Tag Archives: Standard written English

English in India: a strange alliance.

English in India

Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an excellent documentary on the privileged status of the English language in India (1).

Unlike China, India has no single homegrown national language of government. Hindi, the official unifying national tongue, is an artificial 20th century construct and remains largely unspoken.

Consequently, English has retained a powerful position in the civil service, upper judiciary, academia, national media and corporate business.

Love/Hate Relationship

The presenter, Zareer Masani, described how India, which claims the world’s second largest English-speaking population (after the USA), has a true love/hate relationship with the language of the British Empire.

While chauvinists and Nationalists have tried to ban its use, dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) have united with privileged elites to adopt English as the language of a new meritocratic India. Enrolment at vernacular national schools has declined, while private English language schools thrive.

A Strange Alliance

The increasing popularity of private English-medium schools shows a coming together of two quite different social groups, and mirrors changes taking place in the Indian economy. Now, the elite and the dispossessed are using them as a means to empower their children.

For rich and poor alike, the acquisition of good English is an important issue. It is the passport to white collar jobs, and the lack of it will hold their children back in their chosen careers.

But, the results are mixed. Predictably, the English spoken by those attending the best schools is excellent and almost indistinguishable from that of educated native speakers. However, at the Anglican schools favoured by the aspiring poor, Hindi is mixed with English to produce Hinglish a hybrid unintelligible to you and me.

Dreadful or Different

Of course, the claim of 125 million English-speakers in India is a distortion of the facts. So many speak Hinglish that a truer figure might be a fraction of that number, making India an also-ran in the English-speaking stakes.

Or does it? If we think of our huddled masses in Glasgow, Liverpool or Newcastle, perhaps we shouldn’t be too sniffy about those who speak different forms of English.  After all, who amongst us speaks perfect English? I’m not even sure if I  know what it is!

Raising the Standard

The truth is, of course, that you get what you pay for.

No matter where you are, if you want your child to have a good education, you make sure that they have highly-educated, professional teachers, who love teaching and are passionate about their pupils’ progress. And, for this to have any real impact, you must choose a school with small class sizes.

Great teachers and small classes cost money, so it is no surprise that the privileged elites opt for the excellence that comes from 1-to-1 classes with professional teachers, so that they get the greatest benefit.

Of course, this is what we offer at HELLO English. We are extremely well-qualified, professional English teachers and our reasonable rates and high success rates mean that it won’t cost you the Taj Mahal, either.
(1) Masani Z; ‘English or Hinglish – Which will India Choose?”; BBC Radio 4; 27/11/12 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20500312)

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What Price Professional English?

What Price Professional English?

Check out this business and professional English blog!

In Defence of Grammar Teaching

I recently saw this blog post. It is written by a newly graduated English teacher. Anyone who teaches English, or languages in general, would do well to have a look.

Teaching grammar doesn’t stifle creativity.

Katherine Brandt 1st July 2011

ImageAlthough the rules of the English language are constantly changing and transforming, teaching grammar has great value in the school system because it gives students the background that they need to understand their language and use it effectively both in and out of the academic world.

By teaching grammar, educators provide students with the building blocks of language. When students understand each of the building blocks behind their language, they have a greater ability to communicate not only in their native tongue but also in other languages which employ similar building blocks, albeit in a different order.

Grammar is an important tool because people who do not understand it have difficulty communicating well, and as a result their ideas are often overlooked. Consider children who have yet to learn how to speak well or foreigners who misunderstand how to use prepositions or adjectives. For example, a Spanish-speaker learning English might say, “The sock red has a hole small.” Though people may understand sentences like this one, they might also need to make a conscious effort to achieve understanding.

Although the idea of the foreigner is an exaggerated example, students who understand the idiosyncrasies of English grammar will, in a much more subtle way, be able to control the voice, meaning, and level of formality with which they write. As a result, they will be able to write for an educated audience without the embarrassment of making obvious mistakes.

I have been able to see grammar’s importance in my own education. When I was a child, I attended a private elementary school where we were constantly drilled in grammar. We diagrammed sentences, learned parts of speech, and revised incorrect sentences time and again to master the language.

When I was twelve, my family moved, and I went to a public junior high school where the teaching of grammar was considered unimportant and indeed somewhat damaging to a child’s voice. Nevertheless, in my first month of class, my English teacher checked for students’ basic understanding of grammar. To my shock and dismay, I was the only person in the class who could recognize verbs and complete sentences. My peers consistently struggled with their essays because they had never been taught how to construct a complete idea within a sentence. They had been to school for seven years and could not write a simple sentence. I wondered what they had learned in all that time.

Imagine reading entire papers composed of fragments such as “When I went to the store.” These papers might convey meaning but certainly not in the way that the students intend – with clarity. From the time I entered the public school system, I was at the top of my class in English simply because I had been taught how to put words together correctly. As a result, my teachers could understand and respond to the ideas that I expressed in my papers. All children need to obtain at least a basic understanding of grammar in order to communicate effectively and meaningfully in the educated world.

Knowing grammar also gives students another advantage when it comes to learning foreign languages. When I first started taking Spanish, I had greater understanding simply because I knew some grammar. My teacher, in vain, explained how Spanish speakers position nouns and adjectives differently from English speakers; most of the students did not even know how to differentiate a noun from an adjective. On the other hand, I easily understood what she was explaining because I had been taught to identify parts of speech and their function within a sentence. The other students struggled and guessed their way through the course because every unit presented new parts of speech. Indefinite and definite articles, participles, and verbs were among the difficult concepts that they had not even learned in their native tongue.

I pity my peers who came from a system of those who have written off grammar as unimportant. I have heard these educators say that the study of grammar “stills the creative voice.” My personal experience has shown the contrary. Grammar has been my key to creativity because, with my basic knowledge of the language, I know how to coherently express my ideas so that others can appreciate them. I also know the building blocks to learning other languages which will only expand my creativity and not inhibit it.

It is time for educators to take a stand and teach children to use grammar well so that they may be able to participate both creatively and formally in the educated world. Even as we would not cripple architects by taking away the resources that they need to build beautiful buildings, so we should not cripple our young writers by refusing them grammatical knowledge. From a strong foundation in grammatical understanding will come better, stronger writers who will know how to use the tools educators give them to create beautiful and original writing.

What do I need to do to pass IELTS at Band 7?

Good IELTS* scores are needed for registration in many professions. In addition, similar proof of English proficiency is becoming a pre-requisite for post-graduate and even undergraduate courses at university in the United Kingdom.

So, how do you achieve Band 7 or above in the four elements of IELTS?

1. Be Realistic

The level of English that a score such as this represents is very high. To achieve marks in Speaking, Listening, Writing and Reading at this standard is no mean feat, and you should not expect to achieve this without a considerable amount of studying.

If you are starting as a Lower Intermediate Learner, and aiming for Band 7,  you should allow for 6-12 months tuition. This does not have to be full-time, but should be at least 3 hours per week: ideally as two 90 minute lessons.

2. Control the Variables

Exams can be stressful, so it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the testing centre and the requirements of the test,  considering all aspects of the tasks involved. This is just common sense. If you can control the variable elements in a stressful situation, you will reduce the risk of confusion when it comes to the exam.

3. Consume More English

No-one is going to seriously improve their English if they do not listen, read, write and speak in English regularly. It is no good just coming to lessons once a week. You should also be listening to BBC Radio 4, reading books and newspapers, writing and interpreting information from a range of sources in English. If you are not prepared to do that, you will be spending a lot of money on exam re-takes!

4. Use BE not IE!

Some students say ‘I speak International English, not British English.’ Fine: but there are no exams in ‘International English’. IELTS is an exam which, in this country, tests skills in British Standard English. If you want to pass IELTS, you will have to learn to use English the way we do over here. Sorry, but there it is.

5. Think Academic

IELTS has two modes: the basic and the academic. Levels 5 and upwards are only awarded for the Academic form of the exam. If you want to gain Band 6 or 7 scores, you will need to be able to think and write in good academic English. Although this may sound like a a contradiction in terms, it is not. Clear, crisp written English will be of tremendous importance to your academic career. This is a skill which you will learn through practice with a good English academic.

6. Get a Good Teacher!

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? At HELLO English, we are very experienced at helping students pass the IELTS exams so that they can fulfil their dreams and ambitions. We offer IELTS classes to undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as pre-registration medics, nurses, lawyers and other professionals.

Could we help you to gain high scores in the IELTS exam? With hard work from both of us, I am sure we could. Why not contact us to find out more?

* The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is rapidly becoming the default requirement for proof of English skills in the professional and academic world.

Getting it Write.

Getting it Write: Six tips for better English essays

No matter what level of student you are – from beginner through to doctoral candidate – there will come a time when you have to sit down and write. No more scruffy note-taking and no more background reading: the time is now and your seat is waiting at the desk.

So, what is it that stops you from starting? Why do you dither, prevaricate, procrastinate?

Could it be that you make mistakes that others see when you can’t? How do you feel about English grammar? Does writing give you the jitters, collywobbles and screaming abdabs?

Well, here are six simple tips for how to control your fears, reduce uncertainty and get better marks in English written tasks.

Did I mention the evil word ‘grammar’? It is guaranteed to strike fear into the students across the continents. My EFL students assume (wrongly) that they are the only ones who need to be concerned about grammar. Everyone should be. Without it, meaning runs amok.

We need grammar, punctuation and syntax (word order to you and me), to make those funny squiggly things sit in the right sequence and mean what we want them to mean. For that is what it is all about, in the end: controlling meaning. If you don’t master meaning it will govern you … and ruin your writing.

So my six simple tips will put you in control. Believe me, they correct the mistakes that most irritate examiners, so they are really worth knowing.

  1. Spell it Write
    No Good at Spelling? Tough. There is no excuse. You MUST spell correctly.
    Lots of English people are absolutely dreadful at spelling and refuse to improve their language skills because it is ‘too much effort’. They should see how hard my EFL students work.
    You can beef up your spelling by working at it, too. Use cue cards and vocabulary-builder exercises. Memorise pronunciation and spelling patterns. Get friends to give you spelling tests or dictation exercises.
    Hard work pays off with spelling. (Spellchecker on the computer doesn’t.)
    Read more, read differently, and look up words you don’t know. You will expand your vocabulary, increase your spelling accuracy and learn a host of useful new words.
  2. Join the Dots
    Learn the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the dots: the simple rules of punctuation.
    Capitals start a sentence and proper nouns. Full stops end a sentence or abbreviations. Use a question mark after a question and an exclamation mark after something really exciting, shocking or unusual. Commas break up the parts of a sentence, or separate examples or items on a list. Apostrophes show omission or possession: don’t use them for simple plurals.
    If you can follow these simple rules, you will avoid the main mistakes of punctuation, make your teacher more optimistic and examiners better disposed to give you good marks.
  3. To ing or not to ing
    A frequent mistake in student writing is the use of a gerund (walking) instead of an infinitive (to walk). For example, ‘I want walking’ rather than ‘I want to walk’.
    The rule is that we use the infinitive after emotional verbs (I was happy to help) and adjectives (It is too cold to swim), and the gerund for the subject of the sentence (Swimming is good exercise) or after a preposition (without saying a word).
    You’ll need to check your grammar book, but it is worth sorting this out now.
  4. Right that Article
    If I had a Zimbabwean penny for each time I have had to correct errors with the use of articles (or ‘adjectival articles’ as some call them), I would be able to retire comfortably on the proceeds. You need to remember that there are four uses of article: Definite (the), indefinite (a/an) and the zero article, where no article is used. Learning how and when to use each of these forms is key to writing well in English.
  5. Repetition
    This is really a matter of style and vocabulary. There are upwards of 600,000 words in English, so it is considered bad manners to keep on repeating the same word, whether in writing or conversation. With so many words to choose from, there will be a variety of nouns and pronouns you can use to avoid repetition.
  6. Are You In Tense?
    The last of our keys to quality in written English is maintaining consistency in the person and tense you use. It is too easy to slip-slide around in time and number: starting your writing as I/me in the simple past tense, but then talking about he/him, in the present continuous. You must stay in the same person and tense.
    If you are unsure of moving forward and backwards in your writing, stick with one tense per sentence and use simple grammatical constructions. Once you are more confident with working solely in the simple past, say, move on to using other tenses separately. Only when you can do that properly should you start combining tenses in more sophisticated sentence structures.

Of course, this is just a glimpse of what to watch out for in your own or your students’ writing. For a fuller picture, and for a thoroughly expert grounding in English, you should come to HELLO English – our independent language school based in Moseley, in the English Midlands.

At HELLO English (www.hello-english.com), we have classes and worksheets aplenty on all these failings. Among the range of courses we offer, we can help you with your academic writing and written English, and you can choose from our General English (GEC), Pre University Package (PUP) or various A-level, Cambridge and IELTS programmes.

Why not contact us today for more information?