Category Archives: English for Progress Policy Dialogue

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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BPOs and English Language Teaching

Automatic-linguistic-articulated-recognition-modulations (ALARM) is now the standard software system (retail INR 1,50,000 per month by licence from the Vocal Algorithmic and Synthesis for Customer Organisation (VASCO, a reference to that other pioneering globaliser Vasco da Gama)) in the Business Process Outsourcing industry. Customers call in, and remember the customer is all, and an ‘advisor’ responds to their business query: a cash transfer request, where the nearest (and by now dwindling) physical presence of the local bank branch is – UNESCO has only recently awarded heritage status to the long-demolished site of the first ExisCo Bank in Bandra West – a 3D-printed credit statement with free hologram paperweight; and no common language is shared by customer or advisor.

VASCO has levelled the linguistic ghats and Himalayas. A Voice Modulation and Synthesis node, a prosthetic vocal modulator secreted behind the epiglottis of the advisor, automatically translates what the customer states, interprets its essence syntactically, semantically, and functionally, and translates back from the advisor’s first language into a dialectically nuanced yet perfect version of the customer’s first language. Hey presto! Local language Mother Tongues are preserved from extinction, all thanks to the wonders of technology – where Global English, as was, now it’s Global Culture Neutral (GCN), an acultural, non-offensive, knowledge-based, audience-driven, process-centred, profit-assured lingua franca, rules the airwaves – but I wonder if King George VII would understand it.

Or so we may have it.

Acronyms, pioneering future projects, treading a fine line between utopia and dystopia, process reconciliation versus customer service – all these coalesce into the model-heavy world of the BPO. At times both anachronistic in terms of what is worst about what came out of the 1980s but steadfastly resilient about its reach into the future, the BPO is a grey entity that hides a vibrant core. It’s the worst example of a depersonalised nomenclature for a thriving industry of thousands, hundreds of thousands of eager workers, trying their hardest to do the most difficult job on the planet – keeping a customer happy on someone else’s behalf. In fact, BPOs, as an idea, like any company for that matter – and by company I mean its logo, its reputation, its marketing, its vision – does not in reality exist. It’s a combination of technology, bricks and mortars, and young beating hearts with a job to do.

I have been training in a large-scale BPO for several months now, and it’s a tough job.  My task is to manage the training of 4 communication coaches in two sites – 2 each in Malad, Mumbai, and Noida in New Delhi. These coaches in turn train and coach up to 20 team leaders, who in turn train up to 1,400 advisors who are performing in what is known as the bottom quartile – the low-performers. What determines this performance status is the all-powerful Customer Satisfaction Survey: the C-SAT. This metric thunders up and down the training vertical, pushing for an ever-deepening imprint.

And it’s in this world that higher education meets a potential rival. With a dearth of decent language schools, beyond the mom and pop IELTS shops, and the IB schools ploughing its own furrow to an international education or a home-spun B-school, many established or hopeful English Language trainers find themselves in this parallel ELT-universe: no informed eclecticism here, no free-wheeling experimentation with the silent way or lexical approach, but rather a product- and process-driven formalisation of English language teaching, stapled together winningly (it could never be otherwise) with faintly worrying terms like Accent Neutralisation, and soft-pedalling its merry way to a Brave New World.

Whether, from today’s possibility-driven vantage point, this appears as a Future Perfect, or from that very future looking back to what we are starting to lose today, a more nostalgic Past Simple can be discerned, the admixture is a forceful voice in giving us a clue as to how language is itself becoming a tool and skill-set, quite removed from the innocence of just communicating with one another.

Post by: Richard Hunt

Corporate Training Consultant, British Council, Mumbai

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Launch of English Impact Report

British Council India, in partnership with Pratham ASER Centre launches English Impact Report: Investigating English Language Learning Outcomes at the Primary School Level in Rural India, at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday 20 November at 6.30 pm IST.

Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council and Madhav Chavan, CEO of Pratham Education Foundation will launch the report in the presence of Baroness Usha Prashar, Vice Chair of the British Council.

The launch will be followed by a presentation of the findings and an interactive panel discussion on“What can we do to make a difference to English language learning outcomes in India?”, chaired by Colin Bangay, Senior Education Advisor, DFID India.

Confirmed speakers on the panel are:

Alison Barrett, Director English for Education Systems, British Council South Asia

Jamie Dunlea, Researcher, English & Exams, British Council

Rukmini Banerji, Director, Pratham ASER Centre

Ujjwal Singh, Founder CEO, The Curriculum Company

Vivien Berry, Senior Researcher, English Language Assessment, British Council

(*The audience is required to be seated by 6.15 pm.)

If you are interested in attending this event, please write to Ankur.Malik@britishcouncil.org

Watch the live webcast in the British Council at Chandigarh, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. 

You can follow some of the discussions on Twitter @inBritish with #EngImpact.

This report is being launched in the UK on 12 November, as part of the UK – South Asia Season.

About the book

Edited by Vivien Berry and put together by the British Council’s research, publications and assessment teams in India and the UK, this report presents an analysis of the English learning outcomes data gathered by Pratham ASER Centre from children attending primary schools in rural India from 2007 to 2012.

In addition to the in-depth analysis by Jamie Dunlea and Karen Dunn, the volume has essays from international authorities on English language teaching, education and multilingualism from India and the UK, framing the context of the study. Jason Rothman and Jeanine Treffers-Daller from theUniversity of Reading, UK, talk about multilingualism in an international context, while R Amritavalli from the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India, writes about the varied contexts in which English is taught in India’s multilingual classrooms.

Rukmini Banerji and Savitri Bobde of Pratham ASER Centre write about the evolution of the ASER tools and Barry O’Sullivan discusses the implications of the inferences of this analyses.

The volume will trigger a number of debates about the role of English and the quality of language learning and teaching (and not just English) in India’s multilingual schools, particularly in public-funded education, and comes at a time when the focus on learning outcomes in our schools is greater than ever before.

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“Let’s Eat Granny”

“Let’s eat granny” shouted my wife. It was past dinner time and we were all hungry, but it seemed a bit dramatic. It might not be too late for granny, punctuation can save her life!  All she needs is a comma.

What’s a comma and what do they do? They reduce sentences into shorter, more manageable sections, tell us when to pause and which words to stress. This can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Without commas does this sentence make sense?

‘The cannibal smiled half an hour after she was hanged’.

No, it doesn’t make any sense, unless you believe in ghosts. However, it does make sense when you add two commas. Where should you place them?

‘The cannibal smiled half an hour after she was hanged’.

This now makes perfect sense; ‘The cannibal smiled, half an hour after, she was hanged’.

If you read both sentences aloud (with and without commas), you will clearly hear how the commas change the stress and therefore the meaning.  

In this sentence, who’s mad and who’s speaking?

‘The cannibal said the judge is mad’

 Without commas, the Judge is mad and the cannibal is speaking.

Can you add two commas, to make the cannibal mad and the judge the speaker?

‘The cannibal said the judge is mad’.

This is how. ‘The cannibal, said the judge, is mad’.

In a famous UK legal case a man was hanged by a comma. The interpretation of the law depended on the disputed position of a comma. So don’t underestimate the importance of commas, they can save your life but get you hanged as well.

Me and my wife recently discussed the question, who is more important in a relationship, the man or the woman? I put the comma in the first sentence:

‘Woman without her man, is nothing’. The comma position here confirms that women are dependent on men. But my wife thinks otherwise and strategically moved the commas: ‘Woman, without her, man is nothing’. Now men are dependent on women.

Women sometimes worry me, particularly my wife. I had good reason when I read what she’d written on her Facebook profile;

‘My interests include cooking dogs and family’.

On first reading this, I decided to get the dog and kids into the car and drive somewhere safe where we wouldn’t be turned into meat kebabs. But on a second reading, I realized it was just poor punctuation rather than a poor choice of a life partner. Maybe she isn’t a cannibal after all.

Her profile needs three commas. Where should they go?

‘My interests include cooking dogs and family’

If you place them here;

‘My interests include, cooking, dogs, and family’. She becomes the good mother and animal lover I married.

But I still worry. She does have this tendency of wanting to eat the people she loves, including granny. So, how can a comma save granny?  Simple, “Let’s eat, granny”. Say it aloud and it’s how you call someone to the dining table to share dinner. So granny’s safe and sitting down at the table enjoying a selection of meat kebabs. “What meat is this?” she asks looking around “And where are the kids?”  

This article was first published in Prastuti, Anandabazar Patrika.

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Proverbs

What are proverbs? They’re phrases containing the experience and observations of many generations; they’re the wisdom of the street and the philosophy of the common people and there’s one for every occasion.

As you read about my weekend, try to answer these 2 questions;

  1. Can you identify the theme of the proverbs used?
  2. Can you guess the ‘real’ meanings of the proverbs from the context?

I bought my father a mobile phone so I could keep in touch. But he told me he didn’t need it or know how to use it and to save money turned it off immediately, proving ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’. He’s always been the same and will probably never change, after all ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

I was thinking about how I could get my father to use his phone when my wife shouted from the kitchen “I hope you haven’t forgotten it’s my birthday tomorrow?” But of course I had. “It’s no big deal” I responded, ‘don’t make a mountain out of a molehill”.  Not convinced, she reminded me that I’d recently forgotten our anniversary. “But that was last month” I told her, and “there’s no point in ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’”. I told her not to bring it up or we’d argue about it. “It’s better forgotten, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’”. Husband and wife should not fight or hurt each other, just as ‘dog does not eat dog’.

I thought I’d redeem myself by cooking my famous fried rice. My children love it and so offered to help. That’s what families are for ‘birds of a feather flock together’.  I took them into the kitchen and explained what ingredients to use and in what quantities to use them. As my father says, what’s the point in having kids if they don’t help or ‘why keep a dog and bark yourself?’

Then, surprisingly I received a phone call from my father. I could hardly believe it! The radio was loud and the children were shouting so I went into another room to chat. He told me that he’d changed his mind about the phone and would leave it turned on and call me every week. I’d underestimated him; it seems ‘every dog has his day’.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, the children were being naughty, proving that ‘when the cat’s away the mice will play’. They’d experimented with the rice and added far too many herbs and spices in an attempt to improve its flavour. But it was a case of ‘curiosity killed the cat’. Curiosity also killed the meal. It was inedible and we all went to bed hungry.

The next morning, feeling guilty (and hungry), I woke up very early, quietly crept out of the house and went to the market to buy my wife some chocolates as a birthday present. ‘It’s the early bird that catches the worm’. When I woke her later and presented them with a cup of tea she smiled and said I knew you hadn’t really forgotten. “An elephant never forgets”. I replied, stuffing handfuls of chocolates into my mouth.

This article was first published in Prastuti, Anandabazar Patrika.

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Publishing Next: Day One, Session 1

The conference kicked off with a stimulating panel on “Where Are Digital Books Headed?”, chaired by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose and Radhika Menon (Tulika Books), Pratibha Sastry (JiniBooks and JiniLabs), James Birdle (Bookkake, London Lit Plus) and Kailash Balani (Aditya Books, Balani Infotech).

Radhika Menon shared a fascinating presentation on how Tulika has colloborated with several partners to create content and provide techn0logy solutions to bring books closer to children in a socially meaningful way. “Just clickability is not enough”, she said. Was really taken by the multilingual dimension of Tulika’s work.

Pratibha spoke about her own varied experience in the entertainment industry and mentioned the runaway success of Amanda Hopkins in retailing her own e-books.  Kailash Balani mentioned MHRD’s plan to provide e-books to over 20,000 colleges in India, while James Bridle compared the UK and US e-book markets through the contrasting rise to fortune of Amazon’s Kindle in the UK and Barnes and Noble’s Nook in the US.

Was really struck by James’ passion for the idea of the book and the parallel he drew between the identity and wonership issues about e-books and real books.

Posted by Debanjan Chakrabarti.

 

Real pity

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It’s always good (and green) in Goa: PublishingNext Conference

You have got to give it to Goa. This is my first trip to this slender slice of heaven-on-earth in the monsoons. With Goa, one expects a lot of green and blue all the year round. But it really is difficult to imagine how incredibly lush and green Goa is during the rains. I am here to attend the PublishingNext conference organised by Leonard Fernandes of Cinnamon Teal, the winner of British Council’s IYCE award for publishing last year.

The genial Leonard and his team were there to meet and greet every delegate and speaker at Dabolim airport as we arrived in dribs and drabs yesterday. As some of us made our way to our hotel in Goa’s capital city, Panjim, we watched in awe the various vibrant shades of green loom in and zoom past our speeding bus on either sides of the grey road. And the sea sparkled and shimmered not too far away.

My colleague Rwituja and I ambled around our hotel in the evening. There is an inexplicable mix of the old and the new in the capital, best reflected perhaps in its architecture – elegant old colonial buildings crumbling away, gradually being replaced by a style that can only be described as hideous modernism.

Am here to learn more about what the future holds for publishing in the brave old digital world. I am particularly keen to explore what avenues British Council might explore with our English Interface work that looks at (among other things) commissioning and disseminating action research on ELT from across the globe.

The conference aims to address the following:

  • Where are Digital Books headed?
  • The Impact of Alternate Publishing
  • Book Marketing in the Age of Social Media
  • Publishing Houses of the Future
  • Copyright Issues and IP
  • Managing the Translation Market

The programme for the day looks exciting. More anon.

PS: And it’s good to be in Goa in any season for one other reason. A bottle of Tuborg beer costs Rs 25, a bottle of water Rs 20. What do you suppose I am having to slake my thirst?

Posted by Debanjan Chakrabarti, Head English Interface, British Council India

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Chetan Bhagat live and unplugged!

Dear readers, I promise you don’t want to miss out on this!

We’ve uploaded Part 1 of Chetan Bhagat’s appearance at the Third Policy Dialogue. You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/user/Britishcouncilindia#p/c/182A295AA1364815/24/dS9kh3qeWYg

We’ll be uploading the final parts in the next few days, so stay tuned. And tell us what you think of Chetan’s address.

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Policy Implications for English Teaching and Learning

Hello everyone

It was a pleasure watching the conference sessions live online yesterday. I urge those of you who wanted to attend the conference but could not, to use this facility provided by British Council to watch it live and even take part in it by adding comments. You comments may get discussed.

I tuned in for some of the sessions. Some- like, ‘building skills for employability’- were gripping as well as hilarious. Especially the speech by Manish Sabharwal; was it eloquence epitomized!  Some were eye openers–Policy implications for English teaching and learning. It was quite informative.

‘Policy implications for English teaching and learning’ dealt a lot with scenario in schools in different parts of India. I guess good English teaching and learning in schools will lead to ‘building employability skills’ in the long run!  This points to the lacuna we have in India in this area.

Isn’t that one of the reasons that makes ‘building employability skills’ a necessity now? I have heard private school principals lamenting about the difficulty they face in recruiting good teachers. They have to place the good teachers in high school so that the 10th grade results are not compromised. So most often the worst teachers end up in the primary section.

Rod Bolitho, Academic Director of Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE), raised many questions which I felt are very relevant.

Some questions, about the shortage of English teachers in India, are listed below.

  1. How attractive is teaching as a career in India in general?
  2. What is the reason behind the English graduates choosing fields other than teaching as profession?
  3. Is there any appropriate formulated initiative in India to raise the number of English teachers in training?
  4. Has the government decided what the probable number of teachers required to be trained is in order to meet the demand in, maybe, the next 10 years?
  5. Are there enough institutions training teachers?

      Some others, about the quality of English teachers/education, are below.

      1. What is the minimum qualification for school teachers? Is there any standardisation of qualification for the primary school teachers teaching English across India?
      2. In some states the minimum qualification set for the teachers of English is far lower than the others. So is bad English being perpetuated through the system?
      3. What type of pre-service training do they undergo?
      4. What kind of training is going on in pre-service level and how practical is it?
      5. Are the pre-service training institutions calibrated completely against the needs of the teachers?
      6. Are the skills of the teacher educator the skills which are needed to produce methodologically and linguistically competent teachers?

        What is your opinion on these issues? Please write in your comments, would love to hear your ideas.

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        English Next India – what does it mean to you?

        We’ve all had a bit of time to digest David Graddol’s ‘tiny tome’ (not my quote) during the Third Policy Dialogue. If not, you can still view the recording of his presentation at http://www.britishcouncil.org.in/efponline/sessions/18.html

        What I’d like to know is what does it mean to you. His statistics and conclusions may be new for an international audience, but is there anything new for an Indian audience?

        What are your views?

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