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Words Worth English Language Lab and ASL (Assessment of Speaking and Listening) in CBSE Schools

Good communication skill is the objective of any language learning. That the learners of any language are able to interpret what is being said and are able to express themselves well using the target language, are the important objectives to language learning or acquisition. It is these primary skills that are the unsaid objectives of any language teaching-learning programme.

With English language undoubtedly the most sought after language across the world, being able to communicate well in this language becomes very important. In fact, success at the global level depends a lot on the adeptness in the communicative use of this international language. It is due to this reason that one sees the omnipotence of English as the taught language throughout the country. Yet, the proficiency level in the communicative skills is often seen as a not up to the desired mark.

Of the four LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) skills, reading and writing with a reasonable degree of accuracy is something that the learners of English are able to achieve easily in most schools. Imparting these two skills are not seen as too much of a challenge by their respective boards; teaching listening and speaking skills though are. It is not an easy task to teach these two skills in a formal setup. The steady and assured progression in language learning and acquisition is in a natural environment is difficult to surpass.

Communication ability in a language is achieved only after being used for a substantial time. Normally, months of silent period while being drenched in the target language are needed, before a learner actually starts using the language. With this environment missing for most learners, the ability to communicate in the target language gets hampered.

To help the learners at its affiliated schools to achieve the desired level of proficiency in communicative skills, CBSE decided to conduct assessments for listening and speaking (ASL) for the secondary classes. It was hoped that such a test would motivate the learners to improve upon these language skills and help the teachers in assisting them in doing so. This Assessment of Speaking and Listening (ASL) was thus made mandatory by CBSE in 2012. All CBSE affiliated schools now require having summative as well as formative assessments for English in classes IX and XI. CBSE ensures that teachers are guided to help learners with low level of proficiency to enhance their communicative skills in this language.

The status of English as a language skill in India is dire. The assumption that learners going through an English medium education should have over the years learnt or acquired the communicative use of this language is far from the truth. Many a learner struggles with the use of this language. In fact most learners are only sound in academic English and not comfortable with the use of the language for communicative purposes.

The acuteness of this issue can be well imagined with the majority of learners coming from non-English speaking environments. Added to this is that, in spite of the importance that this language holds on their future, many learners simply are not motivated enough to make it their language for their day to day communication. The preference to use regional languages even within the school premises results in lost opportunity to use English in natural circumstances. This has a tremendous impact on fluency and accuracy while speaking in English. The onus of bring up the standards of spoken English again falls on the teachers.

This huge and cumulative responsibility of the teachers in bringing up the standards of English communication skills of the learners is recognised by CBSE, and the board provides the teachers with relevant support material and conducts training sessions regularly. Suggestions about how to integrate the teaching and practice of these two skills in the regular classes are given to the English teachers, while also making them familiar with the objectives and the formats of the assessments. The teachers are provided with information on both formative and summative assessments.

All in all, CBSE does keep the English teachers at its affiliated schools updated and regular trainings. Yet, with language being a skill and not a school subject to be studied, the results sought through the ASL test can’t be the work of a few sessions alone. CBSE understands that since the test aspires to ascertain the proficiency level of the learners’ English communicative skills, a separate teaching for the same would defeat the purpose of the test. Only a regular and consistent use of the language will deliver the desired result- an ambitious dream as far the reality is concerned!

As already implied, many learners- sometimes entire batches of learners need assistance with speaking and listening for the English language. This humongous task can be met only if the teacher is able to stimulate speaking sessions in the class, and is able to create an encouraging environment for them to use the language. H/she needs to ensure that these skills are consciously addressed in the day-to-day classroom sessions while meeting the parameters the learners will be tested on during the test.

With the learners coming with varies needs, this is no mean a challenge for the teacher. Teaching of the speaking skill is a huge challenge especially to learners coming from a non- English speaking environment. Learners have to be taught to interweave vocabulary, language structures and context appropriately to make sense. Fluency and accurate pronunciation are additional areas of language to be addressed. Ensuring improvement in listening skills is no different. The art of reading between the lines and understanding what is being meant is a skill that has to be learnt and mastered. The learners will have to be consciously taught the skill of looking for hints to interpret and deduce meaning of the context to enhance their listening skills.

Language labs aim at meeting these needs and reducing the burden of the English teacher. They should ideally comprise of content addressing ASL needs, not only for the learner but for the teacher as well.

Words Worth English Language Lab, provides ample teaching material in enhancing the learners' speaking and listening skills. The rich content of this language lab not only allows learners to practice these skills, but also provides good teaching material for the teacher to impart them; making the preparation for ASL test relatively meaningful.

The testing format as suggested by CBSE for the ASL test has been used in the Words Worth Language Lab content to prepare the learners; facilitating the preparation for the test. The learners are provided with a bank of vocabulary or expressions best suited to a relevant topic. This hand-holding instils in them the confidence needed to speak and express themselves with confidence. The guidance given to analyse an audio further helps them to develop a knack for interpreting and understanding what is being said.

Teaching of communication skills using a digital language lab adds value to the preparation process. The regular and deliberate teaching of listening and speaking skills, instil confidence in learners. It is anticipated that they are then inspired to shed their inhibition towards the language and use it frequently. The expressions taught during regular sessions- it is hoped, if used by them in real life, will enhance their active vocabulary and improve their proficiency in speaking the language.

The ASL component of the Words Worth English Language Lab has been in use for over a year in many schools across the country. Delhi Public School, Bilaspur, where this English language lab has been running since 2013, has commented that, the results of the entire software and that of the ASL component has been highly satisfying. It has made a positive difference on the communication skills of the learners.

Such feedback received from many schools is quite encouraging and talk about the workability of ASL preparation through language labs.