Home Language and School Language:What Should be done by Teachers?

There is a huge difference between the home language and school language. Home language is the language used by the students during their off-school hours at their home or locality when being a part of daily conversations and interactions. School language is the medium of instruction used by the teachers when transacting curricular items. Students and their parents often use the most colloquial version of their mother tongue at home. As school is a diversified society, there is no general or common language for children despite all of them speak in the same mother tongue. Different students may use different dialects. A dialect is a version of  a particular language used by some people of a particular locality. Some groups of people who reside at a particular locality use a different version of language which can be followed only by them. For eg. the Malayalam language used by the people of Kannur and the one used by the people of Malappuram are different. They use two different dialects of the same language. Similarly there is another tendency called idiolect. Ideolect is the version of a particular language used by a particular individual. It is the individual style of using a particular language. Here an individual makes his language different even from the dialect used by his own community. This Home Language-School Language Conflict is a matter which should be handled with true perception and approach.

The teacher should be aware of the linguistic differences in the classroom. He should not use a highly standard language in the school classroom. When the teacher makes use of the textbook language in the classroom, students become frustrated, as they feel great difficulty to follow what the teacher conveys. The teacher should try to explain the functions of some grammatical items of the foreign language by making use of different dialects spoken by the students. Though the foreign language should be taught in direct manner i.e. learning a target language by using the target language itself without translating into mother tongue, a sort of judicious use of mother tongue is inevitable. For making the learners aware of the contexts of different grammatical items, explanation in mother tongue necessary. In such a situation, teacher should be able to explain it in different dialects so that to ensure students from different linguistic backgrounds have followed what the teacher has so far explained.

There was a concept called ‘Deficit Theory’ around the academic corner all over the world. According to this theory the students belong to poor economic and cultural background would not be able to learn a foreign language as effective as the students who belong to some high financial and educational background. Rebecca G Eller,in her interesting and great article titled ‘ “Johnny Can’t Talk, Either: The Perpetuation of the Deficit Theory in Classrooms” beautifully depicts that it is a mistaken notion. According to Eller, such students from the poor economic and cultural backgrounds would deliver better and more interesting speeches than that of the so called brilliant students who belong to some sound financial and social background, if given opportunity for delivering the speech in their own dialects. This shows that if a teacher is enough patient to give chances to such students to develop their own foreign language  by explaining necessary things in their dialects and providing confidence, such students can be converted into effective users of any foreign language. So the teacher should give up the prejudice and should try to see things through the dimension of the students.

The teacher should make use of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy for teaching a foreign language such as English. Language represents the culture of the society to which the language belongs. So when a language is taught to a person who belongs to another culture, the culture of the learner also should be given some regard. Look at this conversation between Roderigo and Iago, the two famous characters in Shakespeare’s so called ‘Othello’. 

Roderigo : “What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is not in                                  my virtue to amend it”.

Iago            : “Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are                                   our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners”.

When Roderigo reminds Iago about virtue, Iago replies that virtue is just like a fig. Fig is something useless for them. Here Iago was trying to convey that virtue is nothing but nonsense. This phrase was translated in to Malayalam, the language of kerala, a state in India by a famous translator as ‘ നന്മ, തേങ്ങാക്കൊല ‘ ( nanma, thengakkola). Here he used ‘തേങ്ങാക്കൊല’ (thengakkola) for ‘ fig’. Actually ‘fig’ in malayalam is ‘അത്തിപ്പഴം’ ( athippazham). ‘അത്തിപ്പഴം’ ( athippazham) can never be used to convey ‘nonsense’ at any sense, as it is something precious for the people of Kerala. But, ‘തേങ്ങാക്കൊല’ (thengakkola) or മണ്ണാങ്കട്ട  (mannankatta) are some words which people of Kerala often use for conveying that something is useless or nonsense. So ‘തേങ്ങാക്കൊല’ (thengakkola) for people of Kerala is what is fig for Westerners. This shows that the difference between the culture of the students and the people of the target language should be considered when a foreign language is taught. The methodology used by the teacher by giving regard to the different cultural backgrounds of the learners is known as Culturally Responsive pedagogy.

Folger Theatre-Othello 10-16-11

The teacher should visit the homes and localities of the students. It would offer the teacher to get an idea on the difference between the home language of the students and the the school language. It will help the teacher to go through the cultural aspects of the students by attending marriage functions, celebrations and festivals. The teacher can communicate with the parents and other community leaders. Through this communication the teacher can know the real meaning of different usages and phrases. Similarly, the teacher should be in search of books for getting himself acquainted with the idioms and proverbs used at the localities of the students. Using different idioms and proverbs from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds would make the classroom more dynamic and live.

Students should be encouraged and motivated to stage their own art forms by making use of their own dialects. It will make them more active in the classroom. It will provide more confidence to them, as well. Self confidence is an important aspect of learning a foreign language. Then the teacher can help them to stage the same art form in the foreign language by translating the dialogues and conversations. It will help the learners know the right contexts of using the linguistic item of the foreign language.


About Hathib KK

I am an Assistant Professor of Education in a reputed BEd. College under the title Keyi Sahib Training College in India.

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