1. Language is Power

Language is power. Everyone knows that. Or ought to, at any rate. We often see some professionals more successful than others, not only because of their competence in their field of work, but also their command of language, whether it is written or spoken, their mother tongue or some other tongue. A good command of language helps one carve a niche for oneself in one’s personal and professional circles. And yet not many take this power of language seriously. And some do pay the price of neglecting it.

That one would love one’s mother tongue seems obvious. But isn’t it a fact that most people speak their mother tongue badly? Their writing skill in their mother tongue too leaves a lot to be desired. If one doesn’t speak or write one’s mother tongue properly, how can we expect one to perform well in another language, foreign or indigenous?

People often ask me which language or languages a young person must know to flourish in Gujarat. My answer to the question is very simple, at least in theory, and will hopefully motivate some Gujarati folks (and by extrapolation, any Indian) to learn a new language/ new languages.

First, you must know your mother tongue well. So if you have spent the first few years after your birth in Gujarat, you ought to have a fairly good command of Gujarati. If Gujarati is not your mother tongue but if you have lived in Gujarat for a few years or if you are planning to settle in Gujarat, it will be a wise decision to learn Gujarati. It will certainly prove helpful in your personal and professional life to be able to communicate in the local language.

Second, it is expected of every citizen that they know the “national” language—the language for communication with people across the country. For us, that language is Hindi, which will serve your purpose in ordinary situations in most parts of India.

Third, it is fruitful to know at least the rudiments of the “mother” of many Indian languages—Sanskrit. Most other Indian languages have borrowed so heavily from Sanskrit that knowing it becomes a distinct advantage. The more you know and can do in Sanskrit, the better you can perform in most major Indian languages. Sanskrit is one of the most overtly systematic languages. It is believed that if one learns Sanskrit, it becomes easy for one to learn any other language.

Fourth, we cannot ignore the language most people all over the world use and/or value. English is a true lingua franca of the world if we look at the spread and volume of its use in the world. Whether you love it or hate it, the fact is that, in the world today, the more English you command, the better it is for your personal and professional life.

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Fifth, you will find it advisable to learn an Indian language other than your mother tongue, the national language and English. India is a multicultural, multilingual country. Learning (or even attempting to learn) an unfamiliar Indian language will lend a fresh perspective to your view of India.

Sixth, learning a foreign language is believed to help one in many ways. It may give you pleasure to know a foreign language. It may increase your confidence in yourself. You will come in contact with a new culture via such a language. It will undoubtedly broaden your world view. You may come to see and understand that human beings are essentially the same even if they live in different countries or even on different continents. You may take a step closer to becoming a citizen of the world.

I can certainly give a piece of advice for language learners from personal experience. Don’t be happy with the bread-and-butter command of any language. Try to learn and command as much of it as possible; learn and practise as many aspects of every language you know as possible. Remember, one can never do enough while learning a language. And once you have acquired a language, you have acquired the power to communicate in it: that is certainly power!

One may ask me now: how can I learn any language? Well, let me quote as an answer to this question one of my favourite lines from the Bible: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, King James Version).

Happy Learning, Happy Living!

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

2. Seven Essentials of Effective Teaching

Conscientious teachers often ask themselves, “Do my students learn what I teach, and how well?” “Am I a successful teacher?” “Are my students happy with my teaching?” I do not know if I am a good example of the class ‘conscientious teacher’, but, motivated by such fundamental and essential questions, I conducted a little informal survey. I asked about a thousand students from diverse academic, social and economic backgrounds to determine who, according to them, was a conscientious teacher. For a start, I proposed that seven traits—qualities or patterns of behaviour or ‘habits’—may be used as framework for responses to my query. So each student surveyed was asked to enumerate seven traits he considered essential to conscientious teaching. The result of the survey was most interesting as well as surprising. Here is a summary of its findings.

The first thing students expect from a teacher is a smile. A smile establishes an instant rapport between students and their teacher, which is a prerequisite for a successful class. Students cannot be bothered about what has happened to a teacher before he enters a class. A teacher must learn to keep his personal life and professional life separate. Students expect a teacher to smile irrespective of his condition, the subject he teaches, how much of the syllabus he has dealt with, the topic he intends to teach on the day in question, and other such matters. The principle seems unambiguously clear: Spare a smile and spoil a class, to exploit an old adage.

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The second habit that students look for is action—a teacher’s ability to involve students in doing something. Students love action. They implicitly and very strongly believe in the age-old method of ‘Learning by doing’. If our aim is to teach skills—knowledge and ability to do something—then we must make students do appropriate tasks, within and/or beyond classrooms. If you do not accept this response, try teaching a child how to make a paper boat merely in words, and then leaving him alone to make a boat. See how long it takes, what difficulties the child faces, and whether and to what extent he succeeds in making a boat. Indeed, observe whether he is even willing to perform the task. Then show another child how to make a paper boat, letting him do it with you. And then ask him to make one on his own. Compare the result with the earlier case. You will realise that a child learns a skill more willingly, much quicker and better by doing rather than listening to merely verbal instructions. When students are asked to do something, they enjoy the learning more because their involvement is greater than when they are passively listening to a teacher spouting verbal instructions.

Sense of humour is the third quality students expect in a teacher. A bit of humour does not go amiss in any class. Present-day students are already under considerable pressure. Learning new concepts adds to that strain. It is common knowledge that one’s efficiency reduces in direct proportion to stress. Students expect a teacher to be cheerful, and to exploit opportunities to generate humour in class. Sharing a humorous anecdote or a joke, for instance, will enliven any class.

The fourth most sought-after quality of a teacher is the ability to keep students in suspense for a while. A teacher must bring variety into each class. If a teacher only does what he always does, the predictability makes a class boring. Students like teachers who frequently give authentic but lesser known information, experiment with   different ways of teaching, and use a variety of tasks and materials.

The students I surveyed ranked effective feedback as the fifth most important aspect of teaching. Students will make mistakes at times. It is human to err. Besides, mistakes are the provocation for teaching—if a student already possessed excellent command of English, why would you want to “teach” him? And it is common knowledge that positive feedback concerning errors is a very powerful source of motivation. Most students are vulnerable to criticism and ridicule. Drawing students’ attention to their mistakes and making or suggesting corrections without making them feel ridiculed or disgraced, and winning their trust in your method and intention is an art worth mastering.

It is human to relish challenge. The ability to create challenging tasks was ranked as the sixth ingredient that makes teaching effective. If teaching presents challenges that are inviting, not intimidating, it stimulates students to think hard and long and do their best to deal with the challenge, which increases the overall outcome of the process of learning. Most students nurture a desire to stand out, and a challenging task provides them with an opportunity to do so.

The seventh important aspect of effective teaching is receiving worthwhile rewards. Learning is a reward in itself. But nothing de-motivates or demoralises a student more than neglect of his successful effort to learn.  It is equally true that nothing motivates a student more than a timely reward for doing well. A sincere word of praise can do wonders. However, it is worth giving away by way of reward pencils, chocolates, interesting newspaper clippings, handwritten copies of poems or stories, pictures or objects made of waste material.

Teaching is one of the most demanding tasks human beings perform. The many skills and abilities in my survey list as well as those that have not been included in the list come into the process of teaching. However, the report of my survey shows amply that if we keep in mind what students look for in a teacher, our teaching will become more fruitful, interesting and successful.

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

3. Pronunciation Matters!

Everything teachers speak (and do) in front of students matters. Teachers who are aware of the importance of their own language—grammar, pronunciation, choice of words, levels of formality, colloquial expressions, idiomatic expressions, etc.—and its influence on their students’ English cannot afford to ignore the value of continuing professional development (CPD). One of the major areas of concern in development is pronunciation. It is worth considering how a teacher’s pronunciation influences students’ overall command of English, and in turn the effectiveness of English in his or her professional and personal life.

Why does a teacher’s pronunciation matter? Well, although it may sound hackneyed, it is worth stating that language is primarily speech as a potentially powerful means of communication.Good pronunciation enhances intelligibility and effectiveness of the contents of speech. Indeed, in most Indian schools, ‘teacher talk’ is the only exposure to English for students. Therefore, the more effective a teacher’s pronunciation, the greater his effectiveness and utility. With improved speech models:

1.        students’ listening comprehension will improve.

2.        improved listening comprehension will improve their English.

3.        they will want to imitate the teachers and to improve their pronunciation.

4.        they will be better attuned to English television or radio programmes.

5.        they will become autonomous learners of English: for they will control their own performance better.

6.        their overall command of English will improve because they receive and deliver greater content when they communicate.

7.        they will reap benefits of good language command both professionally and personally.

8.        they are more likely to develop a liking for English.

How will the English classroom have to operate to bring about this positive change? Enthusiastic and situationally appropriate performance models of voice and accent will make classes and learning enjoyably dramatic. Such English classes will be more ‘pronounced’! Students’ efforts to improve their pronunciation will be sweet music to their ears, and their pronunciation will sound ‘English’ or stylistically appropriate and rich to the discerning ear in time. Encouragement of students’ effort to improve pronunciation will boost their confidence and provide fresh impetus to continued effort. Even at the end of one such intensive and effective year, students will be on their way acquiring and managing more effective and ‘naturally’ varied communication in English.

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Those students who pronounce words, phrases, sentences and even longer speech sequences correctly and effectively will attract attention and admiration of members of the general public as well as the educated and articulate members of society. They will reap benefits in future life when facing interviews or participating in group discussions as in other acts of persuasion and other kinds of interaction. Their language will help them make their presence felt. Other things being equal, such students will be better able to carve out niches for themselves in their chosen fields in adult life.

 

With the passage of time, a few batches of such students in a school, college or university department will set the benchmark for language acquisition. Genuinely effective spoken communication will become the driving force for continued success in the teaching of speech.

So long as a teacher is willing to improve his or her own speech and to make the studied and careful effort to present effective models to students, and begins to teach effective speech once he or she has achieved a respectable standard, the process ought to be self-perpetuating.

 

Happy Learning and Happy Teaching.

 --Dharmendra Sheth 

 

4. A surefire recipe for a great life

Everyone is born with innate, creative talents. Everyone has the potential to bloom, and make life richer and happier. There are seeds already planted in us awaiting fruition leading to a more rewarding life. Anyone can tap into this potential. You too! It just needs determination to turn the tide and do wonders for your life. It will take some doing, of course. But what? Let’s see.

One of the biggest culprits that prevents most people from achieving great heights is procrastination, the habit of delaying things for later. If you don’t do things when they should be done, you will have to suffer. An ordinary situation may turn into a serious one. A small problem may become bigger and more difficult, or even impossible to handle. A stitch in time saves nine, as they say. If something is to be done, do it as soon as possible, as soon as required, and be done with it, so that it doesn’t hang over you. Who knows you might enjoy doing it! And if you have done it before the emergency arises, you might have a chance to make it better. You know that the past is history, and the future unknown. It is the present that you have control over. Do what needs to be done. It’s in your hands. The present comes to you wrapped up as a “present”, a gift—utilize it to the fullest. Believe me, procrastination is a real time waster.

Learn to get your priorities right. List your tasks in order of priority. It simply means that you should get the most important things done first. As you know, everyone has 24 hours, not a minute less or a minute more. Many things are worth doing, but you cannot do everything. You need to decide what things are essential and when. What things demand your immediate attention and what things can wait.

Answer these questions honestly. Are you telling lies to yourself? Are you living in a la-la land? Do you betray yourself? Are you pinning your hopes on some imaginary things, people or events? Mind you, you are in for a rude awakening. Ignoring the harsh facts of life is the worst form of self-disrespect. Don’t lie to yourself. If you are on a diet, adding calories is not right. Don’t pretend overspending is okay. Check the ways you are being untruthful to yourself, and make amends if necessary. Honesty is still the best policy.

People will be happy when you agree to whatever demands they make. Learn to firmly but politely say ‘No’, when you cannot do what others want you to. You can’t please everyone all the time. It’s not necessary. On the contrary, it’s a crime unto you. People pleasing will get in your own way. Don’t let others control your time and energy. Using your time and energy the way you like is your foremost duty. Everyone has a right to live the way one chooses. You too deserve to live your own the way YOU like. Help others when you can, but don’t feel guilty if you really can’t help someone. A simple sincere ‘sorry’ will do. People do understand.

A thought or dream without action is like a car without an engine. Many are great dreamers, but very few are really doers. You must have heard the proverb: If wishes were horses beggars would ride. The meaning is simple: just wishing for something doesn’t make it happen. You have to work hard to achieve something. Actions, not dreams alone, will fetch desired results. Be like the hounds on leads raring to go. Be a go-getter. Make things happen, come hell or high water.

Stop complaining. There’s no point griping about anything, really. Many people become unhappy when they don’t have certain things that others have. They start complaining, which is nothing but an energy drainer. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Live your life full of positivity. Don’t complain when you have problems. Don’t see problems just as problems. They are there to strengthen you and to help you put your life on track.

Simplify your life. Wash your hands off certain things which are not fruitful. Learn to give a shrug to some energy drainers such as gossiping, chatting or playing games on a mobile, watching useless programmes on television, and roaming here and there. In that way, you will have a lot of time on your hand.

Everyone has some or the other weakness. Don’t hide your weaknesses, for goodness’ sake. Own up. Stop making lame excuses. Face life head on. Grab it by the neck and give it a shake instead of being shaken. Find ways of overcoming your weaknesses and turn them into your strengths.

When you have done some of the above, you will feel like an achiever. Every small success will boost your morale. So, let’s make the most of the precious gift called LIFE.

Have a great life!

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

5. Tips for success in IELTS test

You may have heard people talking about IELTS, the full form of which is International English Language Testing System. People who want to study, work or settle abroad need to appear for this examination. Some of course take this test to know where they stand and use the IELTS score as evidence of their English language proficiency.

The IELTS test is co-owned and was co-created by a global partnership of education and language experts: IDP: IELTS Australia, the British Council and Cambridge English Language Assessment. In India, this examination is conducted by The British Council and IDP India. It is one of the few standardized and reliable tests. There are two modules of IELTS to choose from: IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. For admission to universities abroad, one has to appear for the Academic module and for migration, the General Training module. Different universities require different band scores. All IELTS scores are between 0 and 9. You can also get 0.5 scores as well (for example, 6.5 or 7.5). You will get a band score for each skill—listening, reading, writing and speaking—and also an overall band score, which is the average score of all the skills. The IELTS score is valid for two years. If you are (or anyone you know is) appearing for this test, here are some tips.

First of all, the IELTS does not have a fixed syllabus to study before the test. It is a skill based test. There are books and other materials to practice from. There are books containing test papers which can give you an idea about the format of the test. However, just practising test papers is not enough. You need to work on the language—systematic study of the English language helps. Because the examination indirectly tests your overall command of English which includes vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

There are four sections of the test—listening, reading, writing and speaking. For the details of the format of each section, refer to www.ielts.org. Following are the tips for getting your desired score in each section.

Listening:

·         Listen to authentic English on BBC because a large part of the audio material for listening is based on British English.

·         Do intensive listening for 3 minutes, i.e., try to listen to and catch each and every word spoken. It might help to write it out, and compare it with the transcript if available.

·         Listen to different varieties of English so that you are attuned to different English accents.

·         Listen to different types of English programmes such as talks, discussions, documentaries and presentations so that you get used to connected speech and the use of contractions.

Reading:

·         Read a lot.

·         Read a variety of texts such as magazines, newspapers, stories and novels.

·         Increase your reading speed by practicing the techniques of skimming and scanning.

·         Learn to identify and underline key words.

·         Practise using the context and the co-text to guess at meanings of unfamiliar words.

·         Note how signposts or signal words are used to achieve coherence.

·         Try to follow the writer’s viewpoints.

Writing:

·         Understand the topic and the task.

·         Brainstorm the topic for ideas.

·         Prepare an outline.

·         Arrange your ideas into a sequence.

·         Keep one idea per paragraph.

·         Stick to the word limit.

·         Proofread your writing.

·         Keep the time limit in mind throughout.

Speaking:

·         Practise speaking as often as you can according to the test format.

·         Have a feel for the time limit.

·         Talk with people who are better than you at speaking English so that you are not stunned when you take the actual test.

·         Improve your diction.

·         Pause at appropriate places while speaking.

·         Use the right intonation.

·         Listen carefully and understand the question before answering.

·         Practise mock speaking tests with friends.

Please note that the listening test and the speaking test are common to both Academic and General Training Modules.

For more tips and personal guidance, please contact us at fluentlingua@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, I suggest you practise English using some of the excellent study material given on the British Council website.

Happy learning and best wishes.

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

6. Becoming a better learner of English

Your eventual success at anything really depends on you. Yes, YOU. The pivotal factor is how much effort and time you put into anything. You should be self-motivated and have a positive view of life, whatever the outcome of any enterprise. And that applies to English language learning also.

Most English language learners (ELLs), whether learning it as a foreign language or a second language, want to improve their spoken English. They want to improve their oral communication skills in English. They try different types of activities and strategies, but not many succeed in acquiring a good command of speaking skills. The following are just a few tried and tested tips that might boost your pace of learning and also improve the quality of the language.

 

The first task perhaps is to analyze your language learning needs. What is it that you want to do with English? What is your purpose? Is it just for fun or study or research or travel? When your objective is clear, you should make a plan. Plan your work and work your plan. Find out what your current level is and decide the level you want to reach. Once you have done that, use the following tips to become a better English language learner.

Get actively involved in oral communication:

You should begin conversations and keep talking in the target language. Grab every opportunity to use the language. Ask questions, put forward your views and respond to others’ opinions. You can even try to befriend native speakers, in person or online. In short, remember that language is primarily a speech.

Become a reflective learner:

To reflect means to think carefully and deeply about something. More often than not we do not really think of what we are doing. A good thing to do is to reflect upon what you are doing. See whether you are doing it right and what improvements can be made for better and quicker results.

Explore the nuances of the English language:

First of all, what does it mean by “nuances”? Well, Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word “nuance” as “a very slight difference in appearance, meaning, sound, etc:” Explore the nuances of English by developing powers of observation. But It is extremely important in language study to notice and understand the difference between two similar sounding or looking language items; for instance, lid and lead, ship and sheep, mat and mate. No two words or structures are interchangeable—one is always more appropriate than the other. That is why you need to pay special attention to such items of language. Remember, many “see”, few “observe”; many “hear”, few “listen”.

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Hone study skills:

I am sure you have met many students who study hard but they do not get desired results. The same is the case with language learners. Analyse your study skills and see whether you need to modify them. You might need to find out what type of learner you are. Do you remember better if you read something aloud? Or do you remember better if you read in your mind? How do you record what you learn? How do you revise? How often do you practise? What time of the day or night is good for you? How do you clear your doubts? All these and many more are aspects of study skills. It is worth spending time on sharpening them.

Share interesting and useful information:

The more you share good things with people, the more you will be rewarded. That is the rule of nature. Find out some interesting stuff not likely to be known to many. Share it with people who you think may be interested in such material. Your time and effort will not go in vain. Sooner or later, those who have benefited because of your work will return the favour.

Become meticulous in the use of words:

Words clothe your thoughts. Words can make or mar your personal and professional life. Be very precise in your choice of words. Before using a word, try to know what it means in a particular context. See how the meaning changes by changing a word. Be a word-hunter; it is fun, believe me.

Acquire reference skills:

Many learners, in spite of their best endeavours, fail to reach the level of English they desire. One of the main reasons may be that they do not know what material to refer to and how. As an English language learner, you should prefer authentic material, be it a dictionary, a book or a website. Find out the people involved in its preparation—their qualifications, experience, publications, etc. Another related point is about the method of using any material. For instance, using a dictionary. It is not advisable to consult a dictionary the moment you come across a new or unfamiliar word. Look at the context and the co-text, make a guess at the meaning, read on and you may understand that word without consulting a dictionary.

Develop a culture of learning:

Learning English is not possible by just reading books on or about the English language. You will have to develop an interest in a diverse range of subjects. Be a good learner of every subject and your knowledge of English is a certain by-product. If you learn how to learn, a good command of English is not far.

Enjoy the idiomatic richness of the English language:

English is an idiomatically rich language. Even in colloquial English one can easily find the richness and beauty of English expressions. Some of them may be difficult to understand, some may be totally illogical, some may sound or appear wrong. But that is English. There are two possibilities: one, you may get bogged down in complexities; two, you may enjoy the intricacies of English expressions. Choose the latter. Relish the challenge; delight in learning English.

The above list is not comprehensive. Many learners develop their own styles and methods of learning, revising and practising English. Do the same for your own language development.

Happy learning, happy sharing!

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

7. Fluency Matters!

An activity to improve fluency in spoken and written English 
By Dharmendra Sheth and Hasmukh Umaria

Hello everyone,

The following may interest you if you are a teacher or a learner of English.
Speaking in one’s mother tongue is easy; speaking in any other tongue is difficult. Let’s accept it.

Non-native learners of English often face two problems when they try to express their views in English. One, they can’t find the right word or expression to convey their message. And two, they find it hard to string words together and form grammatically correct sentences. These problems are particularly noticeable in one’s speech. A number of activities can be carried out to overcome this problem. One of them is “expansion”.

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Take an idea, and flesh it out by adding some details, explanation or examples. To begin with, write just two or three lines to expand the main idea. Once you get a grip on how to do that in writing, you might like to expand ideas orally. This activity will invariably help you to build up your fluency in written and spoken English. Let me show you how to expand an idea using some proverbs. You can in fact take any interesting statement for that matter.

1.        It is the first step that is the most difficult.

Starting something new is often difficult. There are so many doubts to clear, and pros and cons to weigh. As a result, people often hesitate a lot before taking the first step. But once taken, the rest can be smooth sailing.

2.        Better late than never.

We sometimes do not or cannot do a certain thing when appropriate or necessary. Later we may regret it. Now, if that thing is really important and worth doing, then we should do it, even if we are late.

3.        A stitch in time saves nine.

Spot a problem, fix it there and then. If you don’t do so, matters can get out of hand and the situation may get worse.

4.        Cut your coat according to the cloth.

If you spend more than you should, you will have to borrow money and consequently you may run into debt. That’s why it is advisable to live within your means; that is, spend less money than your income.

5.        You can’t put the clock back.

There is no going back in time once a particular time has passed. Therefore you cannot make things the same as they were before.

6.        You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Once the cake is eaten, it is gone. You can’t eat it without losing it. Similarly, sometimes you are in a situation in which you want to use something and, at the same time, you don’t want to lose it. It’s not possible, is it? You will have to make a decision. You can’t have it both ways!

7.        Patience is a virtue.

Things happen in their own time. You sometimes can’t make things happen. Waiting for things needs patience. Good things often take a long time to happen. Many, instead of waiting, take some rash action, and later suffer or regret. If you can wait patiently, it is a virtue.

8.        It is easy to be wise after the event.

Some people may tell you what you should have done after seeing the result of your action. It is of no use. Anyone can do that. It’s only after the task is over that we understand where and how we went wrong. It may be too late to mend but that is how we learn.

9.        Truth will out.

Someone may try to hide something bad that he has done, but sooner or later it will come to light.

We look forward to your comments and suggestions. You might like to visit our www.fluentlingua.comfor more information and help.

Happy learning, happy sharing!

8. Listening to Podcasts

Dear English language learner,

Many English language learners study hard, but do not get desired results. One of the problems could be lack of exposure to authentic English. That’s why I keep telling them to listen to good quality English on a regular basis, and for an extended period of time. To my mind, listening plays a crucial role in one’s language learning and development.

It is possible to acquire a good command of spoken English by listening to lots of English and taking part in meaningful interaction in real-life situations. The first is possible in the comfort of your own home, with absolutely no help from anyone. Well, you might ask: where can I get the right material from? Here’s the answer.

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Do you know “podcasts”? A podcast is basically an audio file, and is usually free. The dictionary definition of a podcast is: a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically. Moreover, you can choose a topic from practically hundreds and thousands.

The following are just a few of the links you might like to try.

  1.  https://audioboom.com/
  2.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts
  3.  If you are interested in podcasts especially created for language learners, then you can try these: http://learningenglish.voanews.com/podcast/0.html (for American English) and http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish (for British English).
  4.  And here’s a list of top 10 podcasts by the Guardian, UK to help you learn a language: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/09/top-podcasts-learning-language-german-japanese

So, friends, do start listening to podcasts and share your experiences with me.

Happy learning, happy sharing!

--Dharmendra Sheth

9. Why conferences or seminars!

Every once in a while, conscientious professionals check whether what they are doing is up to the mark and worthwhile. This forms a vital component of continuing professional development (CPD).
 
After a conference a few months ago, some colleagues gave vent to their frustration in a violent outburst. They grumbled to me about some of the most obvious pitfalls in our field—the poor quality of presentations, lack of sincerity, widespread apathy among the new generation of teachers, abysmally poor command of the English language and so on. They were of the opinion that we should do away with professional events such as seminars and conferences. To my mind, seminars and conferences are crucial to professional development. Let me share with you just a few of the reasons why we need conferences.
 
Indeed, first of all, every conference is a success. For conferences provide opportunities for networking, sharing experiences, raising issues, resolving issues and, and, most importantly, for professional development. I am sure that during every conference, some idea, some activity, some expression sticks in your mind, and that makes a difference in your teaching, in your students’ communication skills, in your students’ lives. Ultimately, we are teachers, and teachers are transformative intellectuals, agents for change, aren’t we?
 
The second important reason why we must organize and attend conferences is that they foster a sense of belonging and empowerment. You know that, as teachers of English, we sometimes feel powerless and dissociated from society. Not infrequently we have to teach what we do not like or agree with. We do not or cannot teach what we want our learners to master, or do not or cannot test what we believe we have taught. Some people in some committee somewhere provide a framework for syllabuses that we sometimes find trivial, unjustified or unacceptable in other ways; some other committee somewhere prepares textbooks for us to teach, and some people somewhere else evaluate our performance through our students’ performance. Conferences give you opportunities to vent your feelings about these and other problems, to seek clarifications, and to understand other perspectives regarding these issues. And when we gather together in conferences, we stand a chance of becoming capable of influencing the whole range of activities in ELT about which we experience problems.
 
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The third important reason is, perhaps, very personal. Think about your own situation. If you are presenting a paper or doing a workshop at a conference or a seminar, I am sure you start thinking about ELT since the day you come to know about the conference. Knowingly or unknowingly ever since then, your mind gets preoccupied with thoughts of ELT. You may read a few books in preparation for writing your paper, talk to a few colleagues and perhaps even conduct an experiment or two to test the idea you propose to present in your paper. There can be little doubt that such thinking makes you a better and happier teacher. I am sure that you will agree with my reasons for justifying English Teachers’ conferences.
 
Well, finally, allow me to add one more justification for holding conferences: they help us examine where we stand in our profession and change or confirm the chief objectives of our work. If we do not know where to go from the position at which we find ourselves, we can never find or make the path that leads to our destination.
 
If this small article motivates a few teachers to attend or organise ELT events such as seminars or conferences, it will have achieved its purpose.
 
Happy learning and teaching.
 
--Dharmendra Sheth
 

10. Please stop glorifying failure!

Please stop glorifying failure!
 
These days, quite a few so called academicians, motivational speakers, and materially successful people directly or indirectly glorify failure. To my mind, it has a devastating effect on young minds.
 
“He failed in grade 5, left study and became a business tycoon”, “I never attended college, and now I run five educational institutes”, “I don’t mind if my children never get top scores in this or that”, “Do what your heart says”, “Remember those three idiots”, “Li Ka-shing, the richest man in Asia, had to quit school at 15”, “Steve Jobs this and Dhirubhai Ambani that”, and so on and so forth. All this is fine for a tiny TINY "tiny" (bold, capital, italic) group of students who really have massive talents, but are somehow not able to shine at school or college. However, for majority of students, such glorification of failure might be dangerous. Instead of motivating them to work harder, such glorification can make them find ways, read excuses, to justify their failure.
 
Learning to accept failure is fine, but that has to be after one has tried one’s best. That should be the message. Majority, yes majority, of successful people in any society such as bright scientists, technocrats and doctors have worked hard despite their dislike for certain areas of study. You can’t always do what you like. For a real success that leads to genuine happiness, one has to learn to Accept, Adapt and Act. No excuses. Period.
 
To sum up, if you are a student, work hard, put in your best, and be ready to accept any result. Celebrate your effort.
--Dharmendra Sheth

11. Duties of a listener

Why? Why are you reading this? Because you find the topic interesting, or perhaps you are curious to know why someone writes on such an obvious topic. Or perhaps you know me and you believe that I usually talk and write sensibly. In any case, there’s a purpose behind everything you do. Similarly, when you attend a talk or a lecture, you must have a clear purpose in mind. And that purpose, to my mind, should be to a) learn how the speaker or presenter has understood and presented the main subject, topic or ideas, and b) form, confirm or modify your thoughts and opinions about the topic.

 

Now that the purpose is clear, the second step is preparation. It is advisable to prepare well for the topic (as if you are going to be the speaker). Why? So that you get maximum out of your listening experience. However, while preparing, do not form rigid ideas about the topic. Any preconceived notions about the topic will hinder your ability to take in and process the speaker’s views. Remember, your mind, like a parachute, works best when it is open.

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Remember your role as a listener throughout the speech. You might have a strong inner urge to chip in with your comments; you might feel that you have a better idea and you must guide the speaker or the audience; you might consider it your duty to help the world around you with your knowledge… but, hang on a minute. Resist the temptation. There are bound to be many like you in the audience. Imagine what will happen if everyone started throwing in their two cents' worth!  

 

Moreover, accept whole-heartedly that the speaker is almost always likely to have looked at the subject from all angles; s/he is likely to be more prepared than you for that topic; and that’s why s/he is invited to speak and you are in the audience.

 

Last but not least, when you get a chance to make a comment or to ask a question, speak to the point—don’t start a mini-lecture. Nothing is worse for the audience to listen to a lengthy speech by a member of the audience irrespective of the quality of the content. If you like, you can interact with the speaker after the programme if s/he permits; and also, of course, if the organisers allow). The best is to communicate with the speaker via electronic means after a day or two when you have actually digested everything that you have heard, referred to the reference material and solidified your own position.

 

To sum up, when you are a listener, do please *listen*.

 

Happy Listening, Happy Learning!

--Dharmendra Sheth

 

12. H. M. Patel Memorial Lecture

H. M. Patel Memorial Lecture on 27 August 2018
by
Dr Dharmendra Sheth
Founder, Fluentlingua, Surat
on
Becoming an effective English Language Teaching (ELT) Professional in Gujarat

 

If one keeps the international scene in mind, the knowledge of English is inevitable for intellectual growth and technological development. Along with increasing use of regional language, a sound study of English needs to be encouraged as an instrument of acquiring knowledge.
               —Dr. H. M. Patel

I feel privileged to have been asked to deliver the H. M. Patel Memorial Lecture. For this honour, I must thank the orgnisers of this event in general and the Principal of H. M. Patel Institute of English Training & Research, Dr. N. V. Bose, in particular. I consider it my privilege and duty to invoke the name of Dr. H. M. Patel, a senior ICS officer, whose visionary guidance led to the inception of this Institute 53 years ago in 1965, three years before I was born.

H.M. Patel lecture by Dr. Dharmendra Seth

Well, I have fond memories of this Institute and of working in close association with ELT stalwarts like the late Dr Subhash Jain, and my well-wisher Dr Jadeja, the previous Director of this institute. I have had excellent discussions with them about the stimulating intricacies of the English language and the overwhelming complexities of English Language Teaching in Gujarat. Let me also put on record the guidance and support that I have got from my mentors Dr Sudhakar Marathé and Mrs Meera Marathé.

 

By the way, let me clarify at the outset that I make no claim to be an ELT expert. I am just a teacher of English with perhaps a slightly better-than-average ability to do a "sensitivity analysis", if I may use a technical term from my engineering background: a sensitivity analysis determines how different values of an independent variable affect a particular dependent variable under a given set of assumptions. Nor is my lecture today for the experts sitting on and off the dais. My target audience today is the young ELT soldiers in the audience, the would-be teachers of English. I intend to shed light on salient features of the current state of affairs in ELT and suggest a road ahead.

 

And I must also make an important proviso at the outset: given that we have a limited amount of time at our disposal to deal with a subject that genuinely deserves a whole long series of lectures, my lecture today will naturally present a brief description of the reality of ELT in our State.

Now, first things first. What is the current state of affairs in terms of ELT in Gujarat? Let us face it, something is “rotten in the state of Denmark”—at least in ELT and in Gujarat. How can you say something is “rotten” in our ELT?

 

  • Well, first of all, I have more than two and a half decades of classroom teaching experience—from the elementary to the tertiary level. So I can say that I know the field a little.
  • Second, during my six-year stint as a National Vice President of the English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELT@I), I had opportunities to visit the length and breadth of our country, not just our State, and discuss ELT situations with teachers across the board.
  • Third, my personal contact with ELT so-called as well as genuine experts in India and abroad has put me in a position to analyse our situation reasonably objectively.

Best Spoken English Class in Surat

Now, sadly, my analysis does not allow me to say, as the poet Robert Browning did in his characteristic ironical fashion, “All's right with the world!” We've got to face facts here—we cannot just bury our heads in the sand. We must admit that there is a malaise or disease in ELT in Gujarat.

 

Now, to cure a disease, one must first diagnose it. So let us begin with the erroneous and injudicious interpretation of the Indian government’s “Minimum Levels of Learning (MLL) Strategy”. The MLL emerged from the basic concern that irrespective of caste, creed, location or gender, every child must be given access to education. Alas, this noble attempt resulted, by and large, in inferior quality of study material and teaching practice and in lowering or weakening of standards in various areas of education—the situation of ELT in Gujarat is no exception. “Teach the minimum… expect the minimum…” became the unwritten mantra. Status quo or “I'm Ok, You're Ok”. But believe me, virtually nothing is “okay” in our domain. 

 

To give you a reasonably clear picture of the current ELT situation in Gujarat, please allow me to discuss the three M’s in this situation—the Material, the Method and the Man, the three pillars of any academic enterprise.

The Material.

Let us begin with the first item in the list the Material. Under the term “the Material”, we will restrict our discussion to the English language textbooks currently in use in Gujarat. I am sure you will agree with me that textbooks play a pivotal role in the grand scheme of things. Teachers who are supposed to use the material are expected to follow the instructions contained in their prescribed textbooks. Students are supposed to learn as much language content as possible from them. Everything revolves around textbooks—be it classroom teaching, homework and projects, internal assessment and periodic and end-of-the-year examinations. Now, given that textbooks are the core factor in ELT, textbooks are important in our system—there can be no two opinions about it. But, alas and alack, any teacher worth his or her salt will agree with me that most textbooks are not only unimaginative and boring, but also contain unforgivable errors of every kind imaginable—spelling errors, improper use of punctuation marks, un-English expressions, grammatically questionable sentences, unattractive layout, inconsistent use of capitalisation, notable lack of internal logic and consistency, and so on.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to conduct a teacher training programme for a group of about fifty teachers of English. I chose two pages of their book at random and showed them more than twenty serious language problems in that small quantity of material. Honestly, we simply cannot sweep these facts under the carpet.

I can say a great deal more about other substandard or questionable “material” that teachers use. For instance,  local grammar books, reference works, exercise books, additional materials teachers take into class, material the teacher creates or gathers to bolster the lesson and testing material. The list is endless.

I am presenting these basic and crucial facts before you:

  • because I want you to feel the pain that I, and many others like me, feel.
  • because I want you to look closely at the language of any material that you come across, and not take any material as gospel.
  • because I want you to check it out, when in doubt. However, make sure that you use standard reference material produced by internationally reputed publishers.
  • because you, dear young ELT soldiers, are our hope!
  • And most importantly… because you and I are now here at an institute which has the power and prestige as well as responsibility to bring about a significant and real improvement in the ELT situation in Gujarat.

 

English teacher in Surat

 

The Method

Let us turn now to the second “M”, i.e., the “Method”. By the way, I have used the word method in the title in the loose sense of the term. I will explain the term in a little more detail by and by.

Let me present here part of a conversation which I once had with a “veteran” teacher of English.

Me:    What do you teach?

Him:   I teach English since decades. (Two serious problems with this short glib sentence that is actually gibberish: the teacher said “teach” in place of “have been teaching”, and he says “since” in place of “for”. Besides, in uttering the word “English”, he used the sound “s” that we are expected to use in the word “same”, and not “sh” as in the word “shame”. We shall consider this problem again later.)

Me:    What approach do you follow? What method do you use? (He looked at me as if I was an alien creature from outer space.)

Him:   I… hmmm… English. Pair work and group work.

Me:    How do you prepare for your work? What material do you use?

Him:   Textbooks. I am having lot of experience… you see! (Two serious problems again—the teacher said “am having” in place of “have”, and “lot of” in place of “a lot of” or “lots of”. He perhaps wanted to convey that since he has a lot of experience, he doesn’t need to prepare.)

Me:    How do you ensure that your students learn what you teach?

Him:   We are having three unit tests a year. (The same problem as discussed above: “are having”. And what he said didn’t really answer my question.)

In fact, I asked a few more questions about the goals, the model, the views about language and language learning, the syllabus design, etc. He did not have satisfactory answers to most. This suggests that many teachers of English in Gujarat are not sure of what they are doing. They do not possess enough content knowledge and pedagogical skills. Obviously, they will not be in a position to identify what needs to be taught and the best way to do so.

It is important for teachers to be familiar with the approaches, methods and techniques in ELT. What do these terms refer to? Well, in simple words, an approach is a set of theories about the nature of language and language learning; a method is an overall plan for what is to be taught and in what order; a technique is what actually happens in a classroom. In this oft-quoted hierarchical arrangement, proposed by the American applied linguist Edward Anthony in 1963, method and techniques are based on the approach chosen at the outset.

Now I believe you know that in Gujarat, textbooks suggest a modified communicative approach or a functional approach. In other words, the goal of our teaching of English is to improve our students’ “communicative competence” (the tacit knowledge of a language and the ability to use it effectively), and not just their “linguistic competence” (the knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc.). Now, that’s a demanding task, is a pretty tall order, I must say.

Why?

Because you as a teacher of English are supposed to teach your students how to:

  • use English for a range of purposes and functions,
  • understand and use formality associated with various words and structures,
  • modify the language according to participants, context, purpose, i.e., who is communicating with whom, where, when and why.
  • deal with different types of texts
  • develop cross cultural communication
  • acquire ESL strategies so as to initiate, terminate, maintain, repair, and redirect communication
  • negotiate meaning
  • work collaboratively for successful communication
  • learn from feedback, overt and tacit
  • experiment  different ways of saying

In a nutshell, students need to acquire natural, versatile and rich use of language that is appropriate to particular situations and audiences.

The socio-linguist Dell Hymes (1973) has succinctly presented his views on communicative competence. Taking a cue from that, we need to enable our students to know what in the target language is:

  1. possible (X Me is teacher),
  2. feasible (X I bought a dictionary from a shop that is run by a man whose son is a clerk in a factory whose owner is married to a person who cannot speak English.)
  3. appropriate (X calling your principal “Hi” or “Hello Darling”), and,
  4. “in use” (X Chips and fish).

What should ideally happen? First of all, you should carry out a thorough needs analysis, and then design syllabuses around functions and notions rather than grammatical structures. In place of memorisation, drills, and individualistic activities, you should plan role plays, pair work, group work, etc. You should focus on fluency activities rather than accuracy activities. You should keep in mind that your role is that of a facilitator. It is important that you and your students work “in” the target language and not just “on” it. You should develop activities such as problem solving, information gap/sharing, and task-based so as to generate meaningful interaction among you and your students. You need to encourage your students to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to real-life situations. You should insist on using authentic texts for classroom study and self study.

Participants listening to Dr. Dharmendra Sheth

 

The Man

Let’s move on to the third “M”, i.e., the “Man”, the teacher. We must accept the fact that even in this age of technological advancement and the Internet, the teacher’s role hasn’t changed much; be it in Gujarat or elsewhere. Everything that the teacher does or says in the classroom has a significant and measurable impact on the student. The teacher is supposed to provide the student with the most important “input” for language development. Students often copy whatever their teacher says or does, right or wrong. Therefore, “teacher talk” is at times far more important than anything else in language learning. It’s obvious that if you want to become an effective ELT professional, you ought to have a rich, flexible and varied command of English. Any survey, even an informal one, will suffice to prove that, in Gujarat, most teachers’ command of English isn’t up to the mark. It leaves a lot to be desired.

Now if you have decided to become a teacher or an effective ELT professional, what should you do first?

Stop listening to people who say:

  • Grammar is not important
  • Pronunciation is not important.
  • Just a few hundred words are enough to communicate in English.
  • Focus on fluency only and not on accuracy.
  • Everything is fine as long as your message is conveyed.

Well, ignore them. They know not what they say.

You must make an effort to acquire an impressively good command of English. Become a spontaneous, fluent, and effective communicator in English. Your goal should be impeccable English. I know it seems like an unachievable  goal or an unending journey, but it’s worth taking up. You might say: Fine, but what should I actually do?

First of all, decide what kind of English you want to acquire, i.e., the type of English pronunciation you (and your students) should aim for. Language is primarily speech! To my mind, it is useful to adopt one of the two easily accessible varieties of English—one, Received Pronunciation, RP, the kind of English generally used by the educated elite in the southern part of England. It is loosely termed King’s English or Queen’s English or old BBC English. It is the accent used as a recommended pronunciation in dictionaries, and as a model for teaching English as a foreign language in many parts of the world. And, two, General American, GA or Gen Am, which is spoken by a majority of Americans and which lacks any clearly noticeable regional or social characteristics.

Why not Indian English? You might ask. Unfortunately, in spite of India being the world’s second largest English-speaking country after the United States, we don’t have a standard or neutral variety of Indian English that can be adopted as a model for Indian learners of English. We have many varieties of Indian English each with distinct regional influence. Sometimes parts of two varieties of Indian English are mutually incomprehensible. Another point worth noting is that whatever you say in favour of local varieties of English, when it comes to job interviews or promotion, a person speaking English close to one of the two standard varieties I mentioned above (RP and GA) has greater chances of success. 

Now once you have decided the kind of English you want to acquire, the next step is to find relevant material and opportunities work on your English. Remember, we can’t neglect any aspect of English; work on all the seven areas language experts suggest—Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, Vocabulary, Grammar and Pronunciation. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can master English by talking with people around you and reading locally produced books. You might reinforce common errors in English prevalent in the region.

First of all, you need to become a better learner of English. “How?” you might ask.

Well, you become a better learner by

  1. exposing yourself to good English on a regular basis. Enjoy and pursue vigorously, substantially, every day for as long as possible, the activity of reading excellent English of a great variety. Remember, no one can learn a language without meeting it, without being exposed to it. The most fruitful way to expose oneself to good and authentic language is to read it and to listen to it. The more you do this, the better, richer, more versatile your language will be. Fail in this one regard, fail to read and listen to good language as often as you can, and your opportunities to learn more language or consolidate what you know will practically vanish!
  2. becoming a reflective learner. You need to spend time at regular intervals and frequently evaluating your own language development. Which exercises or activities have you done recently and how have you done them and what have you achieved? 
  3. exploring the nuances of the English language. A nuance is a small but sometimes significant difference in sound, spelling or meaning , especially in meaning. It is important to realize that, like all languages, English too gives innumerable opportunities because of its apparent illogicality and idiosyncrasies. For instance, as an example of a small difference in sound, the words “same” and “shame” are not the same; “fit” and “feet” are different; “appropriate” and “inappropriate” are actually antonyms, but the senses of “flammable” and “inflammable” are the same; the word “`subject” is a noun if stressed on the first syllable, and a verb if stressed on the second syllable, as “sub`ject”; “practise” (v) and “practice” (n) are spoken in the same way but spelt differently, but “advise” (verb) and “advice” (noun) contain different sounds in the second syllable.
  4. developing powers of observation. For instance, a learner with good powers of observation may “see” different kinds of clouds and find out words for each kind: a) cirrus, a type of light, feathery cloud that is seen high in the sky, b) cumulus, a type of tall, white cloud with a wide, flat base and rounded shape, c) nimbus, dark grey cloud that often produces rain or snow.
  5. becoming an alert listener and reader. For instance, when you read or listen to an advertisement, a hoarding, an announcement, a news item, or anything for that matter, keenly notice the language. Is there anything unusual, unfamiliar, odd or strange? Is it acceptable in standard English? Is it a slip or a deliberate mistake or even a useful new expression?
  6. honing and augmenting your repertoire of study patterns and techniques. For instance, if you do not record your progress, start doing so. If you regularly record your speech, try to find ways to do it more effectively, or better. If you maintain a vocabulary diary, think about how you can make it more fruitful. 
  7. becoming careful in the use of apt words. For instance, a person who reads a lot is a “voracious” reader and a person who writes a lot is a “prolific” writer. If you want to describe someone’s extremely poor condition in life, you might say that they live in “great” or “abject” poverty.
  8. learning to make informed decisions. For instance, if someone asks you right now: what is the best way for you to remember words? Now, most people would guess at it. A better alternative would be to carry out small-scale projects on ways of learning and organising vocabulary and then make informed decisions based on the results.
  9. acquiring reference skills. For instance, how to use a dictionary is still a very serious challenge for many. In fact, I remember once Mrs. Meera Marathé, an ELT expert of repute from IIIT, Hyderabad, conducted a two-hour workshop on how to use a dictionary. It was an eye-opener for even senior teachers of English. As a language learner, you will need to know what material or helpful source of information to look for and how to use it. I sympathise with those who think that Google has all the answers. Yet that is as silly as hoping to learn grammar using the MS Word software.
  10. developing a culture of learning. Just as every country, every community, every recognisable group of people has a culture, every individual also has a culture of learning. Here what I mean by culture is the sum total of one’s assumptions, opinions, ideas, patterns of behaviour, study patterns, etc. Learn to study your own culture of learning critically.
  11. enjoying the idiomatic richness or riches of the English language. Idiom is language in crystallised form—that is to say, words often linked or used together to convey something. Idioms, which means idiomatic expressions, not only those listed in a dictionary of idioms, are one of the most interesting parts of a language. However, it is often difficult to guess at their meaning from the constituent words. For instance, “full of beans” means “lively and energetic”, and “be on cloud nine” means “be extremely happy and excited”. Almost always the context in which they are used holds clues to their sense. That is why you need to study them carefully and use or employ them systematically. Here are a few other examples of idiomatic usage: ”Would you like some tea?” “Not really, thank you”, “No, thank you very much”, “Yes, just a little, please”, and so on.
  12. asking genuine questions that occur to you. They often turn out to be interesting and rewarding. For instance, it is not always possible or even useful to ask someone for the spelling, meaning or pronunciation of a word. These are things you can find out on your own from authentic study material. And, believe me, most people, including teachers, are never really sure about such things. You can try asking them the pronunciation of “bury”, “police”, or “dais”. Or the spelling of “vacuum”, “foolscap” or “tuition”. Or the meaning of “simpleton’ or “inflammable” or “precocious”.)
  13. keeping abreast of the latest developments in your field. It is vitally important to maintain your professional credentials. Attend seminars, conferences, workshops, or explore other such learning opportunities. Read professional journals and magazines. Be in touch with like-minded learners and professionals.
  14. learning from mistakes, one's own and others'. That means noticing, identifying, understanding and correcting mistakes one comes across. Here is an instance. A Spanish photographer who took portraits of 118 African refugees on a rescue ship on the Mediterranean, was asked if he had found any of them later. "Yes," he said, "I have localised a few." His sense is clear, his language is not. What exactly is his "error"? He meant to say "located". This is a rich method of learning and improving one's language, my "mentor" Professor Sudhakar Marathé reminds me. Errors are a Gold Mine!
  15. Setting oneself little language tasks. It makes a refreshing change to set oneself tasks containing language items—arising from reading, errors heard or seen, oddities encountered and even very good expressions encountered—to understand them, to correct them, to acquire them, to learn how to say them correctly, appropriately, and how to make them part of one’s own language richness.
  16. Trying to find alternative ways of saying the same thing. My mentor Dr Marathé suggests an extraordinarily useful exercise, especially when done with short sentences (say half a line to one and a half line long) that one meets. To try to reorder their sequence of words, with a small change or two, to arrive at alternative ways of saying (more or less) the same thing.
  17. relishing or enjoying learning. The result of your effort is directly proportional to the amount of joy you get out of it. Celebrate every small success. Enjoy every failure or puzzlement (what my most respected mentor Professor Sudhakar Marathé calls “two-minute puzzles”.) Form a group of learners or be a part of a learners’ community. Help each other, motivate each other by sharing discoveries with each other. Enjoy the progress.

English In Surat

In addition to an excellent command of English, you must do your best to acquire “pedagogical competence”, the ability to manage learning, which includes planning, implementing, assessing, evaluating, giving feedback, managing classroom, and motivating learners. With a good command of the English language and excellent pedagogical competence, you are ready to embark on a glittering career as an ELT professional in Gujarat.

I wish you every success in the future.

Happy Learning, Happy Teaching, Happy Living!

27 August 2018

13. Benefits of Reading

Reading leads to success and happiness. Period. But how?

First of all, reading widens your mental (what many call intellectual) horizons. The more you read, the more information you pick up about the world and everything in it. This leads to a solid core of knowledge that is useful to you in a wide variety of real-life situations.

Secondly, reading expands your word power or your store of vocabulary. And having more words at your command means greater ability to deal with and express more thoughts and clearer ideas.This enhanced ability greatly augments your chances of success in your field of work. No other activity builds your vocabulary and comprehension skills as effectively as reading.

Thirdly, reading shows you how different writers present their thoughts, facts, logic, emotions, arguments, humour, etc., which, if you imbibe their techniques, will hone your own writing skills. Moreover, when you read important and serious works in different spheres of knowledge, you gain skills in dealing with complex ideas.

A quote by Bacon which emphasises the importance of reading good books.

Fourthly, research shows that avid readers can comprehend others’ situations and attitude better. If you are a voracious reader, you acquire the ability to separate essential from nonessential information. Also, you can often see how apparently unrelated ideas and facts are connected. As a result, you tend to be more flexible in your thinking and more open to new ideas. You develop or sharpen the ability to understand how other people think and feel, react positively to change and deal with various situations better.

Finally, reading is enjoyable. It can provide you with enormous satisfaction and pleasure, and, not infrequently, a happy escape from harsh realities of life. If you'd like to see some good samples of reading material, click this link.

In sum, reading helps you live a rich, meaningful and happy life.

-- Dharmendra Sheth

14. Enrich Your English, a Workshop at V N Godhani English School

On the 19th of December, Fluentlingua conducted a workshop titled “Enrich your English” at V N Godhani English School in Katargam. About 250 students of standards 7th and 8th attended this workshop. Keenness to learn was writ large on their bright faces right from the beginning and was maintained throughout the programme.

The principal introduced Dr Dharmendra Sheth and Mr Hasmukh Umaria, chief trainers from Fluentlingua, to the wide-eyed students unable to contain their impatience to get started. After being felicitated, the trainers started the program and the students’ eyes were glued to the screen as Dr Sheth started the workshop with the presentation “Fun with English”. He explained with examples that “English is English”, and often it is not logical. This sure got the participants’ rapt attention and aroused their interest and curiosity. The stage was thus set. The title itself has so much learning potential in it, said Dr Sheth. The word “enrich” is stressed on the second syllable whereas the word “English” is stressed on the first syllable. He went on to explain the importance of correct pronunciation. He explained that the word “pronunciation” is pronounced differently by different people. It sure brought some giggles as expected. And as the students tried to pronounce that word, it dawned upon them that there was a lot to be done in this area of English. This gave them the impetus to improve their pronunciation.

Students at the school enjoying the English workshop

There were practice sessions on sounds, word stress, rhythm and intonation. To give the participants a clear idea of correct pronunciation, Mr Umaria first spoke the words, and the students then repeated them, trying to copy as best as they could. It was an eye-opener and an ear-opener session. By now, the hall resounded with English of good quality. This proved the point that imitation is the key to learning a second or foreign language.

Then there were some activities to learn word stress. Dr Sheth demonstrated the shift in word stress according to parts of speech, and explained the impact of suffixes and prefixes on pronunciation of words.

English Workshop panel

Students were then made aware of the importance of rhythm in spoken English. The concept of sentence stress was brought to students’ attention via nursery rhymes. A few sentence patterns were drilled too.

Correct intonation leading to identifying whether the word, phrase or sentence is a question or a statement was another lively exercise.

Then the students were given a passage to read aloud. It was putting-it-all-together session. A few students performed this on stage. The students cheered and were obviously impressed by their co-students’ performance on stage. It was evident, according to the teachers present, that after a few hours of the workshop, there was a perceptible improvement in their students’ speech.

The atmosphere was one of achievement and happiness. The programme ended with a vote of thanks.

Fluentlingua takes this opportunity to thank the management of the school, the principal, and Mr Haridas Patil, HOD English for making such a workshop possible.

Demonstration of teaching, speaking skill

Teaching spoken English in Surat

15. Mind Your Table Manners!

Have you ever found it disgusting to see a person eating in front of you in a strange way? Isn’t it awkward to sit and eat when such people are around you? I am sure you hate their table manners but often you cannot do anything about it. But, by the same token, have you ever checked your own table manners? How do you eat or behave at the dinner table? Do you talk while eating? If yes, how? Well, there are no strict rules for dinner etiquette but still let me share a few handy tips for you to improve your own table manners.

Table Manners -- an interesting Spoken English activity at Fluentlingua

  1. Don’t scrape plates.
  2. Don’t pick your teeth at the table.
  3. Don’t slurp food or drinks.
  4. Turn off your phones or put them on silent mode.
  5. Don’t chew with mouth open.
  6. Don’t stretch out to get things.
  7. Ask someone politely to pass things.
  8. Hold fork with the left hand and knife with the right hand.
  9. Place a napkin on your lap before starting to eat.
  10. Wait until everyone is served before eating.
  11. Pass salt and pepper together.
  12. Use polite language all the time.
  13. Talk about pleasant things.
  14. When ready to order, close the menu and place it on the table.
  15. Don’t gesture with a knife or fork in hand.
  16. Eat slowly.
  17. Take small bites.
  18. Don’t speak with a full mouth.
  19. Don’t blow on food to cool it down.
  20. Don’t play with a napkin.
  21. Excuse yourself when leaving the table.
  22. Don’t tuck a napkin into your collar.
  23. Use a napkin to pat or blot lips.
  24. Dress appropriately.
  25. Don’t answer phones at the table.
  26. Don’t send messages at the table.
  27. Eat neither too fast nor too slow.
  28. Don’t stare at others’ plates.
  29. Don’t make a sound while chewing.
  30. Attend to guests, if any.
  31. Remember that manners reflect upbringing.
  32. Sit properly.
  33. Refuse politely.
  34. Watch others when unsure of using utensils.
  35. Use a fork to lift food to your mouth.
  36. Toast to someone’s good health.
  37. Apologise if you burp.
  38. Make a brief but cordial departure.
  39. Stir tea, coffee, etc. gently.
  40. Wash hands before and after meals.
  41. Don’t touch serving bowls and ladles with dirty fingers.
  42. When receiving something, say thank you.
  43. Use the right hand to eat.
  44. Don’t play with or distort food.
  45. Say sorry if you spill something.
  46. Don’t wave away servers; say “No, thanks”.
  47. Don’t waste food.
  48. When receiving say “Thanks” and when asking say “Please”.
  49. Do not garnish or add anything without first tasting.
  50. Don’t pass comments loudly about the food or service.

Hasmukh Umaria

16. Seven surefire ways to help your country go to the dogs

For a long time I have been writing, designing and posting positive messages. But today let me be realistic. Don't read any further if you don't want to know what an average person feels today.
  1. Judiciary — Make it messy with unclear laws, and dicey with rules and regulations written in terribly convoluted sentences. (Honestly, I can’t understand the legal documents such as transfer deeds, rent agreements and many government forms even in my own mother tongue. When there’s a dispute, you file a case and lose your sleep forever. It might happen that you continue to fight a case after you retire and may win after you have died.)
  2. Corruption — Make it so widespread that you accept it as part of life. Bring uniformity in corruption so that people know in advance how much they have to bear other than their actual cost. (It’s a pity to see that one has to pay some under-the-table money to get things done in most government offices. Everyone knows that. Everyone hates that… at least in public.)
  3. Skewed system of opportunities — Create opportunities not based on competence but class or caste or creed or religion, nepotism or favouritism. (Aren’t we openly allowing mediocrity to enter different fields of work? Aren’t we creating a huge lot of frustrated competent people?)
  4. Vague final responsibility — Create such systems that the buck stops nowhere. (If you go by reports of accidents or disastrous failures or calamities, you will agree with me that nobody accepts responsibility; whether an individual or a department. Shifting of responsibility is the norm. Whose responsibility is it ultimately? Nobody knows.)
  5. Messy education — Flood your system with questionable textbooks, slipshod content, improper inspection, frequent changes, mediocre stakeholders, etc. (If you want to start a school, or increase a classroom, do this or do that in your academic organization, you have to pay some fixed amount of money. If you don’t believe me, try starting a school or ask someone who has done so. The requirements are so weird and impossible to follow that you give up if you believe in honest dealings. Don’t ask me about wheeling and dealing in admission, recruitment, promotion, transfer, purchase of stationery and equipment, tuition, etc.)
  6. Taxation — Make sure that there are multiple taxes and lots of people are unnecessarily involved in the whole process. (You look at the books of guidelines in your chartered accountant’s office or look at some websites giving details of taxation. They are deliberately kept so complex that your CA will have no option but to agree to some unfair practice. You have no time and energy to fight a case. You succumb.)
  7. Politics and crime — Mingle politics and crime so that one can help the other at the cost of common good. (If you doubt this, you surely live in cloud-cuckoo-land.) 
The above is the unedited draft but I posted it because I didn’t want to delay publishing it.

-- Dharmendra Sheth Surat

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