Lessons in the lingua franca
A self-study kit that enhances one's ability to speak English `fluently' has been launched by the city based Lotus Learning - a firm which deals with selling educational software.
Humphrey Walwyn - Photo: K. Ramesh Babu
THE PROLIFERATION of courses promising "complete fluency" in English is proof enough that the language is entrenched as the lingua franca of the global economy. From having been relegated to the background by the bits and bytes of computers, the verbs, nouns and modals of the English language have reinstated themselves as the currency of upward mobility in many careers.
Of the many courses, online, offline, off-the-shelf and round-the-corner, one has been around for many years, continually reinventing itself to stay ahead in a world where the demands are new, and the clientele newer.
The Linguaphone Institute, a UK-based company, has been producing self-study kits for language learning since 1923. The company recently tied up with Lotus Learning, a direct selling firm that deals in a variety of educational software and other media products, to market its English language learning programmes for children, students, adults and professionals. The Linguaphone method involves the listen-repeat-speak method of language learning, helping students acquire language skills in a self-paced, self-study mode.
The Lotus-Linguaphone partnership recently launched a pilot project in Andhra Pradesh, involving a small group of degree-college students in Hyderabad. Using the L21 programme, an adult learning course from Linguaphone, these students are expected to acquire competency in using English for professional purposes. The move is obviously tied to the demand for proficient English speakers to serve in the IT-enabled sector now largely represented by call centres. To monitor the progress of the pilot and to introduce the Linguaphone series to the general Indian public, Linguaphone's Director of Publishing and New Media, Humphrey Walwyn and Lotus Learning's Managing Director Srinivasan Krishnan, were in Hyderabad recently.
Understandably enthusiastic about their product, and about the reception it has had among the trial group of students, Krishnan and Walwyn talked at length about language, the influence of the new media, the globalisation of English, its attendant politics and the tremendous opportunity it represents to those who acquire and use English well.
"Learning English isn't just about learning a language it is about improving oneself, and increasing access to the world," says Krishnan.
India is in a position of advantage in the global market right now because of the large number of English speakers although less than 14 percent of the population are fluent in the language, this is a huge figure in absolute numbers. "We need to build on that advantage China is trying hard to catch up by training their professionals in English."
Walwyn spoke about the "internationalisation" of English, the demand for a variety of language that is universally understood. "When a call centre opens a hub here, for instance, increasingly the request is for people who can speak with clarity, not necessarily with an American or a British accent," says Walwyn, a self-avowed "enemy of RP".
While many courses in India still attract students by promising them a "pucca" British accent, that may soon be a thing of the past. What we are looking for is a neutral English that may have regional nuances but is understood by everyone, whether or not a native speaker.
Linguaphone, therefore, is not about accent training, but inculcating ease of language use. "It is a very practical method the syllabus really is a hidden thing," explains Krishnan.
The method also addresses the need of the "Now" generation to do everything in double speed. "Sorry, there is no language pill it hasn't been invented yet," quips Walwyn. But what the L21 does do is make use of various media, scores of exercises, and plenty of opportunities to use the language. "The point is to be highly interactive and fun," says Walwyn.
If English can spread the way of the computer languages, then supposedly there are many rewards to be won in this borderless, timeless workspace called the globe. "India has the advantage of time, familiarity with the language, and a well developed education system," notes Walwyn.
"Wherever you go, there is real English around you in the media, on the streets, round the corner."
For Linguaphone, the Indian market represents opportunity waiting to be realised. And seeing the keen desire among most young people to be able to communicate well in English, and the success (albeit dubious) of the fly-by-night English language courses and call centre training outfits, it is a market ready to be tapped.
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