1. A PICTURE IS WORTH THOUSAND WORDS!
It is an old adage that a picture is worth thousand words. In the hands
of an effective and imaginative communicator, a visual representation
of a thing or concept communicates the intended message more effectively
than oral or written description. Pre-historic man used visual representations
to communicate his ideas and to record his experiences. Some languages
like Chinese and Japanese have pictorial writing systems, which originated
from the early drawings in their cultural history. The present day script
systems in different languages evolved to become arbitrary symbols and
function as abstract representations of early drawings.
2. ADULTS ALSO LIKE VISUAL PRESENTATIONS!
A pictorial representation is more easily accepted by a child learner
than an oral or written description. Since adults can extend their horizon
of imagination to a great extent they want, they conjure some pictures
in their minds to visualize these concepts in their imagination. But,
in the case of children, even though they can be very imaginative, most
children would love to have pictures in their textbooks or in any type
of learning materials. This is also true with adult neo-literates. Only
the intellectuals of high caliber would like to have their reading materials
devoid of illustrations, as they would not like to be disturbed in creating
the characters in their minds with the help of the written words used
in the materials. Accordingly, we often hear of an extremely good painting
to be compared to a poem and a poem to be compared to a painting. Even
to such adults a good cartoon appeals much more than a detailed report.
With a few deft strokes the cartoonist tells so many things untold so
far and conveys most powerfully what is intended.
3. RELEVANT USE OF VISUALS - OBJECTIVES OF VISUALS
Exploiting the above quality of visual representation, unfortunately
we find people indiscriminately adding pictorial illustrations to textbooks
or other books for children without taking into consideration the need
and role of such illustrations in a book.
Generally the objectives of adding pictorial representations in any learning material can be summarized as follows.
- To illustrate clearly, thereby explaining further a point that is
described in words.
- To clarify a point that is not described but is only hinted at.
- To inculcate a curiosity in the learner to probe more into the details
of a thing/concept discussed in words.
- To motivate the learner by breaking the monotony of seeing only
the printed words.
- Just to attract the attention of the potential readers toward the
book so that he/she will be motivated to use the same.
- Use an illustration as a cue for learning/teaching, practice of
learning items, and testing.
- In language learning/teaching materials, visuals could be fruitfully
used to develop oral as well as written compositions
- By clarifying the point discussed in the reading material, the visual
acts as a catalytic agent to accelerate the process of learning, thereby
increasing the motivation to learn further.
Just as a good visual helps to attain the above objectives, a bad/defective visual retards the pace of learning, kills the curiosity of the learner, and makes the learner disinterested in the material and the process of learning itself. Similarly too many illustrations shrink the thought process of the learner and leave her always spoon-fed and makes her incapable of widening her imagination. Such a bad visual is more destructive than constructive in effect.
4. A VARIETY OF VISUALS
In the category of visual aids, in addition to life size and miniature
models, photographs, paintings, drawings and cartoons have a great role.
This is so whether in the opaque medium of a textbook or in the transparent
medium of a slide or film. While children will love to have models,
colorful life-like photographs or portraits for maximum appreciation,
they also like line drawings and cartoons, which exercise their brains
along with entertaining, while kindling their imagination.
5. IDEAL PRESENTATION OF VISUALS
It is an ideal condition that the artist is very thorough with the
situation in the learning materials and has first hand knowledge of
the same, either through direct experience or by understanding the situation
presented. But, in many contexts, we find that what is intended by the
material producer and what is drawn by the artist do not at all match,
and in such situations the learner finds himself/herself in a fix and
this acts as an impediment in the learning process and in no way creates
interest in the process of learning or in the material in the learner.
Sometimes the peripheral issues or irrelevant points are given prominence
in the visuals that the main point for the clarification for which the
visual was drawn is lost sight of. On other occasions we may see that
scientifically or proportion-wise the pictures may be correct, but the
learner does not find the cultural color of the setting in which the
learning material is presented.
This means that there are visuals, which are culture specific, and
so culture-bound, and visuals which are culture neutral and so general
for any situation. A mixing of these two varieties will not be acceptable
to the learner as that will also hamper or at least disturb the learning
process. Sometimes it also happens that words and sentences used in
the materials could cover a wide semantic range whereas the visual drawn
represents only one aspect of the same and that too most probably is
the inappropriate theme for the given context.
6. LACK OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN
MATERIALS PRODUCERS AND ARTISTS
All these could happen when there is a gap in the communication between
the materials producer and the artist. It is in this context that both
materials producers and learners benefit if a dialogue between the materials
producer and the artists are initiated.
The textbooks produced by the various state-run Textbook Corporations
in India and by the leading publishers who print, sell and distribute
hundreds of thousand of copies of books in Indian languages and English
actually will benefit by these dialogues. Even though quality of the
paper used and the variety of color drawings will enhance the attractive
presentation of visuals, even black and while pictures can be so drawn
that these will be attractive, relevant, and meaningful. Moreover, even
two-color visuals could be made as attractive, relevant and meaningful
as the four-color drawings.
Comparing a series of English teaching textbooks published by a leading
Chennai publisher with a series of ESL books published in the United
States, Zabel (2001) writes, "The Spectrum book (series published by
a leading Chennai publisher) is printed on ordinary newsprint-type paper
with black-and-white illustrations. . . . Without judging the merit
of the information and activities included, but based only on sight,
the initial impression is that a student would more likely be captivated
by or interested in the Success book (a series published in the United
States) over the Spectrum book, based upon the color photos, the differing
layouts of each page, and the apparent variety of topics covered" (Language
in India, May 2001). Reviewing another series of ESL textbooks produced
in India by a multinational publishing house, Erickson writes, "The
texts are easy to read, using 14 pt. font, bold headings, thought bubbles,
etc. They make good use of illustration and seem well designed to hold
students' attention. There is sufficient space given for activity sections
in both books, and all in all the layout of the texts are pleasing to
the eye" (Language in India, 2003).
7. A DIALOGUE BETWEEN MATERIALS PRODUCERS AND ARTISTS
In order to establish some models in this area, I gathered together
artists and materials producers for a 10-day conference sometime ago.
The conference focused first on the experience of the materials producers
and artists while they engaged themselves in producing language textbooks.
They narrated in simple language their experience and anguish, and presented
the difficulties they faced while working with each other.
There was mutual distrust, one could feel, when experience was exchanged.
There was also misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the focus that
the written text intended to communicate. The materials producers could
have easily written their text in such a way that such misunderstanding
and misinterpretation could be avoided. For, in some real sense, the
artists were responding to the written text as the children or other
categories of learners would respond to the material.
On the other hand, the artists were also imposing their own perception
on the written material that they were asked to portray in a picture.
They tended to select a trait that was easy to portray or was prominent
in their imagination. They went beyond the written text and began to
visualize things that were not intended by the text. Moreover, they
treated the text as a launching pad for them to create a new world of
their own, not restraining themselves to be participants in the world
created by the materials producers.
It was very clear that both the materials producers and artists needed
to understand one another and view the textbook production as a joint
effort. Since the materials producers do most of the design and writing
of the texts, it becomes their responsibility to clearly lay out what
the structure, scope, goal, etc. of the textbook, while at the same
they should be willing to modify the text if necessary to accommodate
the necessity of visual representation.
8. EVALUATION OF AVAILABLE TEXTBOOKS
ON THE BASIS OF DIALOGUE
On the basis of the discussion we evaluated the quality of visuals
in certain publications. We found that often visuals are introduced
just to fill in the pages. Visuals were not tied to any real learning
or hand on activity. Factual representation was not emphasized. Moreover,
existing conventions were freely used without examining whether such
traditions or conventions help illustrate the points made in the text.
9. PREPARATION OF VISUALS BASED ON NEEDS AND GRAMMAR
We did some visuals for some sample language learning materials on
the spot. These visuals were shown to a number of people to evaluate
their usefulness as part of the specific lessons for which they were
In addition we discussed various themes, which reflect the nature of language - as a process and its salient features and got as many posters drawn as possible. These posters were to be addressed to language learners as well as common man.
The first two days were devoted for the dialogue and discussion, and one day for evaluation of materials. The remaining days were devoted for the production visuals for the textbooks already prepared.
Pictures were drawn for a number of proverbs that would be used in first or
second language textbooks in Indian languages. We also drew a variety
of pictures for language games that would use these proverbs. We also
drew visuals to teach poetry.
This was one of the most difficult tasks, because we need to come to
some agreement as to the major focus of the poems for which we were
trying to produce visuals. Also, do we use the metaphors employed by
the poems, even if these metaphors were not very explicit? If we unravel
the hidden truth and put them out as visuals, would this stop the students
from unraveling the hidden beauty themselves? What about simply focusing
on some elegant idioms and phrases only and making visuals for them?
We also drew visuals for the grammatical points focused in individual
lessons. Accusative case in Indian languages lends itself very well
to this sort of handling. Instrumental function may be distinguished
from the associative function of a case marker using visuals in Indian
language materials. In fact all the case functions (vibhakti or ve:RRumai),
postpositions, and verbal and nominal compounds needed visuals to illustrate
the subtlety. Time or tense is another interesting area that attracted
our attention. We tried to use balloons only to a small extent, because
our materials focused more on direct and conversations.
The games were presented as multiple choice games, completion games, matching games or guessing games.
10. SOME THEMES
For the posters we used the following themes and the participants were
requested to generate more related materials.
- Language mirrors culture.
- No language is easy. No language is difficult. Languages are different.
- Multilingual heritage is our strength and not our weakness.
One of the things that we decided was that no visual should be given any caption. However, our early attempt was to find ways and means to distinguish themes that would lend themselves for visualization without any caption, and those themes that would demand captions for a clear understanding of the visuals. If visual is self-contained in some sense, then there is no need for any caption.
Needless to say that all our visuals should meet the demand that they
faithfully represent the local culture and conventions, avoid hurting
religious or ethnic sentiments, and be noble and uplifting in some sense,
even as they function as an effective tool for learning and teaching.