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International Journal of English and Literature (IJEL) ISSN 2249-6912 Vol.2, Issue 2 June 2012 13-18 © TJPRC Pvt. Ltd.,

2249-6912 Vol.2, Issue 2 June 2012 13-18 © TJPRC Pvt. Ltd., ELT: A REFLECTION ON THE



Department of English, Loyola College, Chennai , India


This paper addresses the challenges and problems faced by Indian learners of English. The discussion emphasizes a few major issues such as: a) interference of the mother tongue b) the present objectives of instruction which have excluded creative comprehension and communicating with originality from listening, reading, writing and speaking. c) excessive obsession on the part of English language teachers to incorporate ‘technology’ in teaching that has made language learning a mechanical procedure. d) the curriculum content in most institutions which focuses on the inadequacies of the students and not on their efforts: due to which the acquisition of skills and information by the learner is left without being contextualized. e) inability of tertiary level students to achieve proficiency in the area of language learning because of their grammatical incompetence. This paper also focuses on the fact that English is being taught only as a ‘library language, and discusses how efforts to improve the communicative competence has taken a backseat. f) heterogeneous learners or learners belonging to multicultural societies being exposed to a curriculum which is based on the objective of ‘one-size fits all’ instruction which often proves ineffective. A few suggestions are also discussed so that English language teachers can help students overcome these hurdles in their language learning process.



Personality Development.


Indian learners,






Though English is a non-native language, its richness and vitality has nurtured its immense growth in a plurilingual milieu. Today, the penetration of English in a variety of domains has begun to sink roots in the Indian soil, so much so, that we have a vibrant tradition of creative writing in Indian English. With the growth of literacy, urbanity and technological advancement, the scope and intensity of communication in English is getting radically transformed. Today, the urban milieu provides more opportunities than before for Indians to interact among themselves through a smattering of English or by shifting from a regional language to English and vice versa. However, the problems that Indian learners face are that their level of competence in English remains at the rudimentary level and they find attaining proficiency in English to be an overwhelming and formidable task. Therefore, I have discussed in the sections that follow the various challenges that Indian learners face while acquiring competence in the English language and a few suggestions that can help resolve these problems and thus facilitate better learning.



Lourdes Joavani. J

a.) The most common problem that language learners face is interference of the regional language or mother tongue. Wilkins observes:

"When learning a foreign language an individual already knows his mother tongue, and it is this which he attempts to transfer. The transfer may prove to be justified because the structure of the two languages is similar - in that case we get 'positive transfer' or 'facilitation' - or it may prove unjustified because the structure of the two languages are different - in that case we get 'negative transfer' - or 'interference'” (Wilkins, 1977: 199). As far as Indian learners are concerned there is mother tongue interference in the areas of syntax, grammar, lexis and pronunciation. One of the main reasons for this ‘interference’ is limited exposure to the target language. Opportunities to use English in both the productive and receptive areas of the language are limited. Moreover, the learner is not aware that the ingrained habits of his mother tongue are seriously interfering with his language learning. Very often, the errors are transmitted through the teachers of the language themselves and the problem is perpetuated.

I shall now go on to make a few pedagogical suggestions in order to reduce the number of errors committed by our students in their written English, in particular, and spoken English too. 1. Teachers must frequently remind their students that when they speak or write in English they must think in the target language so that they do not bring in any feature of their mother tongue. 2. The teacher should explain why certain constructions are grammatically inappropriate. It would be ideal if the teacher has a very good command of the target language as well as a working knowledge of the regional language of his students. 3. Almost all the teachers of English in India are non-native speakers. It is not our first language and so there is a likelihood of us going wrong in some aspects of the English language.(especially pronunciation).

In order to upgrade ourselves professionally as good models of the language we teach, it is essential to imbibe the value of correct pronunciation. Students normally emulate the way we speak or write English. Not only do students need more exposure to the language, we teachers too need to be well read and proficient. We need to keep ourselves abreast of current issues and changes by reading books and journals related to our profession. As language teachers we must remember that the English language evolves along with its speakers and therefore we should not adhere to orthodox methodologies that are obsolete. We must be more flexible and employ an eclectic approach in language teaching. We ought to discuss with our students how to identify their errors and what the possible causes are. This would bring about a greater understanding of the pedagogical and psychological factors that contribute to linguistic errors.

b.)Another important problem that Indian learners face is due to the confusion about instructional objectives among English language teachers. Different levels of attainment are expected in any of the four skills of learning, reading, listening and speaking in English. Very often, listening and reading skills are conveniently neglected. The most important aspect of learning is competence in comprehension. Three levels of competence in comprehension can be distinguished:


Elt: A Reflection on the Challenges Faced by the Indian Learners of English

gathering only information about facts,

developing crucial understanding of the ideas the learner comes across when he listens or reads,

creative understanding of ideas and values and their creative interpretation (Kapoor 1992).

Similarly, three levels of competence are identified in expression of the language:

1. Communicating information in daily conversation and correspondence

2. Communicating the ideas

3. Communicating abstract ideas, concepts and values with originality”(ibid,79).If one notices, in both

the cases language teaching objectives are restricted to only (a) and (b).

So, creative comprehension is excluded from listening and reading and the ability to express oneself with authenticity is excluded from speaking and writing. Most curriculum designers of English language teaching foster derivative thinking which does not inculcate originality and creative expression. It is an appalling situation, when English is used just to be echoed and repeated and when learners are drilled or trained to speak like parrots or robots rather than intelligent human beings.

We, teachers of the English language seem to assume that native speakers of English need perfect and linguistically sound command of the language, whereas Indian learners of English need to know no more than a restricted language that does not tap their creative or cognitive abilities. Therefore, instead of always attributing ‘falling standards in English’ to low-competence learners with inadequate intrinsic motivation or poor teaching practices/situations, it is best to realize that there are conceptual problems in our objectives of English language teaching that need to be seriously reconsidered.

c.) The third issue of concern is the excessive emphasis and reliance on technology in language teaching. The realm of technology–driven instruction is an area which is similar to the great unknown. It is clear that rapid technological development, especially in the field of information technology, offers great potential for language learning. However, the application of technology is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, those who are computer literate and enthusiastic about IT in ELT have a propensity to be fascinated by the technology itself rather than finding appropriate uses for it; on the other hand, a vast majority of ELT teachers are unenthusiastic or nervous about using it. The elite minorities who have the means to procure and employ technology feel a compulsive need to incorporate technology in their ‘teaching methods’, which is manifest in the diffusion of teaching aids. Every new machine or device for language teaching is adopted – C.Ds, language laboratories, television, internet and laptops. This has made language teaching rather commercialized and has made it a lucrative business. This is quite evident from the

profuse mushrooming of Spoken English classes and crash courses on English language learning which is available all across the country. Unfortunately, technology has also caused a great rift between the haves and the have-nots. Therefore, those students who hail from rural backgrounds and who do not have access to institutions that are well-financed are left far behind. “The classical simplicity


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and democracy of learning/ teaching in which the black board, the wooden slate ,the ink-pen, the ink-pot, and a primer or book were all that was needed, is now perhaps irretrievably lost” (K.Kapoor 1992). It is rather certain that technology should not be entirely abandoned. And one cannot deny the fact that technological gadgets do have a proper use. However, the fact that India hosts a huge body of learners from diverse socio-economic background and with limited or no access to technology should always be kept in mind while designing the curriculum.

This excessive dependence on technology also makes language learning a mechanical procedure. Language teaching becomes a ritual and the learner is therefore compelled to participate in meaningless repetitions. This removes the intellectual challenge out of language learning and teaching, both of which are reduced to a mechanical routine and a process in which HOW becomes more important than both WHAT and WHY. It is therefore imperative that every level of teaching helps learners to draw out their latent creativity.

d.) Another issue of pressing concern is the fact that the curriculum content in most institutions focuses on the inadequacies of the students and not on their efforts: due to which the acquisition of skills and information by the learner is left without being contextualized. Very often, the learners are taught the basic skills of writing and speaking without being taught to comprehend and express culturally appropriate natural discourse. There are various problems of creative expression in an adapted language. How does the student express ideas, customs, idioms, values, emotions and other human experiences that have no equivalents in the native English speaking environs? The curriculum does not incorporate these aspects and therefore the student is left in the lurch when there are pragmatically demanding situations. Gambhir (1991) in this connection observes: “…The most important thing for second language learners is to be able to acquire or assimilate rules as to what different structures may mean in different social situations in a given language…”, and again: “…The format of the classroom and teaching materials has to be as far as possible close to natural-sociolinguistic situations that a person is likely to encounter. The classroom should be less of formal academic centre where the teacher is explaining how a language works and students are taking notes; or, a teacher is making students drill key structures of a language. A classroom should emphasize activities which take place in real life communication rather than pattern rehearsal…” Therefore, the emphasis should shift from encouraging learners to memorize paradigms and grammatical rules to helping them interact with people using different registers of language in a variety of situations.

e.) As far as teaching English at the tertiary level is concerned the syllabus is heavily based on content and provides a literary and humanistic perspective. The textbooks prescribed for college students by our universities display an implicit objective of fostering ‘literary sensitivity’ with the assumption that teaching literature will automatically help the acquisition of language skills. This is a paradoxical situation because though our aims of teaching the best of literary thought and theories in English are high and commendable, the achievements of learners are very low. What is the use of teaching the great works of Shakespeare or the imaginative works of Coleridge when our students are unable to speak or even write simple English without grammatical errors? This deplorable situation is due to a lack of unclear


Elt: A Reflection on the Challenges Faced by the Indian Learners of English

objectives in English language teaching at the primary level as a consequence of which the learner becomes the victim. Though, India has had a sound grammatical tradition we have followed the theories of the West and have started perceiving ‘language as a habit’, ‘language as a structure’ and resort to ‘repetitive exposure to language use’ as a remedy for grammatical incompetence. This has lead to an appalling fall in standards. We must acknowledge the fact that grammar is a cognitive and a conceptual system and that it is in fact a primary modeling device for all knowledge and not to teach grammar amounts to not training the mind in forming and processing cognitive and conceptual categories (Kapoor, 1992).Therefore, it is of prime importance to integrate grammar-centered learning, at least at the primary and secondary levels of English language teaching. While teaching grammar, the teacher should keep in mind that the students should be made to develop an awareness of the relationship of grammar to meaning. It should be recognized that “the aim of grammar teaching is involving the learners in an extensive exposure to authentic, meaningful and contextualized language. It presupposes students’ interaction while providing students a chance to familiarize themselves with the language on a sentence level and infer how certain grammatical rules are applied. The underlying principle of such an approach is that grammar does operate at the sentence levels governing syntax, word orders and at large in the discourse in context. It draws focus on the overall meaning of the sentence (D.Gnansambandan 2002).” Thus, it can be understood that an emphasis on comprehension of meaning through adequate competence in grammar will definitely lead to effective expression in the target language.

Moreover, English is very often considered to be ‘the other tongue’ and therefore only taught as a ‘library language’. If one regards this situation with a discerning eye, it is evident that at the outset ‘the other tongue’ teacher teaches only the mechanics of the English Language: whereas the mother tongue teacher introduces the learner to “ i) visual representation of a language system already mastered, which entails recognition, discrimination, reading and reproducing the symbols both in isolation and combination; ii) standard elegant forms of speech or to various forms of speech or to various colloquial standard and non-standard special forms; and iii) different types and styles of writing, which entail understanding notions such as regional and social dialect, style and register, etc.”(Narang, 1992) Though, such a process of intense language teaching at the primary level cannot be attained instantly, it can be applied diligently across many years of language teaching as it progresses till the tertiary level so as to facilitate the learner’s near mother tongue competence in the English language. Thus, the existing situation where English serves as just a ‘library language’ can be transformed into a state where learners achieve commendable communicative competence and proficiency.

f.) The last issue discussed in this paper is the fact that often learners from diverse backgrounds, differing levels of intelligence, linguistic competencies and proficiency in English are all taught the same syllabus. So, language teaching and learning becomes ineffective as the objective of ‘one–size fits all’ instruction is an absurd concept. This concept leaves the mediocre or slow learner lost in the language class and the advanced learner restive. The objective of a language teacher is not merely to make the learner learn the major language skills but to enhance their linguistic skills according to their specific needs. It is imperative to understand that the degree to which any particular learner may wish to


Lourdes Joavani. J

participate or involve himself in a learning situation may vary. He might want only to read for professional reasons, or he might need to know the language for survival purposes in a foreign country. These varying degrees of participation require different skills in language performance.

Therefore, the objectives of language teaching have to be formulated in the light of what we perceive our needs for English to be in a multilingual setting, at the individual level as well. At the individual level, English remains the ‘language of opportunity’ and ‘the language of empowerment’. So, the level of active command to be aimed at should both be adequate for those who wish to pursue higher education in English and for those who terminate their career at the end of the secondary stage.


It is important that we identify the English requirements of various groups of students precisely, and try to provide for each homogenous group the course that is appropriate and relevant to its needs. “We must ensure that English i) functions as a service language for the various categories of learners ii) promotes intellectual and cultural awareness of the contemporary world we live in”(Verma K,Shivendra 1992). In order, to overcome all the challenges discussed above we need to frame clear objectives and introduce changes in our syllabus, methodology of language teaching, materials, including our attitudes to learners and their linguistic problems, and the system of evaluation. Teachers and learners are the greatest resources to any society. Therefore, their needs have to be taken into careful consideration, so that all individuals (teachers and learners) realize their full potential in any appropriate way for the enrichment of their personal lives, the society and also for the sustenance of the growth and vitality of the language they use.


1. Gambhir, V.1991. Language Teaching and Discourse. In O.N.Koul (ed.) Language,Style and Discourse. New Delhi: Bahri Publications.

2. Gnanasambandam.2002.How Grammar Should Not Be Taught. Chaudhary,S.C.(ed.)Teaching English

in Non-Native Contexts. Chennai: Orient Longman.

3. Kapoor,Kapil.1992.Teaching English as ‘Second Language’ in India.In Omkar N.Koul(ed.) English in

India, Theoretical and Applied Issues. New Delhi: Creative Publishers.

4. Wilkins,D.A.1997. Linguistics in Language Teaching. London: Edwin Arnold.