Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Language skills talk on IMLD

Yesterday - on the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) - I gave a talk on "language skills" to about 30 Technical Officers of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This one-and-a-half-hour session was at the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), Hyderabad. I kept coming back to IMLD throughout the talk.

On the question of language skills, I proposed three perspectives:
  • a long-term perspective on language and education (in the Indian context)
  • a medium-term view of Esperanto as a tool to think about language skills
  • a short-term list of useful web resources to improve language skills
The "long-term" section rehearsed some of the arguments of my Languaging paper. It dwelt on the kinds of structural issues that the PROBE (2006) and the ASER 2010 reports deal with: no teachers; and when there are, no teaching happening on the day the researchers visit; plus, in any case, not much learning happening - the poor quality outcomes that ASER highlights. Meanwhile, non-MT (mother tongue) education for children of linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples contributes to their high-rate of "push-out" (82% in Andhra Pradesh).

On the positive side, I mentioned the initiatives in Orissa and at Bhasha in Gujarat, which show that multilingualism works.

This section also touched upon the society-wide consequences of English as the medium of higher education in India: poor participation in higher education and poor skill-sets.

The next view on language skills introduced Esperanto briefly: idea, structure and community. I focused on the "global education" and "effective education" sections of the Prague Manifesto, arguing that Esperanto offered a means to high-level multilingualism, necessary in an age of globalization, and essential for peace-building and collective action in the face of transnational threats. Esperanto's effectiveness as a preparatory language for further language learning, and its role in "decolonising" the mind were also mentioned.

The short-term view on language skills rapidly listed a few useful websites: (multilingual) dictionaries, (specialist) encyclopedias, databases, writing and usage tools, and the like.

Since Esperanto was for this audience the most exotic part of the talk, I ended with Reto Rosetti's translation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

The talk was part of a course called "Personal excellence for professional development". As may be inferred from the report, I interpreted both terms widely, as the rather bemused listeners noted.

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