Communication skills include many things – using the target language effectively, the way in which to the person we are speaking to, our body language including facial expressions, pitch and tone of our voice, interpersonal skills and a lot of other things. Effective communication skills are now required in each and every aspect of our life. Teachers of English are expected to have good command over the language and possess excellent communication skills.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit a school in Chennai, India and interact with the teachers and the students of the school. Most of the teachers had good communication skills. Even students were able to express themselves in English well. Later, I met the principal and complimented the teachers on their communication skills: “Your teachers have good communication skills. With these teachers you can do wonders and produce students who can become powerful communicators.” The principal said, “We recruit only those teachers who can speak good English and communicate well.” Yes, teachers are expected to possess excellent communication skills. For a teacher, it is not just important to give a quality lecture but it is more important for the presentation of a lesson or lecture in class. A teacher with communication skills can enhance the learning process of students.
A week ago, I was a resource person at a workshop on ‘Effective Communication Skills’ at a rural arts and science college for women. The participants were students of English literature. Most of them want to do B.Ed. after completing their B.A. English and become teachers of English. When the organizer of the workshop approached me I was reluctant to accept his invitation to conduct a workshop at the college thinking it would be a tough task to train the students. The organizer gave me a clear picture of the college and the students studying there in one of his emails. “It is a rural college. Almost all the students are from villages. They are very poor in communication skills. We, teachers, try to make them speak but we find it difficult to develop their communication skills. We want you to speak on the importance of soft skills, including communication skills, and motivate them to speak.” On the eve of the workshop the person contacted me over the phone and said, “Sir, your target audience is a group of final year students of English literature. They are future teachers of English.”
I took it as a challenge and accepted the invitation. As soon as I entered the seminar hall, I was greeted by the students. Most students were bubbling with enthusiasm and their desire to learn new things and acquire essential soft skills was reflected in many ways. Inaugurating the workshop the principal of the college stressed the need for good communication skills for students who want to excel in the job market. When my turn to interact with the students came, I narrated a couple of anecdotes on the importance of soft skills and threw a few questions.
- Why are you here today? Do you really need to develop your communication skills?
- Why did you opt for English literature?
- What are the career opportunities for those who specialize in English literature?
- What do you want to become after completing your degree?
- What are the characteristics of an effective teacher of English?
- What are soft skills? Why do we call soft skills by that name?
- Which is more important: confidence or competence?
Very interesting answers were given by the participants. My friendly approach helped me break the ice and establish a rapport with them. As a trainer, my main objective was to motivate the students and make them speak in English in public without fear and shyness. How to help the students channelize their enthusiasm and enable them to develop the much needed communication skills? My interaction with the students helped me understand the situation of the rural students better.
- Communication skills are often neglected in schools and colleges.
- The students have never had an opportunity to take part in group discussions, oral presentations, mock interviews, etc. - Some teachers of English are not proficient in English.
- Those teachers who are keen on teaching communication skills have not been trained in the field.
- The teachers have not heard the term ‘communicative approach’ and are not aware that they can teach communication skills through literature.
I spoke to the participants on the importance of communication skills and conducted a workshop on developing group discussion skills. For the first time, many students took part in group discussion. Though many were shy and helpless, some of them exhibited confidence and enthusiasm. There were a number of grammatical errors in their utterances, but they spoke confidently. “Had we had opportunities before, we would have done much better now,” said one of the students.
For me it was a very enriching experience. The participants realized that mere reading of literature will not help them make progress with their life and that they should develop their communication skills. “Can’t literary pieces be used as a tool to develop students’ soft skills including communication skills? asked a highly motivated student. “We don’t know how to guide our students. We teach them English literature the way we were taught when we were students,” said one of the lecturers. “What strategies should we follow to improve our students’ interaction skills?” asked another lecturer. “How can we teachers develop our own communication skills? What is communicative approach? Can we develop students’ communication skills through literature?” were a few other questions asked by the teachers.
Teachers of English must possess the following communication skills: proficiency in English, positive motivation, effective body language, sense of humour, interpersonal skills, etc. The second part of the article that will appear next week will focus on these aspects of communication skills.