In the first part of a series of two articles, Arpita Karkarey madam explains the difference between learning English and learning in English. Further, she explains the extra effort that is taken at Walnut School to make sure that children are very comfortable learning in the English language.

English medium schools have become so popular because of the idea of parents that knowing English will help the children professionally. People who can speak English are often held in high esteem. It is because of this firm belief that English medium schools are spreading rapidly even across small towns. Is it enough if children study in English medium schools? We need to understand that learning English and learning in English are totally different things.

Normally, one would first learn English for a long time, get fluent and then start learning core subjects like Mathematics, Science etc. in English. In an English medium school the children are expected to do both things simultaneously right from Nursery. That’s tough! Moreover, the children have exposure to English only in the academics periods in school. They talk to family in their mother tongue, they talk to friends and vendors in the local language. They gossip, tease and exchange information with friends in the local language. So, where is the chance to really use English in order to master it enough to learn in English?

I always wanted my students to be more exposed to English than just the academic English exposure. Having age appropriate content was the first step. We looked at textbooks of many publications, but they’re made in the same old style we see all the time. I wanted my students to live the language, and not just learn in it! So, we created our own teaching material with the skills that we wished to cover. We made nice exercises for the English period but we wanted more. How could we make the children spend time in ‘English environments’ even when they were not in the classroom?

With special homework! For long breaks we give them exercises tuned to their grade for which they need to read novels. It is hard at the beginning for many kids as reading is not an activity most kids are into these days. But as we repeat these exercises, it gets easier. Reading a whole novel chapter by chapter and remembering the main things to understand the story in continuity and pursuing that activity till the end of the novel is an amazing exercise in itself. On top of that they are asked questions based on facts of the novel and as the characters build up the kids even have to form their own opinions or suggest changes in the story. So, they have to imagine something very different that would still go with the flow.

All these things start preparing them for dealing with the increasing number of subjects with big, fat textbooks that start coming up in higher classes. We do it formally and in-depth in a classroom setting too. From Std. 4 onwards we have a novel that the children use as a textbook. They read some chapters together in class, read some more at home and discuss the content and do exercises that are based on it. The exercises build on comprehension skills, fluency and creative writing. This cannot be done with standalone lessons because the characters and story do not build up that much. This activity is usually done at MA level. Our students are doing it right from 4th! They have assignments which requires them to watch movies and review them systematically. This exposes them to the pronunciation, style and flow of the language.

We want them to listen, read, write and speak the language fluently

That way they “walk English and talk English!”

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