Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 11 November 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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    M. S. Thirumalai
    6820 Auto Club Road #320
    Bloomington, MN 55438 USA.
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    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Mysore 570006, India
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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Heritage Learning and Current Social Learning
B. Syamalakumari


Many years ago, I wrote a lengthy book called AN INTENSIVE COURSE IN MALAYALAM for the benefit of the second language learners of Malayalam who speak another Indian language as their first language. The book is still in print, and continues to be used as the main textbook at the Basic Course level of Malayalam language teaching in some language teaching centres including the Southern Regional Language Centre, Mysore. Hundreds of adult learners, mostly high and higher secondary school teachers, have used this textbook to learn Malayalam, and often to teach Malayalam to their students. This book was written with the goal of teaching conversational skills to meet the very personal needs of communication in the learners' day-to-day life.


As our Indian civilization demands a keener knowledge and understanding of the social, political, and similar issues, I began to add materials to my language teaching classes focusing on issues. This position may be somewhat difficult to appreciate for those who simply follow the models of language textbooks introduced decades ago based on textbooks teaching English as a second or foreign language. Over the years, I began to design language teaching materials that would be shorter and more focused. In this process I identified several topics that could be used for the conversations given in such textbooks. These are advanced only in their topical focus, and not in their structural focus. For, these textbooks cover advanced themes or discussion on certain issues, using the vocabulary and structure frequently used in tea-shop situations. The goal is to offer a variety of topics suitable to the structures that need to be taught in some formal and graded manner.


I give below the topics that we used in some of the textbooks. The materials writers were asked to identify the structures suitable for the expression of these topics. The topics and the structures were carefully matched, but there was always some overlap. So, we decided that the materials producers could make a list of their own for their respective languages. It so turned out that most writers preferred to retain the topics suggested for their lessons, after much discussion among them. They were greatly enthused not only by the novelty of the topics but also by the relevance of the topics for a new audience of learners.

The lessons were to be written with complete grammatical and cultural notes to enable both the teachers and students to work their way through. The lessons were so written that there was some overlap between the topics as well. No gradation of topics was suggested. However, the materials producers did make an effort to arrive at some content gradation on their own.

  1. How is an institute/home for the physically/mentally handicapped run? How does one ask for donations? How does one inquire about the activities of the organization, etc.
  2. Taking the children to admit to an expensive private primary school. Conversation between two parents discussing problems of present-day education system starting from pre-primary classes.
  3. Between two adults narrating and comparing their experiences in two hospitals where their dear ones have been admitted. Discussion on the need for proper health care, committed doctors, nurses, etc.
  4. Problems of house construction - physical, financial and psychological - A conversation between two friends, one who is constructing a house and another who is dreaming to own one.
  5. Discussion between a small factory owner and the leaders of the Labour Union - opening of the locked-up factory - the demands, compromise, etc.
  6. Between two children - one without any brother/sister and the one who has recently got a younger brother/sister.
  7. Between two unemployed young men - discussion about future plans/one revealing his hidden desire to be a film Director-cum-Producer - dreams about an ideal film-maker.
  8. A Conversation among three working women, regarding the problems of finding suitable accommodation away from their homes - hostel - paying guest - rented house, etc.
  9. Planning a home garden - vegetable/flowers/ornamental plants - Two family members owning houses with space for a garden.
  10. Two old men - on war and peace - no war has ever brought peace - Live and let live policy is the ideal.
  11. Man and Animal - discussion - dialogue between a wise man and and some young people - art, architecture, music - leisure - good/evil thoughts, etc.
  12. Sharing of river water - politicians' discussion - the problem for the present and the future, etc.
  13. Modern day means of transport - abundant choice of privately owned vehicles, crowded inadequate buses - pollution, lack of exercises, environmental hazards, etc., compare with olden days - talk between pedestrian morning/evening walkers.
  14. Difference in practising the rituals with respect to some festival/some life stage (birth, death, marriage etc.), - women's talk.
  15. 'Global Village' communication revolution - phones - land lines - mobiles - computer e-mail - the shrunken world - grandfather - grandson talk.
  16. Recalling the old experiences by a grandmother to her grand children - joint family etc., - eternal Indian theme.
  17. The joy of family life and motherhood etc.; a young mother expressing her views - experiences to her unmarried friend who has decided to remain unmarried.
  18. Conflicts in the life of an average middle class working woman - between two working women.
  19. Lessons we learn from birds and animals - a nature lover talking to enthusiastic children.
  20. Age-old ideal relationship between the teacher - student - a teacher and students talk - the eternal virtues - meaningfulness of the teaching profession, etc.
  21. Ideas and plans for future life - talk between a young man and woman who have decided to get married.
  22. Ethics of medical profession - talk between an old time doctor and the present day commercially oriented doctor.
  23. Craze for money - Stocks and Shares - Foolish investments - lottery - disappointment - dejection - suicide etc., - Talk between old and young based on some newspaper report regarding some tragedy.
  24. Anxieties of parents whose daughter/son decided to choose their life partner out of the accepted/generally practiced norm in his/her immediate society.
  25. The cold, colder, coldest winters - an experienced person and one who does not have that kind of exposure - (could be on any other season like summer/rainy season, etc.)
  26. A dutiful ideal wife cheering up/comforting her hardworking husband who has missed his promotion, which he thinks, he should have got.
  27. What a good man he is! Recollecting the good and timely help someone extended to you and family and telling about it to your children/friends.
  28. Recollecting the experiences of an industrial/agricultural/handloom fare/exhibition.
  29. A jail officer's experiences regarding the lives of prisoners - how they have become criminals - the hand of the rich people/politicians, story of the innocents forced into a criminal life.
  30. Mother and her two young children talking at the railway station to receive her old friend - talking about the friend, her first railway journey experiences, etc.
  31. A school child describing a dream he had the previous night to his friend.
  32. A teenager's dream of India when he reaches his thirties - a brave new world - a conversation with friends.
  33. A situation in which an old man does his own work - self-help is the best help - in conversation with a young man who is not self-dependent or who wants to have servants etc., even for things he can do by himself.
  34. A labour union leader who really worked for the cause of labourers - a conversation by his friends about his virtues etc., soon after his death.
  35. A childless couple planning to adopt a baby from an orphanage talks to another couple who have already adopted a child.
  36. A manager running a small paper cover manufacturing factory talks to an unemployed youth about his business - how he came up, the sufferings he had etc., (any small enterprise can be taken up).
  37. A girl who wants to be a nurse talking to her mother about her desire - references about Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Pandita Ramabai, et al. - nobility of the profession, etc.
  38. A warden of a girls' hostel talking to her wards about the need to observe Indian culture while utilising the modern facilities, fashions etc., without bringing harm to their own future lives.
  39. A village welfare officer speaking about his duties, work schedule etc., to an old classmate who is now settled abroad as a flourishing engineer/doctor.
  40. Middle class parents aspiring to send their only son abroad for higher education in conversation with one of their uncles - their views and his views.
  41. Young unmarried girl working for a voluntary agency for women empowerment, talking to her friend persuading her also to join her association.
  42. Conversation among three farmers who have lost their crops - dependence on nature, cost of fertilisers, rising cost of labour etc.
  43. Conversation among 4 passengers in a railway compartment - starting from family matters to national matters.
  44. Three brothers talking about property and assets distribution after their parents' death - depicting an ideal situation.
  45. Accidents in our transport system - rail, road, air, water - a talk among our citizens after some serious rail accident - safety measures/lack of it, peoples attitudes, public looting the unfortunate victims - politician speakers etc.
  46. About globalization in the Indian context (effect on Indian markets, society, culture etc.)
  47. Role of political parties in College/School/elections - merits and demerits of the case - debate among college students.
  48. Conversation between a mother and sick child - refusing to have medicine - mother trying to convince the child - good food, diet, medicine etc.
  49. Elder sister and younger brother - seeking help to do the homework - sister helping and explaining - talk about her assignments - good teachers, good programmes etc., in both children's schools etc.
  50. Two college friends (girls) discussing as to what gift should be given to their best friend for her wedding - discussion on her tastes, likes, dislikes etc.


My idea of a second language textbook that teaches an Indian language goes beyond the conventional list of topics. A living language is one that is not only used to meet the immediate personal needs of the learner, but its use also helps him or her to be a "meaningful" participant in the society whose language he or she is learning. Culture learning and culture appropriate behavior are very important, but these alone do not make a learner dynamic in his or her relations with the native speakers of the target language. Our civilization is fast changing, because of global changes and also because of population growth and spread of literacy. Children of Indian immigrants in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom may be satisfied with the concept of heritage learning, but children learning other Indian languages as second language in India need to go beyond this limited goal.

HOME PAGE | BACK ISSUES | A Prolog Analyzer/Generator for Sanskrit Subanta Padas | From Spelling Bee to Misinterpretation of Telephone Conversations | Useful and Advanced Topics for Conversation in Intensive Courses: Heritage Learning and Current Social Learning | Understanding Proxemic Behavior | CIEFL Occasional Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 10 | The Two Lives of -unnu in Malayalam: a Response to Amritavali and Jayaseelan | The Order of the Inflectional Morphemes in Arabic | Serial Verbs with the Light Verbs ja: and de in Oriya | Multiple Wh-Fronting and Superiority: A Nested Movement Analysis ...
| Stress and Tone in Punjabi | The Prosodic Phonology of Negation in Assamese | Phonological Awareness in Adult Illiterates: Onsets, Rimes, and Analogies | CONTACT EDITOR

B. Syamalakumari
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore-570006, India