Why Communicative English in School

The introduction of communicative English in school has not yet been embraced by most of the teachers. Photo source: Depositphotos
The introduction of communicative English in school has not yet been embraced by most of the teachers. Photo source: Depositphotos
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

As a global language, the position of English now stands supreme. How to communicate more effectively and using less effort among the individuals, institutions and nations have been a grave concern over the ages. Still the pronunciation and ways of teaching English differ from country to country and institution to institution in the same country even. The way of teaching English in school has been used as a grammar-translation method which gives the learners the idea of accuracy rather than using it more comfortable in a real-life situation. Of course, accuracy cannot be avoided in any way.

The main components of teaching and learning English are translating the ideas and contents from a language into English, which sheds spontaneity. Spontaneous use of language gives the users more freedom. Usually and naturally an individual uses his/her mother tongue more spontaneously than any other language he/she learns through efforts. Necessarily learning a language spontaneously tends to give comfort, which narrows the gap between the mother tongue and that particular language.

It is not necessary to learn the mother tongue in educational institutions for communicating ideas. Rather it is learnt from the situation and environment. It is mainly for communication. Accuracy is ignored here. This language may not be appropriate in the universal situation. Suppose the local language of Chittagong or Noakhali or Barisal may not be well comprehensive to the people of other parts of Bangladesh. But the people of these areas very effectively communicate with each other to satisfy their practical needs.

Again, these languages may not be used for writing purposes. English has also assumed different pronunciations in different parts of the world which are obviously different from the native speakers. Even in native countries, it is pronounced differently. In the midst of these situations, a common comprehensive English has evolved throughout the globe. This situation has been termed as mutual intelligibility i.e. a kind of English understandable to the people of different parts of the world. The pronunciation and accent may not be the same but nobody bothers about it or nobody minds it. The purpose of communication is the focal point here. If the purpose is served, the use of language is successful.

So the main focus of learning English is for communication purpose. As we don’t have an English environment to teach people English in a real situation, a controlled situation is created in the classroom to teach it. From controlled to semi-guided and then to free practice has been pursued in teaching communicative English in school.

As each language is based on particular structures, communicative English cannot avoid teaching the learners those structural patterns. But the way of teaching and practising them is different from what they were done and taught before coming to this method. Teaching exclusive grammatical rules and putting much importance on them is termed by the specialist’s traditional way to teach English. In this methodology, learners gained much more accurate but not so fluency and spontaneity in using the language for which it is meant. Many learners gathered both accuracy and fluency through the traditional method. Of course, common learners lacked it.

It is generally expected that the common learners should learn English for their practical purposes like getting jobs, running a business and marinating all kinds of individual, organizational and stately affairs very effectively. The skills earned in using English broadens the way of getting good jobs.

As a fully English learning environment cannot be created to contribute to practical teaching, a controlled situation is created to teach English in school to the students. Structures and grammars are taught from the context that is from the lessons they are taught. Teacher is to work a lot for this kind of teaching and learning. As teachers are to find out the ways and grammars used and hidden in the context. To develop that kind of skill and competency in the teachers, specialised training is a must. Due to the lack of, the objectives of teaching communicative English in school may not reach its desired goal. But it is a matter of good news that training programmes have already been taken up by both in the government and private sectors and they are leading the training programmes gradually towards the way of success.

After the introduction of Communicative English in the secondary and Higher Secondary levels how far the change in teaching and learning English has been brought remains a question to the conscious citizens of the country. Have our students who have passed the SSC or HSC examinations developed their four skills necessary for communication? Of course, time is not ripe enough to ask these questions but we should see whether the path is leading in the right direction.  However, several training programmes have been taken up by ELTIP (English Language Teaching Improvement Project), BRAC and UKBET (the United Kingdom and  Bangladesh Education  Trust) to prepare our secondary school teachers to deal with the English For Today and to develop their teaching abilities. The materials produced on the basis of the techniques of EFT. Again, the question arises of how far the training materials address the practical issues.

English For Today has been produced on the basis of four skills namely speaking.  reading, listening and writing. We are making our teachers acquainted with the four skills and the ways how to deal with the different lessons and units of EFT in the class. Teachers are made acquainted with different techniques of teaching like pair work, group work, chain drill, choral drill, elicitation etc. to deal with the text and four skills and the trained teachers have already formed some ideas about these things.  We are not sure whether they are implementing the techniques in the class fully or partially but we have at least sensitised them. Removing the shyness of the students as well as of the teachers through training has been at least partially successful as our trained teachers speak or try to speak English in the class. I observed the situation in the teacher’s forum and visiting different schools.

The introduction of communicative English in school has not yet been embraced by most of the teachers, students and guardians. It is very usual because since the people of our country started learning English they had been following the traditional method. The present-day scholars who are at the helm of affairs are the product of that English. They developed a  solid foundation of English through the grammar-translation method. Now the world has changed a lot. Global communication has assumed a very important shape and phenomenon. Bangladesh as a poor country has to communicate with the outside world for having donation, relief, job, scientific cooperation, mass communication and whatnot.

The channels of communication have multiplied as well. People having the quality of communication in English is necessarily preferred and hence the English knowing people and individuals are in good demand in the world market. The graduates produced by our colleges and universities miserably lack this phenomenon. The graduates of our neighbouring countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan prove their worth in this line which has opened scope worldwide for them. Necessarily these countries also earn much foreign exchange through the exportation of their English skilled manpower.  Even Dhaka city sees many Indian and Sri Lankan people in many of the executive posts mainly because of their having strong ability to communicate in English. Now it has come to the realisation of our policymakers that we are being deprived globally in many fields due to the lack of communication ability of our graduates.

Communication does necessarily not mean only oral communication. It can be written or even through signs and beckons. But oral communication attaches much importance. The English we used to teach our students could not directly help them develop their oral communication in English. The present approach wants to develop that side of our students through some controlled and created practice and situation. It should be in everybody’s consideration that written communication is also not less important and it cannot be done through inaccurate English.

Accuracy earned or learned through communicative English is a  new idea. Accuracy learned or earned through it calls for huge study and practice as students are encouraged to memorise or learn grammatical rules. They must learn them through the context and situation. Teaching through context and situation has evolved as a great challenge as trained, innovative and hard-working teachers are hardly available in our educational arena particularly in the primary and secondary levels. To train them up has further appeared as a big challenge both for the government as well as for the organizations concerned. However, conducting research on these issues and finding out ways and means to address the situation s has started appearing though in limited scales.

Curriculum and textbooks need to be revised simultaneously with teachers training. Books which fail to give interest to the students will hardly bring benefit for them. Ample colourful pictures, stories along with practical situational lessons and dialogues may arouse interest among the learners  Trained teachers will create the controlled and guided situations in the classroom. These multifarious steps can come to our learners with the message of communication approach which will really help them communicate in their real-life situations.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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