This is a picture of English book for First Standard in Tamil Nadu, India.
This book has a mix of Reading, Writing, Word Matching and Spelling lessons. Other education syllabus in India too follow a similar structure.
This emphasises on memorising words, spellings and sentences… with a sprinkling of grammar rules in between. It does not help chindren TALK english.
So how do infants learn to talk? They are surrounded by people who talk fluently.
Babies listen and become familiar with the language. They start saying single words, move on to broken sentences.
Children observe, understand and master their mother tongue by themselves, as long as they are surrounded by fluent talkers.
Once they are a little older, they learn to read and write. This is later on followed by learning grammar, literary works, fiction etc.
Summary: To learn a new language, We learn to speak the language first, understand grammar next, and finally learn to read and write the language.
Teaching English in Schools
Why is the mode of teaching English reversed at school? We teach alphabets first, followed by writing, then reading, and grammar. This reverse methodology does not include talking English as part of the curriculum.
In India, English is the language of education in private schools. Close to 70% of Indians prefer sending their children to private English medium schools. But hardly 25% of these children can converse in English when they finish their education.
Many students secure top marks in the English subject during school exams, yet cannot talk fluent English. The same happens with other second languages like Hindi and French.
Call for Restructuring
Does this call for a restructuring of language curriculum at schools? The honourable NCERT should understand the need for practical spoken language classes.
Primary Schools should teach spoken English. Book based teaching with focus on writing and reading should be avoided. It does not lay a strong foundation to use English as the language of instruction in High School.
When education happens naturally, learning becomes a pleasure. When learning is pleasurable, it inspires the student to continue learning well.
Teaching children spoken English should be the starting in countries like India, where English is the official language among a host of diverse native mother tongues. Children should be able to talk fluent English, so that they can continue learning lessons in English.
If they do not have a good understanding of English, it makes little sense to team them advanced concepts in English through out their school life.
An education system that teaches students to continue self learning throughout life is, by all means, the best system. Let us hope our teaching methods and curriculum evolve progressively to make this happen.