Learning How to Learn English in Mizoram

It is 08:30 a.m. on a sunny Tuesday morning in September, and we are at the Government Zemabawk High School, Aizawl, Mizoram.

The Government Zemabawk High School, Aizawl, Mizoram

A sea of alert faces greets me as I walk into Class IX B. “Can you tell me something about yourselves?” I ask becauseI am there to understand the students, their classroom cultures, learning practices and interests. This trip is part of our research at CLIx on the practices that lead to the autonomisation of language learners.

Recent literature on learner autonomy focuses on the need to create lifelong learners rather than on autonomy as a goal. Reaching a preset goal indicates the end of a journey. Learner autonomisation, by contrast, leads to continuous learning by equipping learners with the skills, attitudes and confidence needed to take charge of their own education. The CLIx English course,through its design and content, aims to foster these skills. Bearing this end in mind, we conducted surveys and asked students how they liked to learn English.

“Do you like movies?” I ask in the Mizoram school. The response is intensely and spontaneously positive. They watch Bollywood flicks and Korean and Japanese action movies dubbed in English. They also like to listen to music with English lyrics.

“The students find it difficult to understand and speak in English in the classroom,” says a teacher. “We translate most of the lessons into Mizo, so the children can follow the plot of the story and the poetic imagery.”

The Zemabawk courtyard

Can they study better independently, or with their friends, we ask “No”, say the teachers! Self-study groups and paired activities become distracting, they feel. The students spend more time having fun than learning the subjects.

Do they need their teachers to help them with their lessons, we want to know. Teachers and students unanimously say, yes, they prefer having a teacher with them in the learning process.

So, what do these brief snippets from our observations mean for lifelong language learning practice? If autonomisation in language learning depends on the student’s enthusiasm, curiosity and initiative, these students have it all. If autonomisation means knowing their interests, the students seem to have strong preferences. If autonomisation needs students to take charge of their learning, we are not so sure the answer is positive.

We want to determine whether current English classrooms are ready to embrace change in language learning practices. The teachers of this school seem to indicate so. How far can the language learning methods in the CLIx English classroom induce learner autonomisation?

To answer that question, we need to observe and learn much more.

(Nishevita Jayendran, Curriculum Consultant, English team, CLIx)

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