English Learning: Can technology make aspiration a reality?



The ability to learn a new language is inversely proportional to age. And when it happens to be English then the problem is amplified because it is a very funny language with its own set of rules and nomenclatures, which we as Indians struggle to make sense of. However, for a variety of reasons in our complex country, English remains a ticket to upward social mobility, and one’s mastery over English, or its absence, still creates a divide that is much sharper than the digital one. English is aspirational in India and being the youngest population in the world, our ability to equip our children and youth with the English language as a Life Skill will shape our global positioning. We need to tackle this problem head-on:

in our schools, where we will have to first build the capacity of our English teachers
in vocational and higher educational institutions, where the equal emphasis should be given to this aspect vis-a-vis domain skills
in the workplace, where English communication skills should be made an integral part of any employee development plan
One of the ways of solving this problem is through technology. Despite several challenges, internet and mobile technologies have deeply penetrated our psyche and have caught the imagination of all. A vast number of language learning apps and programs are now available online

However, there is a catch as most of these programs put more emphasis on engaging the learner in their platform through a combination of cosmetics and aesthetics and sacrifice the learning piece. It is good to hook the learner in your platform with an attractive UI/UX but it is not good enough if you do not solve their learning problem as at some point in time the learners are going to run away in pursuit of something which is more appealing. This is the reason why the completion ratio of any self-learning app is very poor in India as it undermines two important things:

a clear focus on learning outcomes
diminished/no role of a teacher in the learning process
With rapid advancement in learning technologies like machine/deep learning & AI, the time has come to create an inclusive instructional design which brings back teachers at the heart of the learning process. With significant investment being made in building ed-tech infrastructure in our schools, the same infrastructure can be leveraged to roll out a simple yet effective English learning program which is aligned to the curriculum and delivered by the teacher. If computational linguistics can be integrated with a sound pedagogical approach, it will ensure learning. In the era of deep personalization of all services, mobile telephony can revolutionize the way young adults and youth can learn English in the comfort of their home or workplace

Again, an integrated approach of machine-based self-learning & adaptive assessments coupled with assisted virtual learning through mentoring support of a remote teacher will go a long way in achieving the desired learning outcome. Smartphones have already started dictating our lives, so as the old saying goes – ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’; let us make the most of it and start using our smartphones as the default device for learning English to begin with

This will create the pathway for young adults to become life-long learners; which in turn will apply the habit of learning anything, anytime and anywhere, going forward  

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