READERS’ CORNER: To be fluent speaker, one must practise every day

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To be fluent speaker, one must practise every day

by Abraham Ochieng Obunga

As a teacher of English, I must confess I have had tough times convincing learners to embrace the culture of practising English through extensive reading, everyday speaking and tireless writing. This extends to literature and trying to convince learners that poetry isn’t that difficult.

I concur with Sam Mungai in his article ‘Poor reading culture leads to poor speech,’ (Saturday Nation, March 17, 2017), that students should read novels and newspaper s to improve their speech.

However, this is actually where the trouble begins. I’ve been to schools where teachers of English have introduced class readers for the junior classes (forms One and Two) to help nurture a reading culture. Most students refused, or saw it that the teachers were nagging.

Worse still, teachers had no time in the school schedule (considering that the ministry of Education has insisted on ‘enough rest’ for learners) to facilitate adequately reading in turns of these class readers. What learners fail to understand is that it is meant to sharpen their vocabulary and writing dexterity.

This extends to senior classes, where some teachers have given up and are simply dictating summary notes, which is entirely unethical. While this is completely wrong, for learners should read and comprehend the book, both learners and teachers have taken this as some form of relief.

It remains, therefore, an onerous task convincing students to embrace the culture of reading. Such students will never be confident with their language and they’ll continue writing terrible compositions and speaking Sheng.

In Mungai’s second paragraph, he emphasised on spelling as contrasted to pronunciation. Actually, learners have never believed that a language (say) English, requires undying practice. It is not something you can stay awake for and anticipate that the next day you will be eloquent. It takes time and patience. Speaking skills, especially when it comes to testing oral skills, is paramount. Since they don’t speak English as frequently as they should, they fail to differentiate sounds and letters colloquially, namely what we articulate and what we write. This is one reason they fail homophones, silent letters and instances of sound devices like rhyme, alliteration and assonance or consonance in oral poetry. They, instead of looking at sounds, go for letters.

Another perpetual arduous task is convincing students that poetry isn’t that difficult. Each time I enter a classroom and announce that we would study poetry, the mood quickly changes, and however happy the students had been before, they turn gloomy.

Perhaps one of the struggles begin at telling the students that the persona in a given poem, irrespective of the use of first person pronoun ‘I’, is not the poet; that the persona is a creation of the poet much as characters are created in novels and plays. You should see the blank stares. What’s more perturbing is that even after we read poems written by male poets with a female persona, female poets with male persona, or a human poet with inanimate persona, they find it odd.

A good example of poems that differentiate the two is Antonio Jacinto’s letter from a contract worker, where the poet is unquestionably literate while the voice or persona is illiterate — he declares this in the last stanza of Jack Mapanje’s Messages, which has three different persona.

I usually blame it on the presumption that every poem has a hidden meaning. This is because one time while introducing poetry, I asked students what a poem was. Most insisted that a poem is the genre of literature that uses coded language to communicate.

Students should at least get to understand that teachers are not imposing their own conventions on them. Only then will they cease finding certain rules in the language queer.

The writer is a literature student at Moi University, Eldoret

I’m proud of my students despite results

Everybody reacted with shock and disbelief at the news that there had not been a single straight A in last year’s in English examination in KSCE. There followed a public outcry. It was alleged that the English examination was not moderated. Additionally, it is said that the level of testing was way too complex for most candidates. One of the people who marked that examination says English was so strictly marked that a sentence without a fullstop was deemed incomplete.

Whether these allegations are credible or not, one thing is clear — teachers of English bear the brunt of last year’s poor performance.

What these people fail to realise is that an examination should not be the yardstick for measuring the knowledge that a student gains from one level to another.

We have to realise that teaching a non-native language is no mean feat. English is sometimes a fourth language to many of us. So, as we teach our students to pass the examination, we painstakingly help them get to correctly apply the rules of English. Native speakers often stress specific syllables in words, but not so, for non-native speakers. In Kenya for example, we stress all the syllables. Before I taught them, my students would stress the final syllable in the words ‘manage,’ ‘identify,’ ‘witness,’ ‘justify,’ ‘simplify’ and ‘realise’ yet in all these words, the stress falls on the first syllable.

My best students scored a C+, but I am proud of all the students whom I taught.

The writer teaches English at Mbugiti Secondary School  

Yes, English will surely kill our local languages

By Christopher Kipsetim Kimosop

Few people appreciate the enormity of the concerns raised by Andrew Epiche in his write-up titled ‘Emphasis on English in pre-school will kill our local languages’ (Saturday Nation, March 25, 2017). I am in total agreement with him.

In my classes, quite a number of my students are unable to grasp the underlying clues of our local community’s collective psyche as revealed in oral culture. Their level of mastery of the local idiom is limited, yet their command of English is neither here nor there, all owing to the initial shaky grounding in pre-school and lower primary language class. Regrettably, some witty jokes are met with blank expressions.

The situation is made worse by the scant and inadequate reading habit(s) as they graduate to upper primary and secondary school. Many a Form Four graduate will find it difficult to sustain a chat on a novel other than the prescribed The River and the Source by Margaret Ogola or Witi Ihimera’s The Whale Rider. Should you ask about the most contemporary Kenyan writer, the average Kenyan high school learner will barely count to five. The same fellow can hardly complete a discussion without mixing English and Kiswahili or some other indescribable language. It is a nightmare if you challenge the same person to a conversation in mother tongue.

As if the aforementioned is not enough, the teacher will always be the sacrificial lamb at this altar of ineptitude and insensitivity. Some teachers are already victims of the same system, and it is no wonder that some of them skip certain aspects of the language and literature class.

The sense of bewilderment for the language and literature teacher is capped by the overwhelming weight of the curriculum and the timelines within which one is expected to complete the syllabus.

For the sake of posterity, the experts who are spearheading the anticipated curriculum change need to be true to the situation and should take cognisance of the input of the people who have a legitimate stake.

The writer teaches English and literature at Moi High School, Kabartonjo in Baringo County

Orature should be restored as an integral part of literature

I can’t stop reading a book I acquired recently, titled Horn of my Love, by Okot P’Bitek. The writer goes straight to the subject matter to entice the reader. This makes the poetry captivating and appealing, which is not a big concern to me as a critic. The underlying issue is how Okot nicely portrays the use of orature. His art is conveyed like a conversation. Mwok, the praise song in Acholi tradition, is nicely evoked. This is an element that has stuck in the Luo culture, bagging the word pakruok. Everyone in the community must sing his praise song, according to Okot. This is still common in many African communities. In Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe highlights a very persuasive characterNweke Ukpaka, who, through trimmed conversation laden with proverbs and anecdotes, brings out the best method of dealing with the colonialists. Orature plays an integral role in literature, though it is subdued. It is time to reconsider its study and analysis.

The writer lives in Migori County

Copying books is killing dreams of our authors

There is knowledge explosion in our country. Stiff competition has misled students and compromised the quality of education. People are not ready to buy all the required books. It is demoralising to see university students photocopying whole books without a care. This has now trickled down to secondary schools, where school administrations supporting this vice by asking students to buy reams of photocopying paper. Plagiarism is on the rise. Nobody cares about the author any more.

Who will fight for the authors’ rights? It is not easy to track down the perpetrators of this illegal business.

The writer lives in Mombasa

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