Improving our English

While much effort is currently being invested in making the national language, Dzongkha, easier to teach and learn, we mustn’t forget the English language as well.

The medium of instruction in our schools and colleges is, for the moment, English. Therefore it is important that teachers are proficient in the language, and students graduate with an acceptable level of English.

This is not the case today. The education ministry has found that the majority of teachers are not proficient in English and that the mean mark obtained by students is below 40. We have known this for quite some time. The teachers themselves know this as evident by their refusal to be tested on their proficiency.

Therefore, it comes as a relief that the education ministry will be providing teachers with a five-day training to improve their proficiency in English. But we are also aware, as is the education minister, that a five-day course is not enough especially if it is to do with mastering the fundamentals of, what is to most of us, our second or third language. Mastering the basics takes time, even years of both professional intervention and personal initiative.

For instance, one way to improve proficiency is to read a lot. But then again, what you read, and how you supplement the reading through other mediums such as conversation, music, or film, also matter.

There is a misconception in our society that “flowery” English, distinctive by its use of as many “big words” as possible is good English. The problem here is that such misconceptions misguide students into concentrating more on the aesthetics rather than the substance. It also encourages them to leapfrog into attempting to write “fancy” English rather than focus on developing the fundamentals of the language first. Such problems are leftovers of a different time and needed to be addressed.

Of course, we must encourage diversity when it comes to expressions in English but only after the basics are mastered.

Even Kuensel’s English has its critics. This newspaper’s articles were once used as examples of “bad English” at a conference at one point of time apparently.

The point is that we have a long way to go before we master the English language. We must acknowledge this despite the praises of polite native-English speaking visitors. And we can achieve this by strengthening the way English is taught at the pre-primary level and gradually moving to the higher levels. Standard English is a complicated language to speak and write, but if it is taught correctly and in an engaging way from the start, rather than just through rote methods, it becomes easier for the learner equipped with a solid foundation to navigate and figure out the language on his/her own.

In the short-term, more such training courses will need to be provided to our teachers. And we are hopeful that the teachers will take it upon themselves to expose themselves to as many mediums such as books, instructional videos, film, and music, among others, to strengthen their own proficiency.

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