By Tarun Patel
We are very happy to mark the beginning of this ELT Experts Interview Series. Today we have with us Dr Sathuvalli Mohanraj of EFL University.
Dr S Mohanraj was born in Mysore and was educated there till he attained his postgraduate degree in English. Later he worked there for seven years and subsequently moved to Hyderabad for pursuing his research at CIEFL. He got his research degrees from this Institute before moving over to Gujarat where he worked for 12 years in an ELTI (H M Patel Institute of English Training & Research). Later he joined the CIEFL (Now EFL University) as a member of its faculty in the year 1993 and has been working there since. At present he heads the department of training and development and coordinates the teacher training programmes for domestic and international participants.
Dr Mohanraj has authored 35 course books and books in ELT. He has published nearly 100 research papers in India and abroad. He is greatly interested in materials production, teacher training and using technology for language teaching. He has traveled widely and taught in countries like the USA, Austria, Eritrea, Yemen,China and Singapore. He has attended conferences and seminars both in India and abroad, presented papers, chaired sessions and addressed plenary sessions.
We are happy to publish ELTWeekly’s first expert interview with Dr Mohanraj.
Interview with Dr S Mohanraj
Tarun Patel: Sir, how long have you been teaching English in India?
S Mohanraj: I began my career as a teacher of English in June 1973. That makes it 36 years to date. In between for about three years I was away from the country on teaching assignment, but for this period my teaching tenure has been in India.
Tarun Patel: Why did you decide to become an English language teacher?
S Mohanraj: I became a teacher of English by accident. I was a student of science with Botany, Zoology and Chemistry as my subjects in my degree course. I obtained a B Sc degree and based on my results I applied for a seat in M Sc Botany as well as M A English on the strength of the marks I had scored in compulsory English. Seats for M A were announced before the seats for M Sc. In my own anxiety, I paid the fee and joined the course and started attending the classes. A full one month later, I was given a seat in M Sc which meant I had to forego the fee I had paid and pay up for the admission once again. On the advice of my mother, I stay put with M A English course.
Secondly, on the day of my viva voce examination at the end of M A course, my teacher, Professor C D Narasimhaiah told me that someone was waiting for me and I should meet him immediately after my examination. The person I met happened to be the Chairman of a college with a letter of appointment for me. I was apprehensive as I did not have my results as yet. He said it did not matter to him, and asked me to join my duties in his college the very next day, and that decided my career.
Tarun Patel: Which writer / researcher has had the most influence over the way you understand learning and teaching?
S Mohanraj: When I did my M A one writer with whom I was fascinated was T S Eliot. I had read his complete works and a lot of criticism about him. I had also chosen to write all my seminar papers based on the works of T S Eliot. Another author who deeply influenced me was J M Synge. Trilling was the best researcher and critic I liked during my literary tenure days. I also read widely in Kannada literature, and used to review books and stage performances regularly for some of the dailies and periodicals. But subsequently I gave it all up just like that and took interest in linguistics and language teaching.
In the area of ELT it was Widdowson who meant a lot to me in the initial years. But now, to say there is one author or researcher who I prefer is very difficult to say. Today, it is a world of narrow specialization. As an ordinary teacher, it is essential for me to be familiar with several of the researches and areas of research to help my students and also to keep myself abreast of the developments in this broad field. I wonder if I can make a choice.
Tarun Patel: How did you find your first teaching job?
S Mohanraj: My first job was in a rural residential college. It was not really challenging. I was the chosen one and that gave me an edge. But I stayed in this college just for one year, and soon took up a job in Mysore my place of birth and also the college where I studied. It was in some ways a disadvantage, for every colleague was also my teacher. The administrative staff and the attendants took quite some time to recognize me as a teacher. They often took for a student.
This apart, it was a group of city bred students who had novel ways of asking embarrassing questions and disrupting the class. These initial pin pricks made me a little uncomfortable. But soon, I received wonderful guidance from one of my teachers, Mr. C. Krishna, and then I got to know the tricks of the trade. I picked up the art of teaching, got to realize the importance of going to class with preparation, and then things were smooth.
Tarun Patel: What are the major challenges for an English teacher while teaching in Gujarat / India?
S Mohanraj: There somehow seems to exist a feeling in all parts of India that teaching English there is the most difficult thing. Therefore difficulties in teaching English are pan-Indic rather than specific to a region. Some of the problems lie in the fractured syntax. Indian learners have a tendency to apply the rules of mother tongue grammar to English and there starts the problem. It is true that we can think best in our mother tongue and not in English. If we can bring about some change and help our students to think in English to some extent our difficulties will get reduced. There are a host of other problems related to pronunciation, use of wrong vocabulary, wrong collocations, errors of agreement, mixing of genders, difficulties in mastering the strokes of English orthography etc. These are not specific to Gujarat alone.
Tarun Patel: What have you learned from being an English teacher?
S Mohanraj: I really do not know how to answer this question. But one thing I have really learnt is the English language itself. Today, if I am able to use English with some facility, it is because I have been teaching it for three decades and more.
Tarun Patel: What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an English teacher?
S Mohanraj: Go ahead; the future is very bright for you. English is a global language and soon the Indian variety may shoot to prominence.
Tarun Patel: What most interests you about ELT at the moment?
S Mohanraj: This is another very difficult question to answer. One does become a specialist for certain selfish reasons. After a certain period of time, one needs to take a holistic approach. Today to place my finger on a particular area of interest in difficult. My heart is in Materials Production, Teacher Training and Education Technology.
Tarun Patel: How do you see the role of the EL teacher evolving over the next 5 – 10 years?
S Mohanraj: The prospects are very bright. Today, the world is moving towards inter-disciplinary studies. English is diversifying and its need is increasing in a big way. A day is not very far off where you need a teacher with a good knowledge of English in every discipline to promote what is called Cooperative Teaching and Learning. Tomorrow the English teacher may don several roles other than that of classroom teaching. He may be a translator, interpreter, course developer, training manager, facilitator, broadcaster and many other roles.
Tarun Patel: Please share some tips on becoming a ‘better’ English teacher.
S Mohanraj: Today we are talking about Professional Development of teachers. This simply means we need to be accountable.
Tarun Patel: Thanks very much sir for sharing your thoughts with the ELTWeekly community. We hope to have more such interviews on ‘minute’ aspects of ELT.
* Write to Dr S Mohanraj at mohanrajsathuvalli AT gmail DOT com.
** ELTWeekly team would like to thank Dr S Mohanraj for agreeing for this interview.
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