Thedynamic communicative landscape of contemporary times presents challenges to Englishlanguage teachers and students. In India, as elsewhere, increased mobility,migration, and social reformation, combined with developments in technology andonline communication, have brought in significant changes in English languageuse and practices. The young-adult learners are by far the most receptive toand also most affected by such changes, with potential implications for Englishlanguage teaching. The needs of Communication skills in English for 18–24 yearolds in the present context of increasing English language use, emergent forms ofEnglish, and ubiquitous use of new technologies for communication are to betaken serious cognizance, in order to hone their professional competencies tosuit the global standards and their local lived realities.
The young-adultstudents and their teachers share generally similar attitudes towards Englishrecognising the need for English language proficiency for employment and study.They emphasise the importance of English in online communication – perhaps themost notable use of English in young adults’ current non-academic and personallives – while also noting evident differences between ‘classroom English’ and’online’ or social English. Young adults and their teachers especially in urbanparts of India identify a tension between learning English for real-life use,and teaching/learning English to pass a test in order to take up further studyor for future employment. Hence this paper is a sweeping analysis of the contemporaryneeds and priorities of Indian young adults living in urban pockets of India inthe acquisition of English communicative language from the perceptions of studentsand English language teachers. Introduction The wide ranging changes in the contemporary communicative landscapeof urban India present challenges to ELT professionals and students alike. Dueto increased mobility, migration and societal transformations, combined withexpansion in the use and capabilities of electronic communication, there havebeen radical changes in English language use and practices, making ELTapproaches and materials date quickly.
As a consequence, a generation gap may develop,in which the practices of teachers, testers and curriculum designers no longermatch the needs and wants of students – especially young-adult learners, whoare inevitably most receptive to change. This demographic group is most likelyto move into new communicative environments, speak new forms and varieties ofEnglish, engage in multiple language use and make heaviest use of newtechnologies and the new forms of communication they enable. Thesepossibilities make it necessary to revisit the ELT practices in India and understandhow teachers and young-adult learners perceive the role of English. EnglishLanguage in India Indiais a multilingual country, with one hundred and twenty two languages spokenacross the length and breadth of its land as per the 2011 census report. Thecolonial encounter and the resultant British rule in India for around twocenturies has left behind the legacy of English language, which is extensivelyspoken today by the majority of Indian population.
The spread of English as aglobal language (Crystal, 2012) and also of the world trade has further madeEnglish learning and teaching a lucrative profession, which has resulted notonly in opening many English medium schools, but also has led to themushrooming of many English language training centers in India. Mostcontemporary accounts of this spread note the links between English andglobalisation (e.g. Graddol, 2006; Pennycook, 2007; Seidlhofer, 2011), acontinuing process in which there is a ‘widening, deepening and speeding up'(Held et al., 1999: 2) of worldwide interconnectedness in the social, cultural,economic and political realms of present-day life. Such interconnectedness isrealised through ‘flows’ and ‘networks’ (ibid.: 16) of goods and money, of people(as migrants and tourists) and of information (through online technologies).And implicit in these flows is English, in its role as a global lingua franca, consequentlymaking the language ‘like no other in its current role internationally due tothe extent of its geographical spread, the enormous cultural diversity of itsusers, and for the huge range of domains in which it is deployed’ (Dewey, 2007:333).
In the urban pockets of India, English is used in both formal and institutionaldomains, and also in social and informal realms of communication today. Accordingto Graham Hall and Guy Cook, English fulfils four broad purposes for its users:· innovative,e.g.
creative English language use in advertising, but also in popular music,films and games, and online blogs and chat, or messaging· interpersonal,e.g. travelling, socialising; using English might also be seen as prestigious, apparentlydemonstrating educational achievement· instrumental,e.g. in the development of an English medium education to attract students fromall sections of society · Institutional(or administrative), e.g. as an unacknowledged official language of thegovernment, and as the default language in inter-governmental, private andthird-sector meetings. Thesepurposes make English use in India entails more than face-to-face contact andinvolve mass communication and media.
Indeed, the extent to which English isspoken (and written) in public, professional and private lives prompts to askwhether English is ‘no longer a foreign language in India’. However, it ishoped that the learning and use of English should be an ‘additive’ process,’one which increases the competence of individuals and the society’ in amultilingual world, rather than ‘subtractive’, whereby English ‘threatens’other languages or hinders multilingualism. Given the statistics, India nowclaims to be the world’s second-largest English-speaking country. The mostreliable estimate is around 10% of its population or 125 million people, secondonly to the US especially because English is now, more than ever, an essentialpassport to white-collar jobs. The dwindling numbers of vernacular mediumschools and the rapid growth of English medium schools indicate clearly that English is oneof the most useful languages for the future of the citizens. It is the languagepeople ‘need’, and is seen as the ‘language of opportunity.’ The Supreme Courtdecisions in several states including Karnataka State regarding the medium ofinstruction in schools did not favour mother tongue against English, which gavethe necessary boost to the unhindered learning of English language.
ELT in the Contemporary Indian Context: issuesand dilemmas Thetrends outlined above, of globalisation, widespread English language use in theurban India, and the increasing recognition that English is almost become themost commonly used language as the lingua franca across the states. Here,English as a lingua franca (ELF) can be defined as ‘any use of English amongspeakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicativemedium of choice, and often the only option (Seidlhofer, 2011: 7). ELFcommunication facilitates successful communication while accommodating languagevariation and the manifestation of speakers’ linguistic and cultural identities.
The necessity of communicating through technology, especially via internetacross the boundaries of countries has mandated the goal of ELT to becross-cultural communicative competence and that learners are no longerlearning English primarily to speak with native speakers. Yet while there is anunderstanding that English is now ‘a heterogeneous entity’, few practitionershave as yet been able to devise methods and curricula that can act as a basisfor teaching with such an understanding as a guiding principle. There is a lackof consensus as to how English should be taught and learnt, and certainly lessagreement over which educational norm is best suited to represent English inthe new era. (Modiano, 2009: 59). Meanwhile,as part of the India’s multilingual strategy, and with particular relevance todebates surrounding the teaching and learning of English, attempts need to bemade to form a common basis for thedevelopment of language syllabuses, assessment and materials by outlining theskills and knowledge learners need in order to able to ‘act effectively’ on a’life-long basis’.
As Leung (2013) points out, it is difficult for a singleframework to accommodate the psychological and pedagogical challenges posed bythe spread of English in the early 21st century as well as the accompanyingchanges to the language. More over questions about the relationship betweenclassroom practices and the young-adult students’ perceptions of Englishlanguage needs and priorities in the changing context of language use also needto be considered. The extent to which the ELT classroom should be amultilingual speech community (Blyth, 1995; Edstrom, 2006) that might replicatethe way English language learners use English and other languages beyond theclassroom also must considered.
What might this mean for English languagesyllabi, materials and classroom pedagogy, including the accommodation of newforms of English and the use of learners’ own language(s) in class? And whatmight the consequences of increasingly rapid change beyond the ELT classroom befor ELT practitioners and other stakeholders? Hencethere is a gap, possibly generational, may have developed in which the practicesof teachers, testers and curriculum designers no longer matches the needs andwants of students – especially young-adult learners, who make the heaviest use of new technologies andthe new forms of communication they enable. Our Traditional Texts and Contexts VS Language Needs ofYoung Adults: The most commonly practiced ways ofteaching English across the universities in different states of India, iswithin the framework of certain texts devised in teaching a random selection ofcertain literary pieces and certain grammar topics. Those who favour trainingstudents in the functional aspects of English language rather than a literaryflair have at the most included certain practice exercises on situationalcontexts directed towards inculcating spoken skills. Almost everywhereknowledge of Phonetics of English language is introduced as essential practicein the pronunciation and intonation of English. The British RP is the ultimatestandard that is aimed at, but the whole exercise ends up in varied ‘englishes’across different states in India, because of the regional and mother tonguebearings on their English. This handicap is further complicated with differentvarieties of English that are spoken across different nations in the world,like American English, Canadian English, Australian English etc with their owntypical versions. This diverse set of englishes makes the whole notion offixing ‘the English’ as a standard to be attained very complicated.
Also, the whole exercise ofcontextualizing English to suit Indian situations itself ends up in artificiality.For instance, instead of examples like John, Jack, Mary going to market to buyHot cross buns or a fat hog, which would be completely unrelatable to thechildren in India, the examples of Rama, Sita going to forest is equally out ofcontext today. The examples of Om,Aaryan, Sadik going to a shopping mall and eating pizza would again not suitthe English classes in rural pockets of India and we cannot think of Hanuma,Savitri, Girija buying vegetables and transacting with the sabji mandi wallahsin English.
They do not get frightened of spiders like Miss Muffet. So theframework of the English texts and contexts is fraught with multiple problemsto begin with. Along with nativising this foreignness, the additionalcomplication of foreignising the Indian English is the pressing problem oftoday. The urban located young adults who have the world at their fingertipstoday need to be trained in a different lingo of English language to make themget along confidently and comfortably with the fast evolving global populace.The very process of merging not just the rural-urban language divide, but alsothe local global hiatus is equally to be catered to urgently. Digital Classrooms: a recourse With the tsunami of technologicalrevolution which is bringing in floods of changes in all fields of ourexistence, the very methodology of classroom set up and the dynamics ofteaching have undergone a paradigm shift.
Teaching language does not require to takeplace within the four walls of the classroom any longer, for today’s classroomsare not walled, they are spaces where the learners apart from gaining theinstruction from teachers also have an access to the huge world outside. The audio-visualmulti- media material available at their finger tips through the internet canhelp overcome the hitches of teaching English to suit the different needs ofmultifarious students. In fact, the English syllabi need not be restricted, butcan be broken up into skeletal modules, which can be customized and tailored tothe urgent requirements of the students. This requires the English languageteachers to don a different kind of role, attitude and wield a different set oftechniques and strategies of training in English. The teachers should educate thestudents to be digitally proactive so they can take control of their ownlearning. They should teach them English and educate them in how to learnEnglish for themselves and apply it to their lives. For instance, in rural andsemi-urban contexts in which students have few opportunities for communicationin English outside the classroom, whether face-to-face or online, the teacherscan facilitate the students in gettingmore practice on communicative and spoken varieties of English.
The internetcan be worked to get many drill exercises for the students than in class.However, in those contexts where young adults from metropolitan cities who oftencommunicate in English outside class online or otherwise and hence may be more familiar with emergent andnon-standard aspects of the language, the classroom time may be expended by theteachers in providing more formal language instruction in areas whereyoung-adult students are less competent than their teachers, to reduce attemptsto reproduce contemporary, informal communication in materials and activitiesand instead to draw on students’ own knowledge of these aspects of Englishlanguage use. Conclusion: The digital ELT classroom can thusbe made into a two-way exchange in which students and teachers can bringtogether complementary sources of English language knowledge. The young adultswho are tech savvy and are caught in the inevitability of using technologicalinterface for all their communication can hence be taught English through thesame medium. The challenges of harnessing the so called digressiveparaphernalia which are pulling the young adults away from serious languagestudy should be accepted by the present language teachers. The way out would bemould the means of entertainment into tools of language education, makelearning edutainment.
References:Carr, Nicholas. (2010). The Shallows: How the internet is changing the waywe think, read and remember. London: Atlantic Books.Webliography:http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20500312 accessed on 2/10/2017https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/F003%20ELTRA%20Hall%20Cook_FINAL_V2_web.pdf accessed on 5/10/2017