Communication Skills for Teachers of English (Part 2)
In the first part of the article entitled ‘Communication Skills for Teachers of English” that appeared last week, I discussed the importance of communication skills for students of English literature who aspire to become teachers of English. I concluded the article with the statement that teachers of English should have proficiency in the language, positive motivation, appropriate body language, good presentation skills, sense of humour and interpersonal skills in order to be effective communicators.
The article also stressed on the urgent need to develop students’ communication skills through literature. Not many teachers of English literature in India have been trained to use the communicative approach in the literature class.
As a student at a reputed college in Tamil Nadu, I was taught English literature by many teachers. A few of them were great professors who spoke impeccable English and delivered excellent lectures. Some were mediocre professors who just read literary pieces and dictated notes they had plagiarized from low standard books. One or two were really communicative and they encouraged students to communicate in the class.
Professor David (name changed) was an original thinker. We enjoyed attending his classes. His English was good and it was pleasure listening to him. His interpretation of literary pieces was food for thought for those students who had passion for English literature. The only problem with the professor was he spoke the whole period of 50 minutes and never allowed the students to interact with him. The students were passive listeners. How nice it would have been if we had discussed as a class on what the professor had said!
Professor Kumar (name changed) was a mediocre person. His pronunciation was not good and I always wondered how he was recruited to the teaching position at the reputed college. He used to read literary texts and dictate notes to us. He encouraged his students to read abridged versions of novels and buy ‘bazaar’ notes to prepare for examinations. Almost all his students could get pass marks in the courses Professor Kumar had taught but they could not develop their communication and critical thinking skills.
Professor John (name changed) was very popular among students. His interpretation of literary pieces was original and he encouraged his students to give their own interpretations. His classes were always very interactive. Thanks to him many students developed their critical thinking and communication skills. Professor John was a perfect example of ‘Developing Communication Skills through Literature’.
We can find many Davids, Kumars and Johns in any college where English literature programmes are offered at the UG or the PG level. Not many teachers of English literature are used to the communicative approach to teaching literature.
The need of the hour is to introduce the communicative approach in the literature class. In a typical communicative literature class, students will be engaged in many activities: reading various literary pieces, interpreting them, taking part in discussions, giving presentations, debating, etc. The classroom environment should be conducive for developing their creativity, critical thinking and communication skills.
Very recently, I asked a colleague of mine to share with me how her professors taught English literature and whether she was happy about the way they taught literature. Though she was quite positive about most of her teachers’ approach, she was not happy with her own classmates’ lack of communication skills and some teachers’ inability to enhance the students’ communicative competence. “Most students had communication apprehension and they were never trained to overcome it. Even after completing their MA in English they were never comfortable speaking in English. Many of them did B.Ed. and became teachers at the secondary level and some of them did MPhil and became teachers at the tertiary level. I don’t know whether they have learnt to manage their communication apprehension and developed their communication skills now.”
Developing learners’ communicative competence is one of the main responsibilities of a teacher of English. It is true that most students suffer from communication apprehension which refers to “a feeling of fear or anxiety about a situation in which one must communicate.” It is possible that they can manage and control their communication apprehension to some degree. Beattty, McCroskey and Richmond who have carried out research in the field of communication give the following suggestions to manage communication apprehension: i) Acquire skills and experience, and ii) Focus on success
In the context of developing communication skills through literature to ESL (English as a second language) students, the above suggestions can be applied as follows:
Acquire skills and experience
A lack of proficiency in the target language can cause communication difficulty and create apprehension. A lack of interpersonal skills can also cause communication difficulty. So it is important to gain language skills and also the skills of effective interpersonal interaction.
Focus on success
Giving oral presentations, attending job interviews, taking part in role plays and similar tasks are anxiety-provoking largely because they are highly evaluative. “The more you perceive a situation as one in which others will evaluate you, the greater your apprehension will be.” Prior success generally reduces apprehension and prior failure increases apprehension. It is important to train students to think positively and visualize others giving them positive evaluations. The teacher should give constructive feedback.
How to make the English literature class interactive and communicative?
The third part of the article will appear soon.