Acquiring Fluency in a Second Language

Dear Learners, Teachers & Parents

DPS Tapi is an English medium school, though for most of us, English is a second language. This means that at home, we usually speak a language other than English. We may know how to speak in English but we speak for the greater part of the day in some other language, not just at home but also in school. Is this true for all of you?

The fact that DPST is an English medium school is coming into direct conflict with the fact that we mostly prefer to speak in some other language in school. Our students are supposed to acquire fluency in speaking English at school. In Surat, school is the only place where our students get an opportunity to speak in English. Yet, they prefer not to, most of the time. This is becoming a serious problem. When I listen to our students speaking in English at assembly or in class or even during some public function, I  feel acutely disappointed at their lack of fluency and frequent mispronunciations. I wonder whether some day, when they try to measure themselves against students from other schools then they too, will feel the same disappointment with their own lack of proficiency in English. I am sure that they will blame us, their teachers, for this drawback.  Moreover, they will be justified in blaming us, unless we make a determined attempt to change this situation. I, for one, am fiercely determined to at least try to induce our students to gain fluency in English through constant practice at school.

Language is fundamentally a matter of habit. I am reminded of an Akbar-Birbal story which proves that when urged into speech without thinking, one will blurt out words in one’s mother tongue (first language). We teachers, then, have to develop the habit of speaking English in our students.  Our students are already speaking in English, in academic periods with their subject teachers. This habit merely needs to be extended into many other situations, as well.

Let us take a look at situations where, at present, our students speak in school (but not in English).

  1. On the bus/SUP vehicle, with friends
  2. In the toilet, with friends
  3. At the water cooler, with friends
  4. On the bus, with friends
  5. In the corridor, with friends
  6. Brief informal exchanges in the classroom, with friends
  7. Over tiffin, with friends
  8. During activity time, with friends – and with the coach!
  9. During Hindi and Third language periods, with the teacher and classmates
  10. With the ancillary/support staff, when required

Out of the situations listed above, only numbers 9 and 10 are legitimate reasons for not speaking in English.

Numbers 1-8 are situations where all our students must convert their language habit from their first language to English.

Habits are the most difficult thing to unlearn and relearn. Hence, nothing can be done without cooperation from our students, themselves. Activities are most dear to all our students. Hence, to induce our students not to miss out their activities is the most powerful incentive I can think of at present.

We began with a week of suspended activities to let everyone get the feel of consequences. I know, some of my students grumbled at the injustice of this. Just compare your temporary disappointment of the past week with your future feelings when, as an adult, you will permanently face the drawback of not being fluent and proficient in English. I think, it will set the case in its correct perspective.

In future, our students will be constantly supervised and monitored to check whether they are speaking in English. If any student is reported to have broken the English-speaking rule, then s/he will forfeit activities for one day only – until the next time. I assume that habits will take time to change and some defaulters will miss out more than one day of activity. Every day, however, will offer every student a fresh chance to follow the rule. In this way, I hope that all students will gradually develop the habit of speaking in English.

I would like to point out that we teachers should also speak in English at school,  on the school bus and anywhere within the school campus, as listed in the points (in red) above. The same rule applies to us teachers and to our students. I anticipate some dissatisfaction here, but my reply is very logical. Our students will do as they see us do. They will not follow our instruction to speak in English at school unless they see us doing the same. I hope that in time, all of us, teachers as well as students will be willing to informally chat, argue, exclaim, joke, gossip and think in English, as should be the case in any English medium school.

I would like to point out here, that I have only directed that English be spoken at school in the situations listed in red above. I do NOT wish parents to speak in English to their wards at home. I believe that parents should speak in their first language to their wards. The child’s first language provides his/her umbilical connection to his/her cultural identity and roots. Their first language keeps them connected with their grandparents, relatives, extended family and their community. Hence, please do not let English replace your first language at home.


10 responses to “Acquiring Fluency in a Second Language

  1. dear madam
    you cleared nearly all the doubts ..
    my child was crying in a school since last few days due to inability to speak in english in school.. what we tought our ward is its a gradual change of language.. he is trying & its really very true that in a childhood if they learn to speak fluently in english, they will be more confident in future…

  2. Madam, you this initiative will definitely make each and every student and DPS Tapi fluent in English.
    We are sure you and your teachers would work strongly towards the same. We also as parents would like to play a vital role in this area and encourage our children to speak in English. English language though not the first language, we can at least try to make it a habit of speaking along with the first language we speak at home.
    As it is said and as per my observation and experience, teachers and parents have to walk and work together to make children learn and understand.
    So you and your teachers are playing their role, performing to the best. Hence, we parents also need to take the same initiatives and get the things well set.
    I think this way we will have a English speaking made easy and enjoying to all our children.

  3. Dear madam,
    A very good observation and a good beginning so that by the end of the session Iam sure that by the end of the session our children will be well versed and fluent in speaking english….I have observed that our thought process takes place in our mother tongue and then we translate our thoughts in english…and I too feel that reading is the best way t learn any language.If we as the parents try to develop the reading habit(in english) in our children from the their initial stage,it would be very helpful for them to speak english correctly…well iam not against the television or e technology but I have observed that these days children spend their maximum time in front of television sets and just look at their expression when we ask them to switch off the set I feel that they are not aware of any other substitute of television and the famous poet ROALD DAHL has rightly pointed out in his poetry `ON TELEVISION(a must read poetry for the parents)when he says…
    It (tv)rots the sense in head!
    It kills the imagination dead!
    It clogs and clutterup the mind!
    It makes a child so dull and blind.
    He can no longer understand A fantasy,
    a fairyland.His brainbecomes as soft as cheese!
    His power of thinking rust and freeze!he can not think
    he only sees.
    Just remember our childhood days,how we used to spend our summer vacations by reading comics and is trying its level best and now its our responsibility encourage them …let them read treasure isle,tales of dragons,cannibals crouching round the pot,Tintin,Penelope and at the same time Panchtantra…Akbar Birbal and folk tales in english…it will develop their imagination and their thought process which will be naturally in english now.
    shyamli Bargale
    m\o Ansh Bargale

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  5. Dear Principal madam and Ushma miss,

    Thank you for observation and sharing.

    To Increase english language proficiency, we should have Story Telling and Jokes sharing, riddles, Drama and Roll play activity in the class and every student must have to take part. Alternatively, to increase vocabulary, we should give homework of observation of unusual episode in day, newspaper or magazines like champak, safari and learning of 2-3 words Per day and Use it in appropriate sentence.

    This is our humble opinion.

    • Dear Ms. Marfatia – the students do all the activities you named and much more in class, assembly and other structured areas. My post was entirely about the ‘unstructured’ free chat-time that our students enjoy. That time adds up to quite a bit every day and is thus a valuable opportunity to acquire fluency in English.

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