Amin Rahman : English is taught in schools, colleges and universities as a compulsory subject in Bangladesh but the learners cannot speak it well although the span of time they tried to learn should have been more than enough for learning a foreign language for verbal communication purposes. Why does it not happen in Bangladesh? Is there any fault in teaching-learning processes? It seems that most students in Bangladesh study English because it is a compulsory subject which they have to study to get their degrees. They study English not really to acquire oral communication skill in this language but just to pass. As a result the majority of the university graduates cannot speak English fluently, and most cannot easily understand when others speak it. This is true even for graduates from Dhaka University, the country’s oldest and premier seat of learning. This is a serious situation, particularly in today’s world of globalization where English serves as a major lingua franca and at a time when Bangladesh is competing with others including English speaking countries. A valid question can be raised, if students and the education administrators maintain this disfavouring attitude then why do they continue English as a compulsory subject? Why do we make everyone study this language when there is no real learning in terms of language skills taking place? Why do we not make it an elective subject and select only those students to study it at degree level and beyond who either demonstrate a high degree of motivation for learning this language for personal use, or require mastery of English for the profession they are preparing for such as teaching English, working for the news media, working in the tourism industry, becoming a specialist professional who has to interact constantly with non-native speakers of Bangla, working in the foreign services of Bangladesh, working on international assignments and with agencies, and so on? Instead, why do we not teach English for Specific Purposes (ESP) to meet individual students’ needs? However, until the national education policy makers or the educational institutions and authorities in the country address this serious problem, it will be up to individuals to find ways to improve their spoken English. That is not a very easy task at all although I believe that that task of teaching speaking can be accomplished in schools alone. Quite often people, who need to demonstrate that they have reached a certain level in English for real communication purposes, take a three month or longer course in English run by international organizations including the ubiquitous British Council and some English teaching centres run by local education businessmen. These organizations can teach English speaking and listening skills to some extent in three to six months what Bangladesh formal education system failed to do in 12/14 years or more. How can the English language centres do in six months which our education system fails to do in 12 or 14 years? Instead of going to discuss further the pros and cons of teaching English in Bangladesh or the responsibilities of the curriculum planners, different educational institutions and English teachers of Bangladesh, I would like to share my experiences in learning English which may help younger learners of English in Bangladesh although I do not claim this to be the best technique. It is simply one that I used and was benefited. When I was a university student in BUET from 62 to 66, my friends and I used to watch English movies in Gulistan, Naz, and Balaka cinema halls which all were near to our university dorms. Sometimes we went to distant halls like Madhumita, Azad, Rupmahal, when they were screening a famous English movie. Additionally, when the BTV started transmission in Dhaka in the early 60s, we had opportunities to watch plenty of good English serials like Dr Kildare, Dr Who, Denis the Menace, Walt Disney movies and cartoons. We picked words, phrases, chunks of sentences, and sentences from the actors and imitated in our real life. That was how my friends and I were confidently fluent speakers of English and all of us in that circle worked and settled in the English speaking countries. Leaving aside my engineering, I studied English language at an Australian university out of my interest. When I was in Bangladesh, I wanted to teach some students to make them able to speak English. I used the technique ‘watch and practise’ technique in training sessions in Ghorasal in Palash upazilla, Narsingdi. During my stay there I had the opportunity of teaching English to about 50 senior students and English teachers of Janata Jute Mills Bidyapith. I came to know that some of them could speak good Hindi. How did they learn even though it was not a part of their curriculum? ‘By watching Indian Hindi films’ they said. On the very first meeting, I told the participants that I was not a magician and had no Aladdin’s lamp with me. I could not teach them what they could not learn in 12 to 14 years of their student life. I would spend the two hours each evening with them chatting, singing, and discussing with them anything and everything, all in English, as if we were living in an English Speaking country where people did not speak or understand any other language. I also told them that everyone coming to these sessions had to be an active participant. They could not just sit through the two hours and listen to me and others. Everyone would have to do what I asked them to do. I encouraged them to watch English films on the television. I told them that they did not have to speak grammatically correct English and could use their hands and other parts of their bodies to get their messages across. As expected, it took people time to get used to first answering in English and then speaking English on their own before others. When a person’s turn came to give a mini-speech they were not allowed to go back to their seats until they had uttered at least one English word! As anticipated, I did not have a hundred percent success rate. One person simply would not open his mouth, and he did not turn up the next day. I asked the participants to watch at least one English film or English program on TV each night and talk about it for 5 to 10 minutes before others the next evening. These sessions turned out to be a lot of fun both for me and the participants. Although the number of participants gradually became smaller, the remaining achieved some English communication skills which I think was good achievement in a period of around two months. So my advice to all students, professionals, and technicians in Bangladesh is to follow this technique if they really want to learn English oral communication skill. Have some fun while learning. See as many good English films as you can and watch English programs on TV. This will help you understand English sounds easily making you confident in speaking gradually as listening is the first skill that brings speaking skill. If you like a particular movie, watch it again and again. You will soon see that you have learned by heart some interesting and favourite dialogues. During your conversations with others in English, unknowingly you will be using many of the new words and phrases that you came across and learned effortlessly while watching English films and programs. How long will our curriculum take to include teaching English oral communication skill which is the first purpose of a language?
(The writer is a freelance applied linguist currently living in Victoria, Australia. He can be reached at email: [email protected])