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Talking Skills

Given the freedom and chance, all children like to talk about their life, things that have happened and things that they anticipate. Some teachers treat children's personal life as irrelevant to their learning at school. Such teachers insist that children should only discuss impersonal matters in the class, matters that have been portrayed in the textbooks. Faced with this demand, a lot of children find themselves unable to participate in the class in any form. The impersonal matters discussed by the teacher do not interest them, and their personal matters (such as a recent visit by a relative, what a rainstorm did to the house, or getting sick) do not interest the teacher.

Such a situation leads to children's total dissociation from the curriculum. The teacher can avoid such a dissociation by creating opportunities for children to tell others about what is happening in their lives at home and things that have occurred in the past. If children are encouraged to talk about such things, they will gradually find it possible to express their feelings and ideas about a wide range of experiences. Also, they will eventually be able to relate to the knowledge imparted at school under different subjects, such as science, geography, civics, etc., at a deeper, personal level.

In our schools, talk is mostly regarded as a negative thing. This view of talk has led us to ignore the enormous uses of talk as a resource for learning. This is true for all stages of learning, but specially true for learning at the earliest stages. For young children of pre or primary school age, talk is a basic means of learning and consolidating their learning. A school where little children cannot talk with freedom is a useless school. Indeed, teachers who don't let their children talk have no business complaining about lack of funds to buy books or other resources; they are already wasting a highly valuable resource which costs nothing at all.

In order to become aware of these various functions of talk, we must get into the habit of listening to children's talk. This looks simple, but it is a difficult thing to do because as adults we are used to thinking that our job is to tell children what they should do, that it is their job to listen. Such a belief hinders us from becoming good listeners to children's talk. By 'good listener' I mean someone who can patiently notice the purpose for which talk is taking place and the possibilities of learning that the talk is opening up.

Two children talking in any ordinary situation may do the following things in their talk:

1. Pay attention to something they had ignored so far
2. Observe it casually or carefully
3. Exchange or share observations
4. Arrange observations in some kind of organized way
5. Challenge each other's observations
6. Argue on the basis of observation
7. Make a forecast
8. Recall an earlier experience
9. Imagine someone else's feelings or experiences
10. Imagine's their own feelings in an imaginary situation.

If you get into the habit of listening to children's talk carefully, you will soon be able to distinguish these and several other functions. You will also see that these functions involve the use and development of intellectual skills such as analytical and reasoning skills.

Extracted from "The Child's language and the teacher - A handbook" , Krishna Kumar, UNICEF

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