Positioning English for Global Audience

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Positioning English for Global Audience

British English speakers will have to get trained to communicate effectively to international audiences, Rachel Bowden tells Sangeetha Unnithan.

Being able to speak Queen’s English may not be so much of an advantage for global professionals now. Adaptation is the key to effective communication in this age of shrinking boundaries, according to British Council Teaching Centre senior teacher Rachel Bowden.

Ms. Bowden, in the city to take part in a seminar on ‘Bringing grammar to life in the secondary classroom,’ said British English speakers will soon have to attend English classes to learn how to communicate effectively in their mother tongue to an international audience.

“I think British English speakers will also be coming to English classes to prune their pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary in order to properly communicate their ideas,” Ms. Bowden told on the sidelines of the seminar organised jointly by the British Council and A.S. Hornby Educational Trust.

More than 40 English teachers from government schools in South India are participating in the five-day seminar. It is intended to empower teachers to adopt a more ‘communicative approach’ to teaching grammar.

“It is important to study grammar in the abstract sense but it is also very important that people use it and they are exposed to it in a more real sense,” Ms. Bowden said.

Grammar, being complex and dynamic, can take different forms and meanings in different contexts. “The reality of grammar is that it is not something isolated.

Grammar is embedded in every different communication context. The grammar that one uses when spending time with friends is different from what one uses in the office,” she said.

Ms. Bowden, who has been working with British Council for seven years, has over ten years of experience in teaching English as a foreign language. She has worked in Europe, Central America, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and is currently in Nepal where she is managing a teaching centre.

Education is valued very highly in Asia but the extremely formal relationship between teachers and students is often an impediment to effective teaching, she says.

“People here study very hard and parents and students invest a lot of time and money in education. But one-way communication is ineffective. There is a perception that criticising or discussing things with teachers is wrong,” she said.

“The West emphasises on learning as a collaborative process where you have discussions with teachers. I make mistakes all the time and I am fine when it is pointed out. It challenges the idea that I have ultimate knowledge,” she added.

“Grammar teaching in abstract terms should start only at secondary level. At the primary level, children are not ready to talk about grammar. Children at that age can absorb a lot of languages if conveyed using songs, games and activities.

I do not think it is the role of primary teacher to discuss grammar,” Ms. Bowden said. Foreign languages have been enriching English. “These we have ‘Englishes’ and not English, she said.

“I am a big advocate of living languages. I think it is fantastic that language is changing as it reflects how cultures are changing,” Ms. Bowden said. “I am a big follower of Indian English literature. There are so many different cultures in India,” she said.

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