Category Archives: Language & Development Conference 2015

The 11th Language and Development Conference was held for the first time in India from November 18–20 2015 at The Lalit hotel in New Delhi, supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, UNESCO, Research Councils UK, the National Multilingual Education Research Consortium (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and the Digital Empowerment Foundation. The conference theme was Multilingualism and Development.

Read about the conference here:

MBA Students to Actors: How Everyone Is Benefiting From a Change in Tech and Education

[As appeared on The Better India, October 2017]

Using live online classrooms and guided online activities, these teachers are changing the traditional model and bringing the classroom to their students across India.

myEnglish teachers at the British Council, India are guiding adult learners to achieve success through interactive online English courses. Unlike most teachers however, their job comes with a twist – their classroom exists in the virtual world!

Read responses from some of our myEnglish teachers to questions about their work and their students.


How did you get into this very 21st century way of working?

Purbani: “I was given an opportunity to be a part of an online teacher-training programme. The course opened new avenues for me and I realised that online teaching might just be the future of education”.

Avinash: “I’ve always been interested in the use of technology in making learning engaging and more accessible. I’d had some experience as a student and was interested in the implications it had for a teacher. I felt there were several possibilities to be explored with online teaching.”

Huma: “The excitement of doing something so new and the fear of the unknown meant it would expand my teaching skills as well as give the flexibility and convenience of working at my own pace in my own space – something I had been long wishing for.”

Ellora: “I love teaching online. It allows me to work from home which saves time and allows flexibility”.

Rajul: “I can see all my students; I connect with them online and deliver classes prepared for them in a relaxed, fun manner without feeling the need to travel and rush into class from home. I am teaching from home! Even the students don’t have to go to class; the class comes to them wherever they are”.

What’s a typical week on a course like for your students?

Huma: “Interactive, practical, exciting, and demanding nevertheless! Everything that happens in a face-to-face class is possible here. The only thing different – the location, of course”.

Purbani: “A student spends around five hours of study on online activities per week and meets the trainer and the classmates for two hours over a live online session. The study time can be spread across the week or can be spent on two consecutive days – the flexibility is key”.

Avinash: “Students complete their online activities in order to prepare for the forum discussions and online classes as they’re linked and build on each other. They respond to forum posts and add their own. This gives them a chance to practise the language they’ve learned and this gives me an opportunity to respond to their opinions and ideas and give individual feedback”.

Rajul: “They also review videos to recap their learning, increase their vocabulary and access the website to explore and learn more. Unknowingly they learn to manage their time and study independently, overcome their fear of writing and gain confidence in their speaking. They communicate with others without hesitation in real life situations”.

What are the benefits of teaching and learning in an online format? Have you faced and overcome any challenges?  

Huma: “I’m neither a technophobe nor am I tech-savvy. Like some of my students, I’ve had to work my way through handling technology but it’s been fun. I tell myself that I’ve been developing some 21st Century skills!”

Purbani: “In a face-to-face classroom, we often see that the learning stops once the learner leaves the classroom. On an online course, the possibilities of learning are limitless”.

Avinash: “One of the main challenges both learners and I have faced as a teacher is time management. In my experience, setting realistic weekly targets and working frequently and for shorter durations has helped most students and me have an enjoyable and enriching experience on the course”.

Can you share any success stories?

Rajul: There’s a student who was not even ready to write or talk to anyone because he didn’t feel confident. He’s currently enrolled in an MBA class! Another student was unwilling to speak in class. He would just say ‘I can’t’. After the course, he got selected to appear for a TV interview”.

Huma: “One of my students has special needs and passed the course! This also goes to show that we are truly inclusive and the courses are meant for everybody”.

Avinash: “I taught an award-winning actor. She wanted to develop her fluency and accuracy as she had upcoming projects in international films. Over 3 courses she has developed her accuracy to a great degree, especially in pronunciation, and is now so much more confident with intonation and emotion in the English language.”

Purbani: “At the formal launch of myEnglish courses in August a former student of mine spoke to the gathered press in an eloquent manner about his wonderful experience on our online courses”.

Ellora: “A student from my class wanted to speak better English so he could study International Law. When he joined my class he had scored a 5 in IELTS. He completed the whole level and took his IELTS again, he scored a 7.5. He’s going to Canada in 2018 for his studies”.

The clock is ticking. What's your

Pave your path to success by being a part of the British Council’s online courses. Click here to learn more about our online English resources to help you improve your fluency, accuracy and confidence.

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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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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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Panel Discussion: Multilingualism in India – Where are we now?

Session Chair: Ajit Mohanty
Panellists: Minati Panda, Giridhar Rao and DP Pattanayak

Chaired by Ajit Mohanty, the panel explored the issue of multilingualism in India and the impact on education. In conclusion, and in answer to the panel discussion question “Multilingualism in India: where are we now?” Ajit stated simply “Confused”, which seemed to sum up succinctly and accurately the mood of the panellists and audience.

The discussion had been far ranging, exploring issues such as the need to address multilingualism for all in India, not just tribal communities, the importance of bio cultural diversity and the efforts being undertaken to preserve this, the view that multilinguality is ideological as well as practical and the difference between plurilingualism and multilingualism (the former is additive while the latter is across languages). The historical element was also much discussed, but unfortunately little was offered for a clear way forward. There was very much a sense of defining the problems, but little in the way of proffering strategies to go forward. So in a sense, this discussion really did identify where things are now.

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

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Moving from monolingual models to plurilingual practices in African classrooms

Moving from monolingual models to plurilingual practices in African classrooms – John Simpson and Exploring the Potential for Language Supportive Learning in English: A Rwandan Case Study - Lizzi O. Milligan at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

John Simpson is Senior Adviser, English for Education Systems Sub-Saharan Africa, with the British Council

John Simpson is Senior Adviser, English for Education Systems Sub-Saharan Africa, with the British Council

This dual presentation addressed the issue of moving from monolingual to plurilingual African classrooms. John Simpson set the context and outlined the background to educational practices in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and the linguistic diversity of SSA (2,100 different languages, of which 100 cross borders). Lizzie O. Milligan then presented findings from a Rwandan case study research exploring the potential for improvement in teacher classroom practice through the use of bi-lingual textbooks and language supportive pedagogy.

John explored the idea of ‘early exit’, which is the more common policy where children move from being educated through MT to an L2 medium of education (usually English or French) early in their schooling, as opposed to ‘late exit’ where this shift happens at the end of the primary cycle (only really evidenced in Ethiopia and Tanzania). Research presented shows that early exit has a negative impact on the general education of children and little benefit to their L2 language proficiency. Further issues identified were the lack of proper transition, no clear policy on code switching or ways of providing scaffolded support. The conclusion was the need for advocating extended use of MT and a more gradual transition to L2 medium eduction, empowering teachers to use MT and L2 strategically and in an informed way.

Lizzi O.Milligan is a Lecturer at the University of Bath, UK

Lizzi O.Milligan is a Lecturer at the University of Bath, UK

This was all interesting background information. Lizzie then presented research looking at how far there has been an improvement in teacher classroom practice in use of textbooks and language supportive pedagogy as a result of a revised textbook intervention. Research findings from this Rwandan case study clearly identified improvement in confidence of both learners and teachers as a result of introducing bilingual text into the subject textbooks. More information about what work was done to improve teachers’ classroom practices through this intervention would have been interesting, especially the issue of strategic code-switching to support learning.




Watch John and Lizzie’s session at the conference:

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

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Multilingual education and language-in-education in Southeast Asia

The Multilingual Education Working Group and Recent Language-in-Education Policy Developments in Southeast Asia – Kirk R.Person at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Kirk is a Thailand-based linguist focused on minority language issues. He is associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, Thailand

Kirk is a Thailand-based linguist focused on minority language issues. He is associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University,

What is Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE)? Speaker Kirk R. Person associated with SIL International and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, Thailand, explains that it is an education system where learners’ mother tongue is used in the classroom as a bridge in learning L1 and L2.

Person talks about the sandwich method of teaching and cites an example from Thai classroom:

  • Layer 1: A teacher briefs the learners about the aims of the lesson and explains key concepts in mother tongue
  • Layer 2: The lesson progresses in Thai
  • Layer 3: The teacher engages the students in discussion in mother tongue.

He also spoke about how communities can frame curriculums for their children and that a gradual shift from L1 to L2 can be achieved by a progressive syllabus where L2 is taught in a similar way to L1. He talked about exposing learners to L2 first by making them listen, following by speaking and finally by reading and writing. This is contrary to the more traditional style where children are taught the alphabet before they are able to understand or use the oral language.

Person says that research has shown not only that learners in MLE schools achieve more than in mono-lingual schools, but also that this could be a way towards reaching an inclusive environment in classrooms and bringing about social harmony. Communities can become more integrated and empowered within the wider civil society. Despite globalisation and the onslaught of English, several East Asian countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand have recently developed language in education policies which are supportive of the right of children to receive early education in their mother tongue.

Watch his session at the 11th Language & Development Conference here:

Also watch his interview

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Medium of instruction, literacy and educational equity in Almaty high school students

Medium of Instruction, Literacy and Educational Equity: Survey of Almaty High School Students – Juldyz Smagulova at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Juldyz Smagulova is an Assistant Professor at KIMEP University, Kazakhstan

Juldyz Smagulova is an Assistant Professor at KIMEP University, Kazakhstan

Anyone who grew up speaking a language at home which was different from the national language of the country, which was not the same as the regional language of the state and which certainly not was the medium of instruction in their school, can identify with the issues faced by learners in Almaty.

In the 11th Language and Development Conference, presenter Juldyz Smagulova spoke about the challenges faced by learners in Kazakhstan. She showed a world which hoped to shake off the shackles of Russian domination in the former capital city of Almaty by making Kazakh compulsory and introducing English in school.

In her research, she and her colleague Elise Ahn surveyed 2,954 students in 29 state schools attempting to explore the relationship between language of instruction and students’ aspiration. She is hoping that empirical data will help to inform the policy making process in her country.

In a city where Russian-medium school learners are faring better than Kazakh-medium school learners, the government aspires to have 25 per cent of its citizens as fluent speakers of English – this leads to issues of equity, quality and accessibility in education in Kazakhstan.

Judlyn also stressed that teacher-training was an important area that the policy makers need to pay closer attention to. She said “we have the resources but we need know how to teach”. In an anecdote that she shared with the audience, she relayed that a Russian-speaking friend of hers wanted to learn Kazakh and after spending a week with a private tutor she claimed that she still had not made any progress. The tutor replied, “Kazakh is sitting inside you, it will wake up soon”.

Watch her session at the 11th Language & Development Conference here:

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Women, English and empowerment: voices from rural Bangladesh

Women, English and Empowerment: Voices from Rural Bangladesh - Sayeedur Rahman at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Sayeedur Rahman is Associate Professor and Teacher-in-Charge of English language in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Sayeedur Rahman is Associate Professor and Teacher-in-Charge of English language in the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

“English allows me to be powerful.”

In a monolingual country, the women in rural village, 40 Km away from the capital city of Dhaka, want to learn English because it makes her confident and enables her to voice her opinion in family. This belief stands in tall where sometimes a husband does not allow his wife to access computer in their home.

The session by Sayeedur Rahman from Bangladesh, told tales of five women in a village called Dhamarai. The ethnographic study revealed stories of women who work in garment factories, schools and Small and Medium Enterprises.

The study revealed perception and beliefs of these women about English and its impact on their lives. It was found that in the microcosm where English is little used, the urge to learn English is strong because it is felt that it would enable them to get better jobs and communicate with people from across the world and participate in world economy.

The issue that could possibly be deeply looked into would be the interpretation of the concept of empowerment by these rural voices.

Post by: Ruchi Jain
The writer is the Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Debate: ‘EMI does not bring the benefits that people expect’

Debate: The motion for debate is ‘EMI does not bring the benefits that people expect’ at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

From left to right: Hywel Coleman, Baela Jamil, John Knagg, Lizzi Milligan and Nigussie Negash Yadete

Debating team included (from left to right) Hywel Coleman, Baela Jamil, John Knagg, Lizzi Milligan and Nigussie Negash Yadete

So why EMI? Four speakers with experience of different countries argued for against the motion. Baela Jamil stressed the degree developmental growth and the delights of aesthetics in regions such as South Asia have been accomplished through regional languages – not English. Hywel Coleman gave examples of how the imposed use of English as a medium in subjects including mathematics and chemistry may limit student creative expression, dumb down content and lead to complete incomprehension by students The children’s eyes sparkle when their language is used………….but use of English has huge negative impact. The audience provided a number of examples of stigmatisation resulting from imposition of EMI.

Maybe we need to separate the English medium and educational issues. To Lizzi Milligan, in many EMI contexts, teachers are not trained, textbooks assume proficiency above student levels and curricula are overloaded. But this is not the problem of EMI but are wider quality issues which we need to tackle. Negussie Negash from Ethiopia, a country with English as a medium of instruction since 1944 emphasised the inherent usefulness of English: art has its own language but how do you sell your art to the speaking world?

And a final vote? A resounding draw.

You can watch the debate here:

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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