When approached by Devika to help the Aagaaz group hone their skills of speaking English, my reaction was more of the joy in getting to interact with the group than the ‘how’ of the requirement. It is only when I started giving deeper thought to it that I realised that getting to know them was the important component in embarking further on this path.
So we started by meeting every Sunday for an hour or so, initially just being together, me trying to reduce my ‘Devika ki mummy’ tag and they were probably just getting comfortable around me. Simple vocabulary exercises, rhymes and games were introduced and I was able to gather data on where they were and how we could go ahead. What was enjoyable was their lack of inhibition with me and willingness to try it all.
Some were comfortable with speaking but seeking flow, vocabulary and pronunciation, others were hesitant to speak but willing to learn. As the weeks passed, a rhythm evolved. We started with simple word games and moved to sentence level exercises. Role playing was an important part of the sessions. It gave context as well as comfort to a group that is already immersed in theatre and its processes. In fact, sometimes the challenge was to have more speech and less drama.
Recounting stories, converting Hindi song lyrics into English, stories to scripts and then enacting them, directed conversations as in interviews and reporting were some of the activities that enabled the group to practise their speech as well as use diverse vocabulary. Vocabulary based word games were an integral part of each session even if a very mundane task of selecting words out of a theme and creating sentences using those.
For the initial sessions focus was not placed upon correcting them at all, the aim was for the group to be at ease with speaking and to acquire a certain flow. There has been a challenge in the varying abilities but the activities allowed flexibility within that for most cases. Reading was avoided for a long time due to this. Off late we have upped the ante and simple scripts have been introduced for chain reading, together or in small groups. Here a little intervention for pronunciation is being included. Recently they have embarked upon creating their own script and the idea is to keep increasing the complexity of that self-furnished text.
It’s a wonderful group with lively participants, the sessions are largely joyful and friendly, the varying dynamics between the young adults lending to the relationship with and within the session in interesting ways. The endeavour is also to let them learn within the space of being themselves and not turn ‘English’ into a larger than life institutional requirement. There is tremendous (un)learning for me as I gather my intuitions and dispositions to be challenged, negotiated and ‘played’ with every Sunday at Aagaaz.