The theme of this year’s ELTAI (English Language Teachers’ Association of India) Conference, “Western theories and Eastern practices”, was evident throughout the memorable event, not only in the conference itself, but it also seemed to imbue the heavy monsoon air that circulated around the venue, and the bustling city of Kochi, Kerala – ‘God’s own country’ as the Keralans affectionately refer to their beautiful state. On day 1, a memorable plenary from Dr. Fr. Peter Francis investigated the degree to which ancient Indian practices both anticipate and potentially transcend the western tendency to interpret problems as dichotomies, and investigated how Eastern Guru-Sishya relationships focused on cognitive apprenticeships.
The elective sessions were rich with ideas. I attended a particularly memorable early morning session on day 2 in which (among other themes) the topic of how technology can best be harnessed in the classroom, both through learners’ own devices and school resources was well explored. It quickly became evident that solutions needed to be high-, low- and mid-tech (to coin a phrase), to enable teachers and students to cope in diverse and often unpredictable learning environments. It struck me that while confidence in (and possibilities for) using tech in the Indian classrooms was evident among India’s younger generation of teachers, there was a need for more mature teachers to get to grips with the varied networks and platforms that their students were making use of so innovatively.
In his plenary, C.P. Viswanath argued convincingly that when it comes to language learning, Indians are the world leaders, pointing out that the auditorium where he delivered his plenary was full of multilinguals, and that their multicompetence results essentially from the practicalities of everyday communication in the diverse contexts and interactions of the subcontinent. He advocated for an activity-based approach called ‘Karadi Path’ that is (according to the data he presented) achieving impressive results in improving language and literacy learning across India.
This, I felt, linked well with my plenary workshop on day 2 entitled “Translanguaging in English language classrooms in India, Why, when and how?” I presented data demonstrating that language learners from far less linguistically-diverse home countries than India anticipated a need to translanguage extensively in their future work and study environments. Participants were given time to consider the future language use profiles of their learners, and sure enough, many foresaw translanguaging as a natural and authentic practice of the future realities of their learners. After a quick overview of translingual practices in Indian classrooms based on a survey I conducted with Amy Lightfoot from British Council India, I presented a range of translanguaging activities for the English language classroom, several of which had come from Indian teachers and teacher educators. I got some very kind feedback from delegates, but only time will tell whether the theme truly struck a chord with the audience.
There was an interesting panel discussion also on day 2 investigating the validity of the East-West distinction, both critiquing and subverting it: A subtext of ‘Eastern theories and Western practices’ was invoked by some, while others chose to problematise the East-West dichotomy as inherently… Western 🙂
It was a shame that I wasn’t able to stay for day 3 of the conference, but I renewed old acquaintances and made a multitude of new friends. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the incredible food or birdwatching in nearby Thattekad! Thanks to British Council India, ELTAI and the educators who contributed to our research for giving me the opportunity, the insights and the privilege to participate.