Superiority of Native Language in the Classroom

Abstract

This paper analyzes the performance of students who use English as a foreign language as well as Bangla as a native language in Bangladesh. According to a survey conducted among teachers and students, it was concluded that language can adversely affect the performance of learners in all levels of study. From the survey, it is definite that English has gained dominance in public universities in Bangladesh. It is also vivid that, there is a reason behind using English as a medium of communication in tertiary level colleges. However, there is huge controversy over whether Bangla or English should be used as the language of instruction in the classroom. There are claims that students perform well when they use the Bangla language in-class work as opposed to English. Consequently, there has been a proposal that English learning should be practiced outside the curriculum. Moreover, this paper reflects how the language barrier should be eliminated and also attempts to justify why Bangla should be preferred to English as a medium of communication.

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Introduction

Bangladesh is one of the most monolingual states in the world while the native Bangla language is the most popular with 97% of the population using it (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Besides, there are other native languages apart from Bangla such as Urdu, Monipuri, Chakma, Santali, Garo, Rkhain and Tipra (Banu & Sussex, 2001). It is evident that, in higher learning institutions like private universities, English has commonly been used as a medium of communication for a long time. However, research done reveals that English hampers effective teaching and performance of learners in private universities. As matter of fact, students adhere well to instructions when taught in a native language like Bangla than English. A survey was conducted among both teachers and students in private universities who gave their opinions regarding their language of preference. Survey analysis was recorded in a table as indicated in appendix 1 below. Moreover, there have been claims that using computer science to improve English is irrational. Others recommend that English language skills should be taught outside the curriculum. This paper argues that Bangla should be used as a medium of instruction in classroom teaching since it has proved to be superior to a foreign language like English.

Potential reasons for making English the official language in private universities

From the survey conducted among four teachers in private universities; no one was absolutely sure why English was made to be the compulsory language of instruction. However, research evidence indicates that English has tentatively been used in Bangladesh from the 16th century to the present (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Its use became widespread as a result of British domination hence it became the first foreign language widely known amid native languages. It can be recalled that the large-scale use of English was triggered by the establishment of colonial schools in the 17th century (Banu & Sussex, 2001). The reason why English became popular in private universities is that it was proved expensive to publish books in Bengali for learners to use. Pragmatically, forcing students at the tertiary level to study in Bangla would land them in many challenges since there were inadequate resources for research written in the language. Many of the reference sources and informative materials were commonly available in English (Burstall, 1975). It was found necessary for the higher institution to use English in research specifically in science, technology and humanities. Intensely, the language is taught as a compulsory subject in several public and private academic institutions due to several reasons. There is a common perception that English opens doors for greater employment opportunities both locally and internationally. According to the survey findings, it is evident that English increases the social status of an individual in society. Moreover, the survey experts revealed that English increases international acceptability.

Additionally, if students lacked proficiency in English, it would be impossible for them to interpret information in their native language (Burstall, 1975). Just like other countries have done, there is a need to have some medium of translation where the common language is chosen for use. This ensures that within a short duration, students are able to advance their knowledge and skills. The need for a common language for translating research information and books has contributed to the growing necessity to increase the application of English both nationally and globally (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). In addition, globalization is a factor that has made English to be commonly used in tertiary institutions in Bangladesh. Learners need not be left out in terms of cultural, scientific, technological, and academic exposure to the external world (Burstall, 1975). Furthermore, universities aim at exposing their students to education opportunities abroad where English is the common language of communication. Moreover, this makes learners dynamic in policies and practices whenever they are in foreign countries. In other words, English provides dimensions for students to effectively compete globally for skills gained in various academic disciplines (Banu & Sussex, 2001).

However, in deciding the language of instruction in the classroom, several factors should be considered to enhance the delivery of basic knowledge, skills and to ease communication. Evidence indicates that multilingualism can have adverse effects on learners especially when they have little proficiency in a particular language. In most cases, multilingualism is prone to challenges such as a low level of skill among teachers who are meant to teach learners (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Additionally, inappropriate designing of curriculum and lack of facilities hamper learners from learning the language of instruction. In this case, a study conducted indicates that the Bangla language serves perfectly well for learners in Bangladesh. Nonetheless, citizens need a lingua franca that will enhance them to communicate with other people in the external world. In this case, English has been preferable to be used in industries, technology, and tertiary level of education (Banu & Sussex, 2001).

Does English Language hamper proper teaching and learning in Bangladesh? Teacher/ students survey

Apparently, there have been concerns about the impact of using English as the language of communication in classrooms. To produce evidence, 20 students were interviewed and almost 75% had problems in class when the teacher taught them in English as is illustrated in the survey results below (Burstall, 1975).

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Course Code and Section Course Title* Level of the Course Session Language Initial English Proficiency Test Score Number of Students completed** Avg. Class Participation Point, (10 max)
MBA 501.1 Business Communication Graduate Summer 2006 Bangla 6.1 31 8
MBA 501.2 English 6 33 6
ENG 101.1 English Reading and Composition Freshman Summer 2010 Bangla 5.1 24 7
ENG 101.2 English 5.3 17 4

In this case, it is emphasized that Bangla should be used instead of English to improve learners’ performance. In line with this, it has been noted that the use of English tends to limit learners’ competence in academics especially when they shy about asking questions in English. For instance, pronunciation is an integral aspect of any language (Gardner, 1985). Learners in Bangladesh view the practice as insignificant especially in foreign languages like English. For this reason, learners’ performance is dependent on their command of English in terms of basic skills, listening and speaking. In as much as the government has tried to improve the State of English used in the country, serious problems have continued to emerge in connection to students’ performance. A survey conducted among secondary school students revealed that more than 80% of learners have weakness in the basic skills that encompasses reading, listening and speaking in English (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Most of the learners were found to dislike the use of English as the language of class instruction. Due to the fact that different groups of students are weak in certain areas of language basics, their proficiency is affected and this leads to poor performance in class (Lambert, Havelka & Gardner, 1960). Moreover, it was figured out that 75% of teachers do not emphasize enough the need for students to improve on grammar (Burstall, 1975). Instead, they only stress writing skills. In this case, 50% of students who join private universities blame their teachers for not encouraging them to practice all the basics like pronunciation, spelling, and listening skills (Banu & Sussex, 2001).

The use of vocabularies, grammar structures, and other basic skills act as barriers for learners to understand some concepts taught in English. Having mastered the first language, it becomes difficult for students to learn a second language hence they make wrong statements through writing and speech (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Low proficiency both in sentence structure and vocabulary use at times interfere with learners’ ability to express themselves both in class and on public occasions (Lambert, Havelka & Gardner, 1960). It is worth noting that, proficiency in English differs with age and gender since a high level of skills is attained at a young age. However, these skills diminish as individuals advance in age (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). Evidence from student surveys indicates that men have higher competence in English hence they perform relatively well in higher education as opposed to women. Additionally, the availability of motivational assistance in academics is rampant in Bangla than in English (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). In this case, teachers tend to highly motivate learners well in their local language and as well they have the necessary skills. Lack of adequate knowledge in English among teachers lowers the rate of motivation to learners. Vividly, learners perform well in their native language than in English (Gardner, Tremblay & Masgoret, 1997). It is also worth no note that, in some instances, teachers lack the necessary skills of teaching English especially in pronunciation (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). This makes them unable to administer instructions in classrooms and identify errors made by learners.

Student performance was consistently better when instructions/lectures were given in Bangla

On accessing student performance, it is evident that 75% of them perform well in Bangla as opposed to English. According to linguists, it is evident that the mother language is quite reliable and easy to understand unlike foreign languages (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). Naturally, Bangla can be understood as learners read through textbooks and communicate in classrooms. Research indicates that foreign languages diminish the natural flow of imagination in the mind of learners. Hence, their ability to innovate is interfered with (Banu & Sussex, 2001). In this essence, students have strong fluency and a predictable accuracy to give commands and adhere to instruction in their native language (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). Several education commissions in Bangladesh recommend the use of Bangla as a medium of instruction. According to the constitution of Bangladesh, Bangla is widely recognized as the national language (Banu & Sussex, 2001).

Besides, Bangala is widely and commonly applied in a wider context of the society in Bangladesh. Students lament that they are unable to use English outside the classroom hence they use their native language at all times (Burstall, (1975). Out of the 20 teachers surveyed in 6 private universities, 14 of them commented that they experience a problem when teaching students using English. This fails to help them preserve proficiency in English thus attributes to poor performance when English is used as the medium of communication in classrooms (Gardner, Tremblay & Masgoret, 1997). In terms of similarities, students feel that English is far much different from their native languages hence they get bored of practicing it. A survey conducted revealed that students find English as diverse and complex in its words, meanings and vocabularies thus get more confused when using it. To them, sentence pattern is a nightmare that messes up their understanding and application in academics (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). In most cases, students waste much of their time mastering to know English and might end up not performing well than the case if they used their native language to study. In this case, English is not the most convenient language to use in classrooms. Therefore, I support the proposal that Bangla should be made the subject medium of communication in all levels of learning.

To fulfill course objectives, language barriers should be removed. In our case, this barrier is English.

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Apparently, it has become impossible for learners to achieve objectives laid in their course outlines due to language complications. Instances, where learners are hampered to perform well due to the language barrier, have been common.

This issue should be tackled at all costs to improve performance (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). However, to eliminate the language barrier, the native language should be used in classrooms. English language should be taught outside the curriculum right from grade I to tertiary level. The criterion behind this is to enable learners to have a high proficiency of English as they approach the tertiary level of studies (Banu & Sussex, 2001). To limit inconveniences, it is worth noting that advance preparations will enable them to adopt and use English effectively to progress academically at the university level. In line with this, an attempt to teach and improve English through computer science is not logical. In fact, local language should be used to develop vital training manuals and facilities where mastery of English is not recommended (Gardner & Smythe, 1981). This will help the mass to learn general applications like internet browsing, Microsoft suite, and media player skills. It is definite that there should be a universal network of languages to see into it that the language barrier does not occur locally, nationally and globally (Gardner & Smythe, 1981). In this case, a convenient language should be used to ensure that communication takes place among citizens. However, due to emerging issues occasioned by globalization, there is a need to motivate and encourage people to learn several languages (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). Since every country is reliant on others for aspects like trade, education, commerce, technology and politics, there must be common means of communication. To emphasize this, students should be aided to learn foreign languages inclusive of English to help them interact with the external world (Gardner & Smythe, 1981). At this juncture, it is beyond doubt that English is important as a second language through the use of Bangla should be highly emphasized to promote unity and good performance in academics. More than 80% of students surveyed recommended that both languages should be used in classroom discussions. In this case, the English language is as important as Bangla in eliminating the language barrier.

To recap it all, the survey conducted as shown in appendix 1 below consistently expose that more than 50% of private universities in Bangladesh use English as their medium of communication. Notably, Bangla is the most widely used language in the country hence learners perform well in class while using it as opposed to English. Significantly, the policy of using English as a medium of communication in schools should be revised to overcome the language barrier. Concurrently, Bangla should be the only language used as the medium of communication in the classroom as recommended by the constitution of Bangladesh (Gardner & Lambert, 1959). However, foreign languages and specifically English should be learned outside the curriculum to improve proficiency in tertiary levels of education where it is commonly used in research. All the same, learning English exposes learners and states to the external world through education, technology and commerce.

References

  1. Banu, R. & Sussex, R. (2001). Code-Switching in Bangladesh. English Today, 66(17), 51-61.
  2. Burstall, C. (1975). Factors Effecting Foreign Language Learning: A Consideration of some relevant Research findings. Language Teaching and Linguistics Abstracts, 8(1), 5-125.
  3. Gardner, C. (1985). Social psychology and Second Language Learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold Publishing, Inc.
  4. Gardner, R. & Lambert, W. (1959). Motivational variables in second language acquisition. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 13, 266-272.
  5. Gardner, R. & Smythe, C. (1981). On the development of the attitude/ motivation test battery. Canadian Modern Language Review. 37(1) 510-525.
  6. Gardner, R., Tremblay, F. & Masgoret, A. (1997). Towards a Full Model of Second Language Learning: An Empirical Investigation. Modern Language Journal, 81, 344-362.
  7. Lambert, W., Havelka, J. & Gardner, C. (1960). Linguistic manifestations of bilingualism. The American Journal of Psychology. 72(1), 77-82.

Appendix

Course Code and Section Course Title* Level of the Course Session Language Initial English Proficiency Test Score Number of Students completed** Avg. Class Participation Point, (10 max) Avg. Assignments Points, (20 max, 30 for OAD 101) Avg. All Exams, (max 70) Avg. Total (max 100)
MBA 501.1 Business Communication Graduate Summer 2006 Bangla 6.1 31 8 17 44 69
MBA 501.2 English 6 33 6 17.5 41.7 65.2
ENG 101.1 English Reading and Composition Freshman Summer 2010 Bangla 5.1 24 7 18 38.1 63.1
ENG 101.2 English 5.3 17 4 17.1 37.9 59
ENG 101.1 English Reading and Composition Freshman Fall 2010 Bangla 4.9 27 8 15.9 37.6 61.5
ENG 101.2 English 5.3 19 7 16.1 34.8 57.9
ENG 101.4 English Reading and Composition Freshman Spirng 2011 Bangla 4.5 32 9 17.9 42 68.9
ENG 101.5 English 4.1 27 7 17 39.5 63.5
OAD 101 Keyboarding and Data Processiong Freshman Fall 2010 Bangla 5.7 20 n/a 23.8 55.5 79.3
OAD 101 Spring 2011 English 5.9 21 n/a 24.9 54.1 79
*MBA 501 teachers business communication fundaments and theories, nonverbal and verbal communication strategies, interview skills etc. ENG 101 teaches advance reading skills, writing topic sentence, paragraph and simple essay in English. OAD 101 teachers touch typing and wordprocessing.
** Students who had English medium high school background and those students who registered for the course but did not complete, withdrew or dropped the course were not included. There numbers were less than 5%
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