Speech-fronted program to teach English
The aim of the Speech-fronted Program is to build student confidence
through speech activities. Keeping this in mind, I selected a teaching
method that branched out from the so called communicative approach. The
method is Cooperative Language Learning (CLL). The most striking feature
of this is that CLL is 100 percent compatible with the overall aim of
the program. It involves a lot of group and pair work that create an
active and safe zone for our students to use speech.
Interactive sessions help improve language skills. File photo
Cooperative Language Learning is part of Collaborative Learning (CL).
CLL has been defined by Olsen and Kagan (1992) as follows:
Cooperative learning is group learning activity organized so that
learning is dependent on the socially structured exchange of information
between learners in groups and in which each learner is held accountable
for his or her own learning and is motivated to increase the learning of
others. Cooperative learning is grounded in the theory of
interactive/cooperative nature of language and language learning and
there are some premises on which it has been built upon:
* Communication is the primary purpose of language
* Most speech is organized as conversation
* Conversation operates according to certain agreed upon set of
cooperative rules or ‘maxims’ (Grice, 1975)
* One learns how these ‘maxims’ are realized in one’s native language
through casual, everyday conversational interaction.
* One learns how the maxims are realized in a second language through
participation in cooperatively structured interactive activities.
CLL is supportive of both structural and functional models as well as
interactive model of language.
CLL is based on the theories of developmental psychology, especially
of Jean Piaget (1965) and Lev Vygotsky (1962) who emphasize social
interaction as central to learning. CLL advocates the activities based
on Bloom’s Taxonomy for developing critical thinking of the learner.
Another important aspect of the CLL is its emphasis on the cooperation
in learning rather than competition.
To achieve these goals, the CLL emphasizes maximum use of cooperative
activities through pair and group works. Some of the key concepts
related to the CLL are, positive interdependence, group formation,
individual accountability, social skills, structuring and structures.
* Student work together in groups to reach common goals
* Students benefit from sharing ideas rather than working alone
Goals of CLL
|* To provide
naturalistic language acquisition environment
* To pay attention to particular lexical items, language
structures and communicative functions
* To allow learners to develop successful learning and
* To enhance leaner motivation
* To reduce learner stress and build confidence
* Students help one another so that all can reach some measure of
How does this (CLL) differ from traditional methods? In traditional
methods, students work individually and they may work competitively.
Students are generally concerned with improving their own grade. Goals
are individualistic rather than group-centred. Thus, CLL is completely
contrasting to traditional methods in nature.
Theoretical perspectives of Cooperative learning and achievement
underscore three major aspects: motivational perspectives, social
cohesion perspectives and cognitive perspectives that involve cognitive
developmental aspects and cognitive elaboration. If we further elaborate
each of these, in relation to motivational perspectives, individual
goals can be achieved only if the group is successful.
Therefore, students help each other partly because it benefits the
individual. However, the individualistic element of this is compensated
by the next perspective, i.e., social cohesion which brings out one of
the inherent characteristics of the mankind, i.e. team spirit.
Therein, individuals help each other because they want others also to
win. This is because they care about the group. Cognitive perspectives
involve developmental aspects whereby learners discuss, argue and hear
others’ views, on a matter order to complete a given task. Cognitive
elaboration takes place as learners have to engage in restructuring,
explaining concepts ideas and tasks to others since the achievement
depends on such activities.
The critical variables
Kagan (1995) states that language acquisition is determined by a
“complex, interaction of a number of critical input, output and context
variables”. He also states cooperative learning has a dramatic positive
impact on these critical variables.
The main disadvantage of such an input over other learners is that it
may lack accuracy as students use the language structures and
vocabulary, they have already acquired in the target language which may
not be always accurate. Herein, the remedial measure we can suggest is
that controlled use of language structures with teacher intervention.
Teacher as a facilitator can intervene where correction of
pronunciation, vocabulary and sentence structures are required. Error
correction needs to be carried out in general terms since pointing to
the individual to correct may result in causing embarrassment to the
learner which may lead to feeling of threat that hinders the confidence
According to Kagan (1995), “language acquisition is fostered by
output that is functional and communicative, frequent, redundant, and
consistent with the identity of the speaker”. Cooperative learning is
the ideal situation for communicative output.
The context in which students are made to learn the language is
conducive to the language learning-acquisition process: they need to
communicate to accomplish goals; there is peer support on the basis of
sameness; cooperative structures of the activities demand speech; to
praise and encourage others is embedded in the process; and
interdependency requires others’ views.
Students find it much easier to talk to a peer in a small group than
to the whole class. They have more opportunities to communicate at the
level developmentally appropriate for them.
The immediate feedback that students give to one another in
cooperative group settings leads to easier acquisition of vocabulary and
forms. There is less chance of the self-consciousness and anxiety of the
All such lead to confidence building which will ultimately results in
students acquiring the language in an environment of the classroom which
is designed mainly for language acquisition. Such an environment
inevitably will bond second language acquisition and cooperative
learning by the ‘natural marriage’ as Kagan (1995) phrases it.
As we observe it now, the materials prepared under the theoretical
perspectives discussed in the previous articles with necessary
adaptations (localization and personalization), the main aim (i.e.
building student confidence via speech activities) of the Intensive
Program in the Arts Faculty, Colombo University is being achieved with
the compatibility between the main aim of the program and the major
objectives embedded in the CLL as it promotes cooperation than
competition, aims at developing critical thinking and designed to
develop communicative competence through socially structured interactive
activities. With two weeks of complete immersion in the speech program,
students are now at ease with the speech activities given to them,
helping each other in their groups to accomplish the tasks assigned to
The writer is Lecturer in English
Language, ELTU, University of Colombo
Reversal of legal education into English
Chairman of the Legal Aid Commission S.S. Wijeratne deserves all the
praise for his forthright leader article National Legal Education that
appeared in the Legal Aid Commission page in the Daily News on October
He laments that since last year, the Law students, whether they came
from Sinhala or Tamil medium schools were compelled to sit their Law
College Examinations in English.
S.S. Wijeratne correctly emphasizes it is a primary requisite of
equal access to justice for the people that as stakeholder they should
understand what is happening to them in Courts. When the whole of Sri
Lanka came under the British domination they set up Courts to administer
Justice in the English language.
The practice of law should be within the understanding of the
The bulk of the litigants had no clue as to what was going on in
their cases in Courts. Leonard Wolfe in his celebrated novel Village in
the Jungle draws attention to the plight of the villager who could not
understand the proceedings conducted in English in Courts. As far back
as 1936 a resolution moved by Philip Gunawardena that the proceedings in
original Courts should be in the national languages was adopted in the
State Council. However it was not implemented as there were so many
obstacles to make Courts function in Sinhala and in Tamil.
Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. But the native rulers
continued the British system of administration to the letter. It was
said the country changed hands from white sahibs to brown sahibs.
Accordingly, there was no significant change in the administration of
justice as well from 1948 to 1956.
From 1956 to 1959, under the MEP regime, like in so many other fields
winds of change became evident in the administration of Justice. In 1956
Sinhala was made the official language in Sri Lanka.
As such the proceedings in Courts had to be conducted in Sinhala.
However due to technical problems and lack of facilities it was enacted
that for the time being the Courts should continue to function in
English. Nevertheless it was written on the wall that the administration
of Justice would sooner or later be performed in national languages.
In 1958 the MEP Government set up Conciliation Boards to amicably
settle disputes among parties without resorting to litigation. The
Conciliation Boards functioned in national languages. Another
significant achievement of the MEP regime was the establishment of
Labour Tribunals. The proceedings in the Labour Tribunals were conducted
in the national languages.
From 1956 to 1970 conducting proceedings in Courts in the national
languages had been getting postponed due to opposition from the vested
interest. It was only in 1970 a genuine attempt was made to conduct
cases in Sinhala and Tamil. The then Justice Minister Felix R. Dias
Bandaranaike made a concerted effort in this direction.
With a view to facilitate administration of justice in national
languages steps were taken to make the legal education at the Law
College gradually to be administered in Sinhala and Tamil. S.S.
Wijeratne discloses that there was parochial resistance from the brown
sahib members of the Legal Education Council with vested interests for
The obstinate attitude of the Council could only be corrected by
adopting an amendment to the Council law to expand the membership of the
One of the first Courts to work in Sinhala on a trial basis was
Gampaha. The Gampaha District Judge at that time was Parinda Ranasinghe,
who later became Chief Justice and the Magistrate was W.P.N. de Silva.
They cleared many misgivings and showed that original Courts could
function in Sinhala without difficulty. In fact Felix R. Dias
Bandaranaike the Justice Minister was present on the first day to watch
proceedings conducted in Sinhala.
Subsequently in 1974, under the administration of Justice Law all the
original Courts in the country began to function in Sinhala and in
Tamil. Today all the Primary Courts, Magistrates Courts, District Courts
and High Courts function in the national languages.
This is a great relief to the litigants as they could understand the
proceedings of their cases in Courts. During the past 40 years or so
Sinhala and Tamil had been the medium of instruction not only in the Law
College but of the Law faculties of the Universities as well.
The products of those institutions facilitated the smooth functioning
of Courts in Sinhala and in Tamil. They have also presented legal
literature in the national languages to enlighten commoners on our Laws.
The decision of the Legal Education Council to revert to English as
the medium of instruction at the Law College would prevent lawyers to be
proficient to conduct cases in the national languages. Ultimately this
would be a stepping stone to bring back English as the langauge of
Courts so as to traverse justice to commoners by denying them to
understand the proceedings of their cases.
Besides the Law graduates who complete their Law studies in national
languages would be placed in a difficult position to qualify for the
legal profession by studying in English for their examinations at the
Law College. It is also an injustice perpetrated on those students who
seek to enter the legal profession through free education at the
It is true that the knowledge of English is vital to widen the
knowledge of Law. Nevertheless the medium of instruction for legal
studies should be Sinhala and Tamil to produce lawyers capable of
conducting their cases in national languages. We hope that the present
Council of Legal Education headed by the Chief Justice would bring back
national languages as the medium of education in the Law College.
The writer is a
former High Court Judge
As we see it
The burden of learning
Last week we heard that the Health Ministry is introducing a new
school bag for children. It is intended to relieve the poor children of
the heavy loads they carry on their back to and from school. We hope it
would succeed. The adverse effects of such load carrying was much
discussed for long with no concrete steps taken to take off the load
from the backs of children. We hope the Health Ministry will succeed in
its effort and words will be translated into action, at least with the
beginning of the school year 2010.
It is not only the physical load that has to be taken off. It is much
more important to relieve them of the mental load they are burdened
with. With noisy and overcrowded classrooms, uninteresting and drab
teaching, forced cramming and a hotchpotch of diverse knowledge data
being forced on the young ones from tender ages it does not make
learning interesting. The entire approach is either too pedantic that
leads to incomprehensibility or facts are drilled into the little brains
with mechanical regularity and regimentation that no iota of creativity
is left in them.
Isn’t it a fact that many a personality who achieved distinction
later in life was either a school dropout or was considered weak or
backward by their mentors.
Those who were too inquisitive and were asking too many questions,
including awkward and embarassing ones, were often punished by the
teachers for trying to be too smart or for being disrespectful.
The spirit of enquiry and creativity is more discouraged than
Education does not mean mere book-learning. Nor is it spoon-feeding
as done by tuition masters preparing students for examinations,
including the Grade Five Scholarship examination.
Scope for the child to learn through practice and experimenting is
scarce in our school system. Even the practical classes for science
subjects were discontinued or made optional.
Learning becomes dull and boring when the child is not emotionally
drawn into the subject, especially in the primary stage.
The syllabuses are so large that teachers rush through leaving no
time for the students to comprehend, pause and understand the subject.
It is mechanical learning without understanding the principles of
knowledge. For example, no amount of repetition or learning by-heart
will help a student to understand the Principle of Archimedes than a
practical experiment to see that when a body is immersed in water the
mass of the water displaced is equal to the mass of the body immersed.
Hence it is very necessary to trim the existing syllabi. Add more
extra-curricular activities. Make learning enjoyable. Remove unnecessary
crap and teach basic principles with practical examples.
Without such mental off loading mere taking off the physical loads
from the backs of students would not suffice.
Let the authorities begin a project of mental off loading too.
Also it must not be forgotten that education is much more than book
learning. It is character building and development of the personality of