by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
English is, still, the world’s preferred language. When two strangers from different corners of the world meet, they greet in English, and try to remember all the English phrases they learnt in school so as to converse. No doubt about that. English is here to stay. However, the methods of learning English have undergone a sea change over the years. Gone are the days when grammar rules had to be learned by rote in stuffy classrooms. English learning is much more appealing now, but perhaps not as appealing as it can and should be. English teaching and learning can be fun and effective if we adopt unconventional ways, as seen below.
First, we have to get rid of the idea that English can only be learnt from a text. Why don’t the students of English have pen pals from other countries? For example, a student from India learning English can have a pen pal in Kenya, who is also learning English. The two of them can start communicating, first using very simple words and phrases, but as they progress in their learning, more complicated sentences expressing complex ideas. This is fun and effective because a language is learnt best when it is learnt in real life situations, answering a felt need.
Make no mistake. If you are watching an English movie for the first time, it can sound like all Greek and Latin. That is to be expected. However, once you watch regularly, you will automatically pick up words and phrases, and soon, be able to understand entire movies word to word. The advantage of learning English from movies and other visual media is that the visuals are there to help you decipher the meaning. Disney movies are a great starting point for young learners, since they are meant for younger audiences and the themes are appealing to them.
Music buffs especially will jump at learning English by listening to English songs. There are very popular albums by very popular artists that are ideal for the music lover, from whichever country he or she is. In fact, learning English by listening to English songs may be the cheapest, most viable and fun way to do it. Most English song lyrics consist of simple words strung together, but with the music added, they are just top notch entertainment and a great way to learn the language. Who wouldn’t want to tap their feet and sing to a hit from Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift? Needless to say, learning English through music will be a hit with adolescent students.
English teaching and learning will be so much more fun and effective if students of English act in English plays as part of their curriculum! Does this idea sound outrageous? It does not have to. Anything learnt in fun and creative ways will stay with the learner forever. Plays for acting by beginner English students can be very simple: they can be adaptations of famous short stories such as Aesop’s fables. It does not take much effort from an English teacher to adapt a world-famous fable such as the ‘boy who cried wolf’ or ‘lion and the mouse’ into a play. As the students progress in their learning, they may reach a stage where they can stage even Shakespeare!
In a perfect world, play and work will be synonymous. In a perfect world for students, games will teach English. Games such as Charades, Pictionary, Board Race and Hangman are traditional games into which English language learning can be incorporated. There are also well-known board games such as Scrabble that is competitive and educational at the same time. Learning English through playing games is most effective with young kids, but even adults can enjoy a game of Scrabble.
Since social media is an integral part of modern life, why not make the best use of it? For example, a group of English learners can create a group on Facebook with their teacher, and post their small poems or stories, even one-liners. As people see their work and appreciate, they will be motivated to do more. Who does not like to get ‘likes’ for their Facebook posts? This is a small example of how social media can be used for a good purpose. Another idea is to post short, learner generated quizzes on WhatsApp chat groups for everybody to answer. These are fun ways indeed to learn English.