruction schools. That set me to shift gears to ELT. I started to impart English lessons and later joined a missionary school as a teacher of English. Apart from textbook lessons, I encouraged children to interact in English in everyday situations, making a conscious effort not to negate learnings from their mother tongues. I used their home language/s as a resource for cross-linguistic linkages. Thereafter in Patna, I conducted English communication classes for students, professionals and government functionaries who had had their education in Hindi or other regional languages. My assignment with the World Bank on the Bihar Teacher Education project recently, reinforced the conviction that enhancing teacher effectiveness adds to improving student learning outcomes resulting in robust education systems.

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Understanding educational policies and practice’?
It goes without saying that our own education has to be ongoing. Both proficiency and professional awareness are important. To keep abreast of the developments in policies relating to educational practices in India, I would recommend that teachers visit the NCERT portal. Teachers may also visit the websites of other non- government organisations like British Council, BBC, CSF EdMonitor and Pratham to raise their awareness about recent trends in education and access resources. Being aware of the updates in educational policies and practices can be valuable pegs for ELT professionals to hinge their classes on and keep them attuned to the national educational goals. As outlined in British Council CPD Framework for teachers, teachers should be able to locate relevant information about educational policies and practice at multiple levels. However this is still a challenge despite such phenomenal growth in online content and resources.
We, then, should adopt such professional and pedagogical practices that go hand in hand with the policies relating to various aspects of our profile ranging from goals of education to access to education. We have to remember to customise them in tandem with local learner needs and aspirations. We also need to consider the changed circumstances in which English language is learned and used in this era of globalisation to make it accepted and acceptable.

3. What educational policies do you think teachers need to be aware of to develop their understanding of classroom practices? How can teachers find out more about these policies?
The teacher in the classroom is responsible for aligning the vision of the stated policies with ground situation of learners. The goals of education have to converge with a child’s holistic development- physical, mental, moral, emotional, social and spiritual. NCF 2005 is a key document that teachers need to be thoroughly familiar with in order to enhance their understanding of the key principles that should guide their classroom practice. Also reading of online resources come in handy. For instance, the CREATE- collaboration, relevance, evidence, alignment, transparency, empowerment approach to ELT policies and practices makes a lot of sense to ELT facilitators. The recent insights from linguistics, psychology, and associated disciplines have also provided a principled foundation to revitalise curricular practices for teachers.  They all point to a more empirically grounded approach to ELT that would assist to supplement our content for curriculum and pedagogic purposes. In ELT roles, let us strive to create multi-linguals who can enrich more languages than one. This methodology, I feel, would address growing apprehensions of regional language and culture getting endangered with the adoption of a new language. In addition, the pedagogic code of moving from the known to the unknown shall come into play in this way.

4. What key points from these policies would you like to highlight for teachers of English?
For teachers taking language classes, I think it is important that they are aware of the language policy governing their respective region and state. Moreover they must be in sync with ICT and integrate them in their classrooms to strengthen learning processes. Since language has a direct bearing on literacy, that is another relevant area for the teacher to keep in mind. Teachers are in a position to achieve national literacy goals as also usher in equality and inclusion in the communities they work with. Another focal point would be to sensitise students about the importance of implications of language and vocabulary. Yet another key thing would be to empower the learner by equipping them with better communication skills that would augment their confidence and competence in other disciplines too. Teachers of English can foster peace skills in children by avoiding use of aggressive or violent language, thereby contributing to mitigate the flaring gap between purpose and processes of education. Instilling gender sensitivity in their classrooms is another lifelong skill that would help towards realising a goal as fundamental as equality. The young students would grow up to respect and celebrate diversity, practise tolerance and value peace. Education would thus serve the ultimate purpose of harmonising and humanising its stakeholders.

5. How do teachers use their learning from these policies to help them in their classroom practice?
A nuanced understanding of these policies enables teachers to achieve much beyond defined course objectives. The NCERT position paper on English gives a simple yet effective suggestion about having print-rich environments, especially to enable pre-literacy learning. Putting up charts, blurbs, signboards, and even graffiti in the classroom helps familiarize the elementary learner with the school environment, and sows seeds of early education. Moreover making smaller groups in the classroom and organising activities like role plays and radio shows not just makes learning fun for students but also facilitates the teacher in knowing and assessing individual and team skills better. Another important takeaway from policy documents like the NCF 2005 would be establishing co-curricular and cross-curricular linkages. While taking up P.B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind in class for instance, the teacher could compare the use of imagery and symbolism with John Keats’ Ode to Autumn. The phenomenon of the westerly from geography and the process of water cycle from natural sciences may be referred to for integrated and reflective learning. Turning every lesson into an experience of its own, rather than merely reading and interpreting it, goes a long way in helping students connect with the subject in particular and with life outside the classroom in general.

A few other resources that teachers may find useful are:

  1. British Council online teaching resources
  2. New methods of teaching on Pratham blog
  3. ELT section of OUP website

I shall be happy to hear from you at

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#ELTHeroes interview: Nicky Hockly

Nicky HocklyThis week in our #ELTHeroes series, we are talking to Nicky Hockly. Nicky is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. She has written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching, many of them with co-author Gavin Dudeney. The latest of these books are Focus on Learning Technologies (2016), and ETpedia Technology (forthcoming 2017). Nicky lives in Barcelona, and is a technophobe turned technophile. You can find out more about Nicky on The Consultants-E website here, including a complete list of her publications.

1. Tell us a little bit about your career in ELT.
I started teaching English to adults and young learners in a language school in Spain in 1987, and got involved in teacher training a few years later after doing my DELTA. I started teaching online ten years later in 1997, when I joined a consortium of Spanish and Latin American universities offering one of the first fully online MA in ELT degree programmes. I joined as the Academic Director of the MA programme, but also taught online, and mentored other online tutors. This year (2017) marks 20 years of teaching online for me!
In 2003 my colleague Gavin Dudeney and I set up our online training and development consultancy, The Consultants-E. I’m the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, and we specialise in consultancy work with educational institutions who would like to work with online and blended learning, and educational technologies. We also provide f2f and online training to help teachers integrate technology into their language teaching. And that’s where I am now.
I also do quite a lot of writing. So far, I’ve authored or co-authored 8 methodology books for English language teachers about how to integrate a range of technologies into the classroom. I also write regular columns about integrating technologies into ELT for English Teaching Professional, and for the English Language Teaching Journal (ELTJ).

2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Promoting 21stcentury skills’? 
As I’m sure readers are aware, there are plenty of excellent free opportunities for professional development available on the Internet. There are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), webinars, and professional communities that teachers can join in order to explore 21st century skills in more detail. Some online professional communities that I especially recommend are the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (LTSIG), the Webheads in Action group, and of course the British Council’s Teach English in India Facebook page. Probably the most important piece of advice I can give to teachers is this: once you feel you understand the topic better, and have some ideas about how to work with 21st-century skills in your classroom, try out some teaching ideas with learners. You can then can share your experiences – both triumphs and challenges – with an online professional development group to get feedback, suggestions, and further ideas. Developing professional practice in 21st century skills means not just knowing more about it, but integrating it into practice, reflecting on the experience, and then refining your practice based on those reflections and feedback.

3. Do you think promoting 21st century skills is a real movement or just the latest educational fad? What makes you say that?
There is no doubt that our increasingly digital society requires new skills, and these skills tend to be lacking in traditional educational curricula. Ministries of Education in most countries in the world now include some element of 21st century skills in educational curricula for primary, secondary and even tertiary education – at least on paper. This responds to the need of countries to support the development of fully functioning digital citizens, and the very future of those countries depends on this. So, although the term ‘21st century skills’ does sound rather fad-like, once these fundamental educational needs are integrated into curricula at all levels of education, the term itself should hopefully become redundant. At the moment, it’s a useful term to help raise teachers’, students’, and even parents’ awareness of the importance of these skills in education.

4. Why is it important for teachers to understand and develop 21st century skills among learners? How likely will it affect learners in the future, if they don’t have these skills?
21st century skills are increasingly a feature of the modern workplace. If schools do not support the development of these skills for learners, where else are they going to acquire them? The skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and so on are obviously desirable in the workplace. Also, in our increasingly technologically driven world, literacy is not just being able to read and write in the traditional sense, but knowing how to understand and manipulate a range of digital media. Hence the importance too of digital literacies. Students who don’t have these skills are clearly at a disadvantage, not only when it comes to employment prospects, but also when it comes to being a responsible and fully empowered digital citizen.

5. Which do you think is the best way to teach the 21st century skills, within a school subject OR separately? Why do you think so?
I think integrating 21st century skills is far more effective than trying to teach them as some sort of stand-alone or separate subject. 21st century skills cut across curricular content – they are not related to only one subject in school. Trying to teach 21st century skills as a separate subject immediately divorces it from everything else, and makes it feel less applicable to daily life. Integrating these skills across the curriculum gives students plenty of exposure to and practice with developing the skills.
For example, an effective way to integrate a range of 21st century skills into school subjects, is to have learners work together in small groups of 3 or 4 to produce a digital artefact such as a podcast or a blog post, explaining the key points they have learnt about a certain subject: they could recount a historical event as part of a history lesson, or explain a process like photosynthesis as part of a science lesson, or share information about a country for a geography lesson.  Working together in small groups on a digital project like this integrates a number of key 21st century skills, namely creativity, critical thinking, leadership and management skills, communication and collaboration, and of course digital literacy.
The key to integrating 21st century skills successfully is that teachers receive the necessary training and support from their institutions. It’s simply not feasible to just tell teachers to ‘teach 21st century skills’, when they may be unsure exactly what these are, why they’re important, or how to integrate them into their existing classroom practice.

6. In what ways can teachers integrate 21st century skills when teaching English?
Because of my background in educational technology, I’m most interested in the digital literacies component of 21st century skills.
As described above, having students work together on digital projects is an excellent way to integrate a range of 21st century skills into one main activity. In case of the English language classroom, students can create digital projects on any number of topics. For example, if you are working on the topic of food with your students, how about getting them to produce a multimedia online poster of their favourite meal, with images and text? Multimedia poster tools like Glogster enable learners to embed images and video, so they could find videos on YouTube to embed, or even film their own videos if they own a simple mobile phone. Working in small groups requires students to communicate and collaborate together. It also requires good time management skills, and knowing how to work effectively with others (a key leadership skill). They also get the chance to be very creative in their creation of a visual poster, and critical thinking is required in deciding what information to include in their poster, as well as what information to leave out. Finally, the creation of a digital online poster students need to work with a range of media (images, text, video), and integrate these into an effective overall presentation, so digital literacy is developed at the same time.
I wrote a book called Digital Literacies with my colleagues Gavin Dudeney and Mark Pegrum (Routledge, 2013), in which we look specifically at how digital literacies can be operationalised in the classroom. This seems to be the biggest challenge for teachers – although everyone talks about the importance of 21st century skills and digital literacies, there is very little practical information out there to help teachers actually work on these skills with their students in the classroom. The book has plenty of activities focused on developing students’ (and by extension teachers’!) digital literacies, and you can also find some ideas in a series of blog posts about digital literacies on my professional blog, E-moderation Station (see also the links at the end of the blog post). I’d encourage teachers reading this to try out some of the ideas with their students!

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Hornby scholarship: a learning experience

IMG-20161227-WA0022It was one of those familiar and cold wintery December mornings in 2014 when I stumbled upon a British Council Facebook post inviting applications for an A.S. Hornby Educational Trust scholarship to study for Masters in ELT at the University of Warwick in the UK. I knew that learning to teach was my true love, but having taught ELT for nearly a decade, I had convinced myself that there was nothing left to be learnt. So it didn’t really make any sense at that time to apply for the scholarship. However, many of the Hornby Scholars who I had known for many a year were able to persuade me that the scholarship was life-changing. So more out of curiosity than anything else I sent in my scholarship application and quite fortunately won it.

Fast forward to October 2015 and I was at the University of Warwick. A new world of ELT had unfolded before me. My only reaction to the course was that of utter fascination. The people at the university were experts who taught brilliantly and like the kind of teachers I would one day want to become. ‘This is how a course should be taught,’ I told myself. It also didn’t take too long for me to have these uncomfortable and hard-to-deal-with moments of realisation of my limited awareness of the world of ELT. Back in India, I was used to feeling competent, knowledgeable and accomplished. I wasn’t used to feeling as if I’d been living in the dark ages. With each passing day, I saw my limited understanding of ELT break into smaller and smaller pieces.


Front row, second person on the right: Martin Lamb, Professor, University of Leeds with the 2015-16 Hornby scholars

Talk about a paradigm shift: the scholarship has reignited the endeavour in me to never cease to learn and it has filled the knowledge gap that I never knew existed. Although applying for the Hornby Scholarship or studying an MA course in the UK seemed like an insignificant event on that seemingly ordinary cold December morning in 2014, in retrospect, it has been one of the most transformative moments in my life as a teacher. I look at the year spent at Warwick as an incredibly humbling experience filled with exciting opportunities to learn. The course has helped me take a hard look at my own teaching practices. It has rekindled the fire in me to constantly look for better ways to reinvent my teaching. The course has given me skills I will always be able to use both personally and professionally and for that I am forever indebted to the A S Hornby Educational Trust for their scholarship.

Written by Allwyn D’Costa, a 2015-16 Hornby scholar.

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Restructuring teacher development: experimenting with Teacher Activity Groups in Maharashtra

The newly initiated three year TEJAS project aims to assist in revolutionising the way that teacher education is delivered, experienced and supported in the state of Maharashtra. The British Council, working in partnership with Tata Trusts and the state government, will develop the English language teaching skills of 18,000 teachers in nine districts using an innovative model and leveraging technology and social media.

Writing recently in LiveMint, Anurag Behar, CEO of Azim Premji Foundation stated that in India, ‘teachers’ capacity and their effectiveness need to improve. But that will happen only with structural and systemic changes in teacher education and professional development.’ Historically, teacher education in India’s government sector has adopted a cascade model: teacher educators are trained, they deliver the training to a group of teachers and, in some cases, these teachers cascade the delivery again to a further group of teachers until the training has been ‘received’ by the entire cohort.

While there are good reasons for this type of delivery – not least the ability to reach large numbers of teachers – there are several issues which alternative models may help to address. One of the issues is that centralised training events are often one-off, with little or no follow-up once teachers return to their classrooms. Certainly teachers may gain useful skills and knowledge that they can use to improve learning in their classrooms, but there is no doubt that there is a need to amplify the continuity of professional development that this training aims to provide. The TEJAS project in Maharashtra is adopting an innovative model of Teacher Activity Groups to try to achieve this, along with developing the skills of a selected group of State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs). The SARPs will become the prime resource for the state of Maharashtra responsible for planning and executing all teacher development initiatives in English language teaching.

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

TEJAS coordinators are introduced to the concept of Teacher Activity Groups

What are Teacher Activity Groups?
In this model, Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) are semi-formal, localised teacher meetings that are initially supported by trained TAG Coordinators. The aim is for them to become largely self-facilitated by members of the established group, encouraging teachers to take the initiative for their own development. Teachers will be able to choose from a wide range of curated resources to decide the course of their own progress. It is anticipated that this more localised, needs-based and democratic approach to professional development could replace the centralised approach to teacher education previously implemented within the state.

The TAGs will be networked through the use of WhatsApp and other social media tools to help create communities of practice to share ideas, challenges and successes. This also provides a channel for new resources to be shared and for data on attendance and activities to be collected for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

How will the State Academic Resources Persons lead the TAG initiative in Maharashtra?
The initial training programme for the State Academic Resource Persons (SARPs) focused on the concept of TAGs, exploring how they will be able to support TAG coordinators in establishing them and familiarisation with social media including Twitter. The SARPs were encouraged to build their own social media footprints in order to access the wealth of knowledge and ideas that is available, with the intention that they will in turn enthuse the TAG coordinators and teachers to establish their own professional learning networks (PLNs).

The SARPs enthusiastically experienced what a real TAG meeting looks and feels like, the type of resources teachers will use and discussed the intended outcomes. In the coming months, they will be involved in developing and supporting the TAG Coordinators and working closely with the project partners to identify solutions to challenges and encourage participation by teachers. They will also develop their own English language teaching expertise and teacher education project design and management skills.

What challenges do we foresee?
To implement a change of this kind and on the scale required there are clearly a number of challenges which will need to be addressed. These include buy-in at all levels; motivation of teachers to attend; interpersonal relationships between members of the TAGs and tracking progress and impact. The TEJAS pilot offers the opportunity to explore these challenges and potential solutions, while also documenting lessons learned to inform future programmes or state initiatives which may look to adopt similar methods.

Updates from the project will be shared on a regular basis through the project website. Project activities can also be followed on Twitter using the hashtag #Tejas4Ed.

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Multiple perspectives on multilingualism

Seventeen of the scheduled languages are featured on Indian rupee banknotes

India boasts one of the largest number of languages for any country on earth, with 22 languages awarded official status and referred to as ‘scheduled languages’. English is termed an ‘associate official language’. Depending on how they are counted (and who is doing the counting) there are as many as 6600 other languages spoken and used across the country – some by very small percentages of the population which can still equate to large numbers in a country of 1.2 billion people.

The British Council is well-known for its work relating to the English language, including working with teachers to improve the way that it is taught within education systems. Our position is to support the development of English as a skill alongside the development of learners’ mother tongues and other national languages. To this end, we actively support research into multilingualism and English as a medium of instruction in order to facilitate a shared understanding of what works in practice and where there are significant challenges. This has been realised in several ways in India, including by hosting a roundtable event on multilingualism in 2014, hosting the Language and Development Conference in Delhi in 2015 on the theme of multilingualism and development and most recently through a partnership on a research project initiated by the University of Cambridge and the University of Reading in the UK.

This project, Multilingualism and multiliteracy: raising learning outcomes in challenging contexts in primary schools across India was recently launched through a consultation event at British Council Delhi. Alongside the team from the two UK universities, led by Professor Ianthi Tsimpli and including Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller and Professor Theodoros Marinis, co-investigators from key institutions in India, Dr Survana Alladi from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay from the English and Foreign Languages University Hyderabad, and representatives of other partner organisations also attended. This breadth of representation from different sectors, cultures and organisations led to a rich discussion on the issues surrounding multilingualism in India and the impact that this can have on learning.

These questions will continue to be explored through the research study, focusing on young learners in Bihar, Hyderabad and Delhi. In particular, the project seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge around how different mediums of instruction can impact on literacy, numeracy and higher level cognitive skills. The study will also examine the extent to which geographic and socioeconomic factors affect development in these areas. Furthermore, the research project includes a strong focus on capacity building for all involved – including a network of research assistants and PhD students – and seeks to drive impact through a range of dissemination events and channels as the research gets underway. The project will run from 2016–2020.

Watch this space for further updates.

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.  Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)

Back row (from left to right): Rajarshi Singh, Pratham; Prof Ganesh Devy (People’s Linguistic Survey of India); Prof Minati Panda (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Dr Lina Mukhopadhyay (EFL-U); Prof Ianthi Tsimpli (Univ of Cambridge); Prof Jeanine Treffers-Daller.
Front row (from left to right): Prof Theo Marinis; Prof Ajit Mohanty (retired from JNU); Prof Rama Mathew (Delhi University)
Also present but not pictured: Dr Vasanta Duggirala (retired from Osmania University, Hyderabad); Dr Dhir Jhingran (Language and Learning Foundation); Dr Suvarna Alladi (Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences), Debanjan Chakrabarti and Amy Lightfoot (British Council India).

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A plethora of perspectives on English language teaching

Reflections on the third annual AINET Conference – Nagpur January 2016

AINET, the All India Network of English Teachers is an IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Associate in India. January 2016 saw the network host the Third Annual ELT conference in TBRAN’s Mundle English School, Nagpur. The British Council supported 67 Master Trainers and administrators from various English Partnerships projects to attend the conference with participation from Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Chief guests and featured speakers at the event

Chief guests and featured speakers at the event

Some of the take-aways from the conference were issues raised in the keynote address by Prof. Mrs Amritavalli who spoke about dynamic text that excites learners. She also outlined Prabhu’s proposition of repetition versus recurrence in texts that facilitates language acquisition. Our own Jon Parnham (Senior Academic Manager – English Partnerships West India) delivered a plenary talk inspired by Carl Rogers featured three conditions that teachers can create to sustain the teaching-learning environment in the classroom: authenticity, acceptance and empathy.

An interesting talk by Dr. Bradley Horn (Regional English Language Officer, US Embassy) emphasised the role of ELT in US state policy. He spoke about his country’s efforts to establish mutual understanding with India through scholarships and programmes undertaken by RELO.

The parallel sessions presented focused on varied topics and interests. They ranged from effects of dopamine in teaching learning situations to the study of learners’ written errors. Motivation among teachers and learners, adapting activities in textbooks and the learner-centred classroom were also well-attended choices.

A traditional rangoli reworked to illustrate the elements of English language teaching

A traditional rangoli reworked to illustrate the elements of English language teaching

The most popular session was the panel discussion featuring learners from grades 8 and 9. The learners had a few things they wanted their teachers to know! So what did we learn from them? They want teachers to entertain them, do lots of activities, bring material that is based within the Indian context and relevant to their lives, use ICT in classrooms, make writing more interesting, let them speak more in classes and enable them to become contributing members of the society. They also felt that textbooks needed to change and English should play a bigger part in classroom dialogue. Moreover they wanted their teachers to have a good command over the language too. Phew! That is a tall order isn’t it? Will teachers be able to match such expectations?

The concluding event was an open debate over discrimination faced by teachers who do not have access to or use technology. Opinions differed greatly as is but natural. Some felt the skill of the teacher and not apps are what brings teaching and learning alive and some felt that it was inevitable that technology will eventually dominate classrooms. Issues such as accessibility and funding were also touched upon.

Personally, I was very proud to see Master Trainers (MTs) Smita Pore and Mahesh Dudhankar from our English Partnerships projects deliver talks on Enhancing reading skills through peer teaching and Mentoring and its impact on classroom teaching respectively. Moreover it was great to see them inspire other MTs who aspire to present their work at similar conferences. As Master Trainer Mr. Nand Kishore said, ‘after watching Smita present the findings, I feel that I am I just a step away … I too can do this!’

If you wish to participate in the next AINET conference, you will have to wait till 2017 as AINET has decided to hold its conference every two years. However, this gives you time to get on with your own action research in your classrooms and plan your presentation or workshop! Do take a look at the AINET website for more information about this association and to explore their resources and publications for English language teachers.

Ruchi Jain
Academic Manager, English Partnerships, East India
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11th LangDev Conference in India: Done but not quite dusted

British Council India played host to the 11th International Language & Development Conference in New Delhi from 18-20 November, the first time this prestigious biennial event was held in this country. The event was the largest and the most diverse of the conference series thus far, attracting 266 registered participants and with a programme of more than 60 sessions. Nearly 30 countries were represented, from Afghanistan to South Africa, Bhutan to New Zealand. Feedback from across the board suggests that the conference was a resounding success, bringing together researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from a wide variety of contexts.

Partner insitutions light the lamp to declare the conference open

Partner insitutions light the lamp to declare the conference open

Learning from diversity, learning through languages
Learning from leading a diverse team from across India, with generous inputs from colleagues in the wider South Asia region (such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was one of my own substantive take-aways from the project as the senior manager responsible for planning and delivery of the conference. Just the core conference team of six of us had over a dozen languages amongst us. A colleague has documented how meticulously we planned for and dealt with various Equality, Diversity and Inclusiveness (EDI) challenges, including providing for simultaneous translation in Hindi, Mandarin and Amharic for presenters.

Some key members of the British Council India staff who organised the conference

Some key members of the British Council India staff who organised the conference

Chairing the session where we launched the conference proceedings from Sri Lanka and discussed multilingualism from the perspectives of social cohesion and national narratives resonated at a deep personal level. My parents were born in country that no longer exists (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh; the trigger for the conflict being a language-related issue) and I was raised in a province in India that is now carved into another one (south Bihar has become Jharkhand). I grew up with Bengali as a home language, Hindi as the language of the playground and school. Like most middle class aspirational households (that too of ‘refugees’ who had clawed their way back to a life of dignity on the back of educational and professional success) English was a constant presence at home, and also in school. These issues of being caught out in narratives of displacement and political reconfiguration came back to me vividly as the discussants from Sri Lanka discussed the role languages played in the conflict and then reconciliation in the island nation.

Partnering for success
The conference was supported by the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojana of the Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India; UNESCO South Asia cluster office based in New Delhi; Research Councils UK; Jawaharlal Nehru University’s National Multilingual Education Resource Consortium and the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

An intellectual feast
The main theme of the conference was Multilingualism and Development and the three broad sub-themes were Multilingualism and the Metropolis; Language, Technology, Multi-literacies; and Multilingualism, Marginalisation, Empowerment. These issues not only reflect the rapidly changing reality of India and the wider South Asian area, but almost every other developing country and, in some cases, even the so-called developed countries.

Presentations included plenary addresses by Indian and international experts, workshops, a book launch, a debate and a ministerial panel discussion. Around 30 of the presentations were by international speakers, discussing their work in a total of 20 different countries, from Sierra Leone to China, from Myanmar to Denmark and from Pakistan to South Africa.

Primetime coverage on national TV
An interesting highlight of the conference was an in-studio panel discussion on NDTV, one of India’s premier television channels, with three plenary speakers at the conference – Ajit Mohanty, James Simpson, Osama Manzar and Alison Barrett – on the issue of linguistic diversity in India and its role in education. The half an hour show was aired on Friday 20 November at 6.30 pm, a prime-time slot, and is now available on for viewing on this link:

Expanding the conference reach through digital and social media
The plenary sessions and many parallel session were webcasted and recorded. These recordings are now available to view on YouTube.

Through Facebook posts, re-posts and comments, the conference reached out to approximately 700,000 and #LangDev2015 trended on Twitter for the duration of the conference, with over 2000 tweets and re-tweets with approximately 600,000 impressions. The involvement of Digital Empowerment Foundation as partners and a well-thought out internal social media plan meant huge boost for the conference in the social media world. Several colleagues took turns to blog live from the conference sessions and these blogs can be accessed here.

Initial feedback from participants has been uniformly positive, with 95.5 per cent of feedback survey respondents reporting that they believed it was a high quality event and that they acquired new knowledge and skills from taking part. Eighty three per cent of participants indicated that they believe the discussions from the conference will directly impact on future research in the area of language and development. We will continue to track the conference’s impact over the coming months.

We have had numerous emails of support following the event, including the comments below.

“Thank you for the great Conference with a galaxy of intellectuals and scholars. I am looking forward to future action.” Justice Sonam Tobgye, former Chief Justice, Chairman of Royal Research Council, Bhutan; Delegate.


“I wanted to thank you all once again for a most wonderful conference. I learnt a lot, met a great many stimulating people, and came away with inspirations.” Dr Anuradha Kanniganti, Lecturer, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, Paris, France; Speaker.

“It was really a remarkable event where we learnt some in-depth research on MLE, education, language preservation and promotion, development, digital media and the endangered languages, English as Medium of Instruction and some good case studies round the world.” Mr Zubair Torwali, Executive Director, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi IBT, Pakistan; Speaker.

“Thank you for hosting an excellent conference. I, for one, benefitted immensely from the discussions, the plenaries, the presentations and the feedback I received on my own presentation. I look forward to furthering the conversations and discussing possible areas of collaboration with the British Council in the coming days.” Dr Padmini Boruah, Associate Professor in ELT, Gauhati University, Assam, India; Speaker.

“My thanks again for an outstanding conference, which did indeed foster and strengthen important collaborations. Warmest congratulations to you and your team for a memorable and important event.” Dr. Bonny Norton, Professor, Dept Language & Literacy Education, University of British Columbia, Canada; Speaker.

 ”Thanks for a great conference, great learning for all of us. We may explore possibilities of launching a large scale research on how multilingualism operates in Asian and African contexts.” Dr Ramanujam Meganathan, Department of Education in Languages, NCERT, New Delhi, India; Speaker.

“[The conference] was simply awesome. Debates, discussions, ideas, energy, willingness, and most of all hope – all were visible. In fact some of our colleagues just did not want to miss any moment :) Osama Manzar, CEO, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India. Plenary speaker and one of the conference partners.

Legacy programme
The conference was just the beginning of a wider conversation we intend to have with all our partners. We envision an ongoing programme of engagement led by partners and participants as a result of the discussions and debates that took place during the three days. Our conversations on multilingualism and its role in development have just begun. Watch this space.

Resources and blogs
1. Recordings of sessions and interviews:
2. Blogs on the British Council India website:

Post by Debanjan Chakrabarti
The author heads British Council India’s English language policy, research and publications work and was the lead manager for the 11th Language & Development Conference in New Delhi. He can be reached at and his twitter handle is @dcfrombc

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ELISS – mentoring pilot project in Maharashtra

In all our teacher development work we look to ensure the sustainability of our projects once they come to an end. One exciting innovation we have introduced this year in our English Language Initiative in Secondary Schools (ELISS) for teachers in Maharashtra is a mentoring pilot project. Eighty Master Trainers were selected and trained in mentoring skills and are now mentoring 15 teachers each.

After discussions with the government on a suitable mentoring model, we sent out a call for applications from the ELISS Master Trainers to become mentors in early 2015. We received over 300 applications in total. The mentor training for the 80 individuals selected took place in May in Pune and received very positive feedback. Topics discussed in the training included the role of mentors, active listening and giving constructive feedback.

After this initial training, mentors set up meetings with Head Teachers and teachers from their local areas to introduce the project, explain the aims and objectives and discuss next steps. Since then, mentors have been working with 15 teachers each, carrying out all sorts of activities, including conducting developmental observations, holding small INSET sessions and holding 1-1 discussions.

WhatsApp has been an important aspect of this pilot project and has made it possible for mentors from all across the state to keep in touch and discuss topics around ELT, attitudes to teaching and learning and ways of supporting teachers, as well as sharing their experiences of carrying out mentoring activities with their teachers. Over the past six months the group has blossomed and bonded very well. To quote one of the mentor’s posts: ‘This group is very very nice. It has become a family. Just everyone tries to take care of each other, share everything that is a must to live a healthy life, improve teaching, some article, discussions, views and social messages.’

After the pilot ends in March 2016 we hope to scale up so that all 420 Master Trainers become mentors. To do this we need we need to learn from our experiences and continue to improve. There have been several difficult situations and challenges faced over the past six months and one thing we have learnt is the importance of good communications between everyone involved – between British Council staff, government officials, Education Officers, Heads, mentors, teachers … everyone. So far, it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next year.

To read about the mentoring pilot from the perspective of a mentor, take a look at Mahesh Dudhankar’s brilliant recent blog post on his experiences on the project so far.

ELISS is a four year partnership project in Maharashtra with Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). It aims to improve the teaching skills and language confidence of 16,400 secondary level English language teachers in government schools across the state, using a variety of innovative delivery formats. 

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Language is organic!

Every environment offers to us multiple linguistic possibilities. Every day we chose to communicate in a certain language. This decision, consciously or subconsciously taken, subtly or aggressively deliberated upon, is a decision that shapes us as citizens of a civilised world.

What then is the importance of language in our political, economic and social world? I, for one, am unable to answer this question in any holistic fashion. Our language choices are so embedded in our lived realities that it takes us some time to dig them up from our collective conscious.

The 11th International Language and Development Conference provided just the space required to fuel this thinking. With speakers coming from every part of the world, it is only natural that the confluence of ideas was as varied as it was uni-directional, all moving towards the development of language as one whole, as a part of our identity as leaving, speaking and talking beings.

Language has been fragmented to the extent that it has ceased to appear substantial. The conference was one way to reclaim the priority of language and award to it the status it deserves-that of an essential part of our development and growth.

The conference highlighted the one essential idea that the world had seemed to forget -
Language is not an appendage to growth, an inconsequential outcome of our education and upbringing; instead, it is the core of who we are. The language in which we express is the language of who we are and wish to be. So be it in schools, colleges, or even our own homes, language cannot be taught.

It is organic.

Post by: Radhika Sunger
The writer is the Project Manager for the 11th Language and Development Conference.

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Excluded linguistic communities and production of an inclusive multi-lingual digital language infrastructure

Excluded linguistic communities and production of an inclusive multi-lingual digital language infrastructure - Martin Benjamin at the 11th language and Development Conference, 2015

This presentation provided a fascinating insight into the issues and processes of creating a digital multilingual dictionary. Through examples, the complexities and ambiguities of organising a digital multilingual resource were explored, and the links between language and concept highlighted. Martin outlined the challenges faced by the Kamusi Project in collecting data to populate the multilingual dictionary, and how they were attempting to use crowd sourcing, Facebook initiatives and mobile phone apps to collect translations and also to further check translations. An interesting issue highlighted in the talk and through the questions is how to get input on more minority languages, as users of these languages tend to use their language mainly orally and also are often not computer literate or have access to ICT.

Post by: Simon Etherton
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in South India

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