English is a global language, yes, it is. But do you know children around the globe have deficiencies in English language. That’s not which cannot be handled, though. The issue is not lack of English skills, but the way the language is taught. In India, we all learn the English alphabet, mostly before we start learning the alphabet in our native language, at least in the English medium schools. Do you remember the way letter sounds were taught? Well, most of us cannot pronounce words correctly because of the way we sound our English letters. It is similar in other parts of the world. Teaching English to Mexican students can be challenging. Many of the letters in Spanish are similar in writing to English but sound different. In Spanish the letter ‘j’ sounds like letter ‘h’, remember, I am talking about sound and not the letter name. Such hinderances occur in other languages too.
Now consider what is important when teaching English to non-native English students? You guessed it right, if you think it is letter names and sounds. It is crucial to make students understand the sound of each letter, associate it with common words starting with that sound. Next, ask students to identify the first sound in different words, see if they can recognize the sound. Example- what is the first sound you hear in the word ‘apricot’? Later we move to the end sound and then the middle sound. The middle sound is taught the last, because it takes time to identify it. At this time, we can start introducing the children to Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words or CVC, three-lettered words like cat, pin, pot, pup. We introduce them to the vowel sound. Ask students to swap different vowels in a word and read the word. They will slowly start identifying the vowel sounds. Next, we can aim at vowel teams like oa, ee, ea, ie etc. We need to remember that children need practice, so make them read words, as many as you can, everyday with those new sounds. Let them identify the new sounds in magazines, newspaper, billboards, get creative and play games with students to identify different sounds.
Build vocabulary by showing pictures rather than giving them the meaning in their language. Let them associate new words with pictures and remember and use those new words. Ask new English language learners to read wherever they can. Practice makes one perfect might be an old saying, but it works with everyone, in whichever era one is.
by Shipra Raju