Monday, June 9, 2008

English Language Instruction and Teaching in India

I am continually impressed with the universal response to learning the English language. I recently returned from India where I had the opportunity to work with children from the leprosy colonies who leave their families for the school year to attend school. These children would otherwise not have access to an education if it weren't for the sponsorship of generous donors to the Rising Star Outreach organization. I watched these children as they eagerly learned the sounds of the alphabet, read words made up of these newly-acquired letters, and responded to vocabulary instruction. I also had the opportunity to visit their classrooms and teach some lessons in social studies with a focus on English languge instruction.

The main purpose of my visit to Rising Star Outreach in India was to train the summer volunteers from the U.S. in how to teach English and literacy to these students from the leprosy colonies. The objective of this training was to magnify the volunteers' effectiveness in helping the students improve their English. The volunteers needed training in how to teach English using a systematic approach that was easy to learn and easy to teach. After carefully considering the students' needs at RSO, I selected a methodology in which the volunteers were trained. I was very impressed with the volunteers' enthusiasm to put into practice the methodology and strategies they had learned. The volunteers sat on mats in the shade of the trees of the mango grove next to the school and worked with the students one-on-one. I loved the sight of reciprocal enthusiasm evidenced by both the volunteers and the students they served.

I also had the opportunity to associate with the children's teachers as I gave them English language instruction. They, too, were so eager to learn, even though the English classes were held at the end of their long day of teaching in the sweltering Indian heat. They were always early to class and sitting in their seats patiently with smiles on their faces as I entered the room. They were very receptive to what they learned and were so appreciative of the opportunity to improve their English. The objective of improving the teachers' English so that they can be effective English models for their students is important: if the teachers' English improves, then the students' English likewise improves.

I had the opportunity to visit a couple of the leprosy colonies with Dr. Kumar and the two nurses Naomeni and Pushpa. While at the small Poot village, I met three children who came with their families to where we had set up camp under the shade of a tree in preparation for wrapping bandages of the leprosy-infected patients. One of the children, Jennifer, responded to me in English while the other children stared at me silently with their curious eyes as I spoke to them. Jennifer's beautiful, black hair and healthy skin displayed her good health and nutrition, in contrast to brown colored hair--an indication of malnutrition--that is noticeable throughout rural areas in India. I learned that Jennifer is a student at Rising Star Outreach where she receives English language instruction and three meals a day. This explained why she was able to understand my English and why she had such a healthy glow. I felt grateful to have seen first-hand the effects of nourishment and an education that includes English language instruction in comparison to children who are not blessed with such.

As I reflect on my experiences in India, I feel a sense of gratitute for good people in this world. Everyone has something to offer and contribute, and education is the key to unlocking these opportunities to contribute--these opportunities to serve--if they choose to do so. I'm grateful for the roles that English and literacy play in assisting individuals to reach their full potential to serve and contribute.

NOTE: To learn about the methodology that volunteers are using at Rising Star Outreach, visit

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