इंग्लिश Vinglish

– Atul Verma

A brief memory from JEE information brochure:

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And this one, on the first page of ‘Course of Study’

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How is one expected to bring harmony in these two?
Well most of the students are, because their medium of education, medium of examination paper and medium of instruction in IITD is same: English. But for a particular minority, it is not.
The question becomes of extreme importance for these students. Who should be blamed for this difficulty? Administration, Students, Parents??
“When in doubt about who’s to blame. Blame the English.”
― Craig Ferguson
But since, Blame game has never benefitted anyone, so just leave it.
This year, IIT Delhi had 32 such UG Freshers whose teaching till 12th, JEE coaching, medium of JEE examination – everything was in ‘non-English’ medium. Most of them were from Hindi medium, a couple of them from Gujarati. And in IIT Delhi, they suddenly have to switch to ENGLISH.
One might ask ‘what is such a big deal about it? They all had ‘English’ subject in their curriculum.’ Yupp, valid point. But think of a situation in which you are somehow ‘put’ in place where medium of formal communication and instruction is your Third language. Language is most important part for proper communication, socialization and of course, academic development of human being and being in ‘not-used-to’ language environment isn’t very pleasing.
Till 2012 (if I am right) there used to be a 15-day programme named CREST which was organized by IITD to help children from rural background to help them get familiar with this change and develop confidence. In addition to it, there used to be a brief period in beginning of semester in which language classes were conducted specially for (till 12th) Hindi-medium students. However, when the AIEEE was turned in to JEE Mains, in 2013, thereafter organizing CREST became nearly impossible given the tight schedule and nearly-no-gap between Final seat allotment and Registration. At the same time, language classes, which were taken by a professional language tutor were ceased based on the response/feedback of attendants.
Reason for failure of these ‘efforts-with-good-intentions’:
Language classes just ‘tried to teach’ the communicative English and that too in very little time span. In simple words, such thing can work, but only if sufficient classes were conducted and that too, prior to beginning of academic classes. Also, the purpose of these language classes was to help students learn English for communication, those classes were not heeding academic difficulties due to language. It can’t be expected that a child who is attending weekly language class can at the same time perform efficiently in quizzes, assignments in the same language. So students, though at beginning, attended the classes in hope for better results, socially as well as academically, but…….they failed to get both and that caused termination of a good intended move.
This year, we tried to do things in a different way. We understand the limits of previous efforts and therefore gave shot to some new methods. This time, focus was more on their academic part. I believe, communicative language cannot be taught at once; it develops gradually on its own as per the environment, the academics part however is one which needs special attention and fast results. (because quizzes, assignments start from 2nd-3rd week)
I took 28 classes of 2015 freshers, ‘only’ of those who were from non-English medium. I used the word ‘only’ because when we floated the form for classes, many students were willing to join the classes, who were though from English medium, but hoped to learn communicative English.
First four classes were held in SAC and in non-academic fashion. In the first class, the only thing which I preached to students (probably more than 10 times) was that they know everything, whatever is happening in class, but they know it in other language. I personally feel, more than anything, it is the Confidence and ‘i-know-i-can-do’ attitude which matters. So tried to instill this thought throughout the 2-hr class that day. Also, all the students were advised to look at the Summary and सारांश of 11th-12th NCERT books of PCM, in English and Hindi respectively so that they can get familiar with main technical terms.
At the end of first class, one student told me that it is quite disappointing when they can’t understand what prof in class talks? Well, I suggested him to do the ‘homework’ of reading summary and thereafter we will figure something. For second class, I had downloaded a TED talk video about language. One version of the video was with subtitles and another was having none. Moreover, the accent of speaker was British. At first they were shown video without subtitles and then asked if they were able to ‘listen the words clearly’. Second time, they were shown it along with subtitles and again asked the same question. I guess you all know the response. Of course it is easier to understand when subtitles are there. However, the drama didn’t end there. I made them see video third time, this time again without subtitles and now asked the difference. Most of them were able to understand this time too quite as much as was in case of subtitles. Reason: one, they had read the words and now were able to ‘listen’. Two, of course, they had listened it earlier twice already ;) well, whatever this was, I tried to suggest them using benefit of this demonstration in academics. I wanted them to read textbook or study material prior to lecture so that they can counter their disadvantage of not ‘able to listen’ to some extent. Jokingly I told them, वैसे Prof class में क्या बोल रहा होता है, वो किसी को भी समझ नहीं लगता. Towards the end, I asked them to prepare an extempore in English on some familiar topics of PCM.
Once I asked a student in class, how are classes and life going in IIT?
What he said was quite unexpected. ‘अरे Sir, class तो बाद में शुरू होती है, जिस दिन से college में आये हैं उस दिन से Director, Dean के speech, orientation, stalls के tour, registration सब कुछ English में ही हुआ है। Confidence तो वहीं पर खत्म हो जाता है classes शुरू होने से पहले ही.’
Well my first two classes were to bring back some of that confidence again, somehow, somewhat :P
The 3rd and 4th classes were too held in SAC and in those classes, I tried to address another problem they mentioned. Most of us also have the difficulty of going back to subjective mode of answers here when in past 2-3 years, we all had been practicing in quick, objective way where description doesn’t matters, final answer does. So I handled them all 4 questions in which they don’t just have to solve, but to describe along with it. I also told some general things to keep in mind and usage of words like, ‘let us assume’, ‘therefore’, ‘hence’ etc. while describing a numerical answer. Those were quick classes.
And, in those classes, 6-7 of them made their Gmail ids (on my laptop) for the first time. What !! How did they submit JEE form? Via gmail id of the person who ran internet café. And here they were doing COL course :P
The classes after these introductory ones were held separately for Batch A and B. About 10 students were in Batch A and rest were in Batch B. Well, I had been unfair towards those batch A students because I could take classes only of one batch and that most of the times, was Batch B.
In all the subsequent classes, I followed a general method of teaching. I would ask them to send slides of their lectures prior to class and I would prepare few initial slides and try to explain it to them in simple conversational Hinglish. And interestingly, when many times I myself was stuck in explaining a concept, one of them would come forward to explain it to others. It was such a nice experience to be among kids who had zeal to learn what they couldn’t earlier. And sometimes, when someone of them failed to explain to whole class but me, then I would repeat him/her to whole class. In between the classes were those moments, when I would give them ‘funde’ of IIT life, tell them my mistakes and learnings during first year, my intern experience etc. often I would tell them stories of my friends who had to suffer academically due to some reason and advised them not to fall trap to same things.
Our venues for classes varied greatly, ranging from SAC, Block III 336, Block IV 419, Vindhyachal House’s Visitors room, Girnar House’s Visitor room. In a particular class, we extended it far too long and when asked to leave by staff worker, I tried to search for another empty room but there was none. Then I asked them all if we should dismiss it or do it at some random place? Well they chose the latter one and we all sat near the lifts in MS on first floor, at the intersection of Block II and MS. We discussed few slides of CML on heat and piston-cylinder arrangement sitting there for nearly 40 minutes.
For batch A, I asked some of my friends to take classes of COL. I myself am totally blank at this subject btw :P My friends were kind enough not to refuse but there was an issue which hampered many of them from taking classes. The language taught this year was different from what 3rd year or 4th friends knew. So there were only 2-3 classes for COL.
BTW for batch B, when they had some sort of assignments due, I would simply explain the questions to them in class and most of them knew the answers. At the same time, I made sure that there was no ‘undue help being offered by me’ in doing those assignments. वैसे most of the cases में मुझे खुद answers नहीं पता होते थे ;) similarly for some quiz prep, we all would discuss the solved examples from book and tutorial sheets. First they all would try the question without looking at its solutions and then we all would discuss. What always was inspiring for me was that there was rarely a moment when a question remained un-understood. Someone from them was always there to explain it to rest of class whenever I failed to do so.
The purpose of following this method of class was that I wanted them to know that they can understand all the slides by themselves, can do all the problems by themselves. I just wanted them to become more and more self-reliant and at the same time, wanted to ensure that they don’t hesitate/fear to start. So in ‘lecture’ of mine more than half-time was devoted to tell them importance of self-study, especially during the initial few weeks to catch up with everyone else.
So till minor 1, this all continued. After minor 1, I was more conscious not to make them dependent on such classes and then so the next time we all met, I didn’t teach them anything, I rather discussed what I expect from them to do in the semester. I told them there would be not many more such classes and now, they have to continue as well as improve their habit of self-study. At the same time, I knew many students were not able to perform greatly in minor-1, especially in MCP 101 and APL. So I did my best to relate their performances to my own (of my 1st yr) and tell them how they can secure good marks next time. Also since syllabus of minor-2 is quite independent of minor-1, I assured them that they will achieve much better in minor-2 regardless of results now.
So after my ‘last lecture’ I personally didn’t take any other class. However, my friends, Raghav and Manish took 4-5 classes after minor-1 of MTL and APL respectively. At the same time, I made sure not to lose contact with the students. So over fb, phone and face-to-face convo, I always asked about their acads specifically.
After end of first semester, I talked to them and asked them about their grades. Nearly everyone has shown remarkable achievements. All of them have done as per their potential and I am sure they are bound to improve in coming semester as their command on English will increase. Also, their leanings & understanding of first sem will offer them a great help.
What I realized by this process is that ‘a little push’ is all that is needed in the beginning and thereafter they are ready to fly confidently, exploring their own destiny, making their own identity.
I was aware of problems faced by non-English medium students because my first year roommate was from Hindi medium and I had seen him struggling with English badly. He was better than me in APL but scored less because wasn’t able ‘to write’. And through him I know the real challenges person from non-English background faces here. So all my plans were extensively discussed with him. He corrected them, verified them and suggested me new methods. And interestingly, he himself took some classes along with me.
As per future plans are concerned, I want to create a formal, sustainable structure where seniors can guide their juniors who need guidance for some initial phase. I have made the formal draft for English classes (academic as well as spoken) and hopefully it will get implemented so that freshers from next year onwards can be helped more efficiently. I often cajoled my class, ‘यार तुम्हारे marks ना भी आये ना, तो ये समझ लेना की तुम शहीद हो रहे हो, तुम्हारे आने वाले juniors के लिए so that I know the loopholes in our efforts and we can rectify them.’
Also, when I am writing this, my language might give an ‘individual effort’ feeling, but it wasn’t. There are many people without whom all these classes weren’t even possible, leave successful.
Manika: Helped in initial classes in smooth interaction with students.
Yashwant: MRC Secy, who booked room for our classes, no matter how late I was in informing him.
Manish: He has been my right hand, took MCP and APL classes :D
Raghav: Encouraged me and took MTL classes.
Rahul Mishra: OC साहब, इनके बिना formal permission ही नहीं मिलती हमें classes कराने की. He has handled all the formalities in the process so nicely and aptly.
Tanmay: The person with whom I have discussed each and every detail, he made google sheets and forms, made the plan reachable to each mentor & Fresher and most importantly, took care of my every move.
Mentors who offered help in classes.
And at last, those 32 children, who had put faith in me and have given me lots of love 