No Mahabharata, no news and no books this time.
You know I was an English trainer, don’t you?
Worked with inlingua for 2 years during my Masters as an ESL / EFL instructor (stands for English as a Second/Foreign Language). Twas super! Not only coz I’m smitten by the language, but coz I’m besotted with teaching as well!
I was initially a tad apprehensive as to whether my raging temper could cope with imparting knowledge and skills to a bunch of students. Especially those brats who think they know it all, or those that do not make a pennyworth effort. However, I think I did pretty well, counting by the number of students who made exceptional progress at the end of my instruction, or those that returned asking for “Anuja Ma’am” to tutor their subsequent batch. Gigantic ego-booster!
I taught formally for only 24 months, but I have been guiding people in the language for as long as I can remember. Be it my classmates asking for help with their essays, or my colleagues asking for some tips to speak better, or parents and relatives desirous of improving their conversation skills. Can’t say I’ve always enjoyed it; there used to be times when I got bugged for being approached at odd times to troubleshoot and coach. But well, all in all, I loved the adulation and admiration. (I’m a Leo, what else shall I say?!!)
I met some wonderful people at inlingua... Including a 60-something gentleman who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that the institute targeted spoken skills rather than writing/spelling/grammar issues, a 10-odd year old girl who was mentally retarded, and several folks in between who each touched my life in varied ways.
There were quite a few similarities among the batches, despite the level and strength. One of them obviously was the student concerns and problem areas; most students found pronunciation and word order a challenge. For example, “Why you are doing this?” instead of “Why are you doing this?” Plus the accents – Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, South Indian, Bihari. We shared quite a few laughs thanks to each student’s unique mannerisms. Miss those days!
This post comes as a response to the many times I’ve heard people say that they have trouble thinking in the language. Their usual process is:
1. Listen to a particular tongue
2. Translate it into their mother-tongue (which is often the language they think in)
3. Think of an appropriate response in the same tongue
4. Translate it back into the language that is being used at the moment.
Quite tedious, eh? You got my empathy, fellas. More so coz I’ve never had this difficulty. My mother-tongue is Hindi, but I read English voraciously during childhood and conversed with schoolmates in Marathi. So, I can say I’m tri-lingual that way. (Poly-lingual actually, coz I know Marwari, a little Punjabi, Bengali, and German as well.)
Struggled with German in high school, though, as everything has a gender (der mann, die frau, das kind... Ahem, was that correct?!!) This is further complicated by the Dativ case (the dems, dies, ders drove me crazy!) Whew! Sooo glad to have said goodbye to the language.
As a matter of fact, I’m aware French is far tougher. Let’s see when I can realize my teenage dream of learning Spanish (te amor con toda mi alma... te quiro... hola matador! Vocab over.) Also want to learn the Salsa, but na partner hai na time... Desires galore!
Back to English. Look, the best way to learn any language is to speak with someone who knows it reasonably well. All those Rapidex-es and other language books will NOT help. For the simple reason that you do not speak the language as you read/write it. (When was the last time you said “My name is (XYZ) and my occupation is (driving)”? Bet you say “I’m (XYZ) and I’m a (driver)”... Yeah?!!) And another thing to remember is, it is OK to make mistakes, as long as you know you’re working hard to learn and retain.
Translation is a BAD idea. (Seen Instant Khichdi on Star One? How Hansa ben says “Hello! How are?” which is a direct translation of “Namaste, kaise ho?”) Each language has its own rules and intricacies. Especially sentence construction and prepositions (the Hindi “pe” can be the English “on”, “above”, “over”, “at”... all at once!)
Most students I saw also goofed up with tenses, especially the past. Very understandable, as verbs that all end in “–d” are still pronounced differently. For example, “walked” is pronounced “waw-kt”. Irregular verbs and perfect tense have their own twist as run becomes ran and hang becomes hung. It’s a zany language, indeed! (Yeah, I know the vocabulary is terrific, but don’t fret! Of the millions of words in the language, we barely use a few hundred on a daily basis.)
I could go on and on, but I guess I should call it a day with a few recommendations for you and a confession myself.
The recommendations first:
1. Read a lot of books/magazines, and keep a dictionary handy. This will improve your vocab like nothing else can. It may seem tiresome at first, but soon, you’ll enjoy the process. Please do NOT memorize the dictionary, though you may scan a few pages while looking up something new.
2. Watch BBC and Discovery and other authentic English channels. (Star Movies and HBO are good, too, but that might have a lot of American slang.)
3. Speak a lot. You’ll make mistakes, so ask a person more proficient than you to correct you when you go wrong. Keep revising and practicing, as language is a skill after all, and can be forgotten when not used.
4. Surf English sites online. There’s a world of info out there on English language teaching and learning. Lots of games, exercises and useful hints. All for free!
Well, that’s good for starters. Now for the confession. This might unsettle you, and you may scoff at me when I say I feel my English could do with some improvement. I’ve seen folks who speak so incredibly well, I consider myself an amateur in front of them. The speed of thought and response, the intonation, the aptness of the terms and phrases. Man... I envy those guys! Wish I could speak like them...
And here’s a note for you all – Even the best of speakers make errors at times. Just because a person can handle situations and get through them with a language does not mean he/she is good. However, not all mistakes are easily noticed. So, be confident and speak away!