Dr Anand Mahanand has been a Professor at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad working in the field of materials development for learners and teachers in English and multi-lingual contexts and has authored and edited books and articles in related areas. At present he is Dean, Publication and All India Coordinator, District Centre Scheme, an outreach programme of EFLU. Find out more about him on www.anandmahanand.blogspot.in
I have been in the Department of Materials Development at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad for nearly twenty years. I have been teaching courses for teachers and teacher educators. I have also developed materials for the teachers and learners of English. My research interests include English in Multilingual Contexts, English for Specific Purposes and Language through Literature. I have guided research projects, published books and articles in these areas. Some of my important publications in ELT include English through Folktales, English for Academic and Professional Skills, Learning to Learn: Study Skills in English, Diversity: Tales for the Multilingual Classroom and Multilingual Education in India: The Case for English. I believe that English is a powerful tool and it has potential to empower learners. At the same time, learners’ languages and forms of culture are as important as English so these should be integrated with English language education. That’s the reason why my research and publications focus on the use of learners’ languages and forms of culture
2. What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘Using multilingual approaches’?
My advice would be to integrate learners’ languages and forms of culture with English language teaching. Teachers should have a liking for learners’ first language/s and learners should be allowed to use their languages in the classroom. Learners’ first languages are usually considered inferior to standard languages. This attitude needs to go. Teachers could use learners’ first languages as inputs before the actual tasks. For instance, before giving them tasks on writing, learners can be engaged in discussion on the topic of the writing task. This will help them to translate their knowledge into English. Learners’ languages can also be used for giving instructions, suggestions and encouragement. While it is not expected from teachers to know all languages spoken by their learners, they should not prevent learners from using them.
3. What are some of the benefits of using multilingual approaches while teaching ?
There are many benefits of using multilingual approaches. Firstly, learners feel accepted in the class and they can relate to things they are being taught. Learners come to the class with a lot of resources in the forms of stories, songs, ideas about plants, flowers, festivals and so on in their first languages. These resources should be exploited by teachers for teaching and learning as this will make learning easier. Secondly, learners’ languages and forms of culture are sustained. It is important as some opine that with the emergence of English our local languages are threatened. Thirdly, such integrating approaches help learners in learning peaceful co-existence maintaining one’s heritage and respecting others.
4. How can teachers deal with a class of learners who speak different first languages?
As said earlier, it is not expected of a teacher to know and use all languages spoken by their learners, but it is possible for a teacher to allow the learners to use them in class in a judicious manner. I have taught such learners. I used to make groups according to different language users. They would discuss in their own languages first. Then translate that into English and present it before the class. Learners had fun as well as learning. They also took interest in learning one another’s languages. Some did pick up certain words while they also had an opportunity to practise the target language.
5. What are some of the challenges teachers might face while using multilingual approaches to teach English in their classroom? How can they overcome these challenges?
One of the challenges could be a tendency to use too much of mother tongue, which might defeat the purpose. Judicious use is advocated. Also many teachers translate from English to mother tongue. Actually, the process should be from mother tongue to English. If it is done in a reverse way, it will not serve the purpose. Learners will learn mother tongue at the cost of English. Another challenge is that administrators and parents may not like the idea of using other languages in an English class as they think that learning local languages means going backward and it will affect the learning of English. They have to be convinced by showing good results in English as well as in the first languages. Also having a class of learners who speak different mother tongues could be challenging too, but as stated in 2 and 3 above, this should be treated more as a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block in the process of learning as they bring with them rich linguistic and cultural resources that teachers can exploit meaningfully.
6. Can you share some assessment techniques or ideas that would help including learners’ linguistic backgrounds or the languages they speak at the time of assessment?
Have a progressive view of assessment. Understand where and why a learner has used mother tongue in certain places. For instance, learners may use their first language if they do not know a particular word or a grammar structure. Instead of arbitrarily terming it wrong, a teacher should try to understand the problem so that it can be mended. Since the teaching is multilingual, assessment should also be following multilingual approaches. For example, in case of young learners, rubrics/instructions could be given in their first language/s and the main task could be in the target language. This helps learners understand instructions easily and they know what exactly is expected of them. Translation of texts could be one of the criteria for older learners. Using multilingual dictionary and assessing them on their use could be another.
7. What three tips would you like to give teachers who wish to begin using multilingual approaches to teach English in their classrooms?
These tips would be -
- have a liking for the learners’ first language and forms of culture. This will help you build rapport with your learners
- have more of group activities. These will allow learners to share ideas in their own language/s freely before they do the same in English. This will help them understand/explain complex concepts and also make them more sensitive towards each other’s culture and languages and build rapport
- encourage translation. Include translated versions of the same texts
- and one more – encourage learners to bring their resources to the classroom as mentioned earlier and make use of them through allied skills like art, craft, songs, story and so on.