Mastering English through online courses

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‘A day at the market’ may be a common English elocution assignment at school, but for Vaishali Waghere, a class XII graduate farmer’s wife from Pimpri Chinchwad whose children study in an English-medium school, this is like stepping into the shoes of Shashi Godbole, essayed by the late Sridevi, in filmmaker Gauri Shinde’s debut English Vinglish (2012).

The 39-year-old housewife has been learning spoken English since the last month through a specially designed online learning course for mothers. “I want to speak English as fluently as I speak Marathi,” said Waghere, who recounts how she would enjoy learning in school and junior college but couldn’t continue her education further.

“I studied in a state-run Marathi-medium school. My children go to a CBSE school. They speak good English. I’d often feel left out of their conversation as I did not know the language. I couldn’t help much with their school homework either,” Waghere added.

So, when professional language trainer Sunil Jogdeo and Pune’s Wablewadi Zilla Parishad School principal Dattatray Ware collaborated to launch the “Mother’s English Vinglish” course a month ago, Waghere seized the opportunity. “My schooling was done at Wablewadi and my brother still works at the Zilla Parishad (ZP) school. So, when he informed me about the initiative, I was very happy. My husband and children also egged me to join the course.”

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The online classes are held thrice a week at 9 pm.

Started as a post-Covid-19 course to help mothers of school-going children in rural Maharashtra cope with school closures and online teaching, ‘Mother’s English Vinglish’ has gained popularity fast. “We began with the parents of students from the Wablewadi school. But mothers from other regions of the state have also joined. About 100 mothers are attending these classes at this point,” Jogdeo said.

That these classes are held from 9 pm to 10 pm thrice a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — hasn’t deterred Nandurbar-resident Jayshri Saindane, a ZP teacher, from attending them. “Every mother aspires that her children would study in an English-medium school. I can speak English but am not fluent. I lack the confidence to speak the language. This forum has given me an opportunity to hone my spoken English skills and develop my personality further. My vocabulary has improved over the last month,” Saindane (36) said. She added that her son has been helping her with video presentations for the course.

With mothers from different education backgrounds joining the classes, their teacher, Jogdeo, asks them to converse in English on everyday issues. On September 23 evening, for instance, the class discusses a situational chat around a day in the market to buy a saree, with Jogdeo encouraging each of the participants to narrate one of their saree-buying experiences in English.

The mothers appeared to love it. While many of them continue to falter on tenses and articles, their excitement about learning new words and sentences is palpable. Though it is early days for this lot, Jogdeo makes it a point to specify their mistakes as also encourage them.

“When one participant finishes her presentation, many others hop on the group chat to congratulate her though several of them are not confident of appearing on the camera yet.” Jogdeo said, adding their confidence levels will go up gradually.

In her class presentation, Lata Bangar, another housewife, does not forget to mention about one of her new friends in the group. “It just feels like school days are back again. We attend classes, get homework, make new friends and even gossip with them later,” said Savita Budhivant (38), a ZP schoolteacher, who is hopeful that mastering the language will help her take a better part in the children’s learning journey.

Besides teaching her school students online and household chores, Budhivant has had a rather busy schedule since the pandemic. The local body has assigned her the responsibility of conducting a door-to-door screening of people in her locality for Covid-19 symptoms. “But I make it a point to regularly attend the English class. It is about reliving a dream,” she said.

Though the classes coincide with most of their favourite prime-time television sops, these mothers, just like Shashi, feel they are on a transformational journey.

Educationist Dr Anand Oak, who has worked closely with Jogdeo in designing the course, said, “Education is a life skill. Very often, we overlook the importance of imparting skills to the mothers in the all-round development of a child.”

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