English Language cannot be taught; it must be learnt | Sunday Observer

English Language cannot be taught; it must be learnt

According to a Wikipedia Research Report under the caption - Languages of Sri Lanka, only 23.8 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population can speak fluent English. They are mainly positioned in urban and semi-urban areas of the country. In a country where English is taught as a second language in school starting from primary grades, this figure is not satisfactory. For example, in India according to a BBC survey, only 10% of its population or 125 million people speak fluent English but the Government expects it to quadruple by 2030 due to education reforms introduced in 2014.

Even though efforts have been made to facilitate English language learning, failure on the part of students to achieve the desired level of proficiency, substantiate the fact that there are many challenges that hinder the process of learning English, which are yet to be overcome.

According to a research paper submitted by Kaleelul Rahuman Fathima Seefa, Lecturer in English, South Eastern University, at the 7th International Symposium, SEUSL, poor family background and rural setting are challenges in learning English. Due to the poor economic background students do not have access to English speaking environment and study materials. Researchers believe that lack of exposure to English and less opportunity to practise English other than in the classroom are additional challenges across many non-urban areas.

It is globally accepted that any language (other than the mother tongue) is meant to be acquired first instead of being learnt. It applies to English language as well. Therefore, learning English becomes difficult when students limit the learning to the classroom. English is not a subject which can be taught; it is a subject which must be learnt. Language acquisition process is based on the social and cultural processes that occur in everyday life. However, these special processes are not available for non-urban students.

Another survey identified that a further challenge for non-urban students arises due to the difference in the English and Sinhala or Tamil syntax, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc. Hence the linguistic structure is the barrier.

These barriers exist in non-urban areas. That is understandable. However, there are other social factors that make it difficult for these students to learn English, e.g. lack of hard work, fear, mother tongue influence, adverse attitudes of parents, elders and others.


Some educationalists believe the urban setting is no better than the rural setting in the learning and teaching of English. They point out that excessive dependence on the mother tongue, reluctance or shyness to talk and read English, frequent absenteeism of students and teachers, overcrowded classrooms and lack of confidence are challenges that students and teachers face.

Country-wise, both urban and non-urban students face issues such as, lack of proficient English teachers, proper training to teachers, lack of facilities, deficiency in curriculum, insufficient allocation of time and poor knowledge of technology.

Our English teaching system needs updating. We still teach English as a subject and not as a language. It is exam-oriented learning as opposed to skill oriented learning. We also mix the slow learners and competent learners which makes it difficult for learners.

These disclosures reveal that psychological and environmental challenges hinder students from learning English. Though the challenges faced differ from one area to another, there are many reasons as to why it is difficult for students to gain proficiency in English.


So, what is the solution? One solution is strict adaptation of the ESL (English as a Second Language) system. And the term TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) can be defined as a teacher centered term in which the curriculum is designed to train the pupils whose native language is not English.

ESL system is adapted in many countries, particularly the Commonwealth. In a nutshell, the primary purpose of an ESL system is to make an individual proficient in the use of the English language.ESL courses are chiefly planned with a range of practices and techniques to develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.

There is a marked difference between the learner learning a first or native language and learning any second or foreign language. It is assumed that the first language of a person comes to influence the quality of learning and use of the second language.

Teaching English for non-English speaking students is generally a difficult task and this is where a good English teacher ibecomes important. It requires patience, diligence and lot of love to be shared with the students. For the students, it is not just learning about the language but experiencing a whole new culture with the help of the language.

For a teacher, it is not just teaching the language but they require to gain additional knowledge of the student’s cultural background and sometimes even customize teaching methods.

The teacher must ensure she has a range of activities to use, and not go into class without having carefully thought through how she is going to introduce the new language, how she would check that the students have understood it, how she would practise it, and deal with potential misunderstandings.

The possibility for confusion at this level is greater than at higher levels. Unlike teaching other subjects, the teacher can’t rely on conversations developing simply because the students don’t yet have the linguistic resources to engage in anything other than simple exchanges. This means the onus is on her to keep them talking.