Loras Network (L.N.): Dr. Sipra, we really appreciate this interview you are giving us. We are delighted that you will present at our 1st Loras Network Workshop on Bilingualism and Multilingualism.
Dr. Sipra: Thank you very much for inviting me to this interview. I feel very honoured to be one of the speakers of the Loras Network Workshop on Bilingualism and Multilingualism.
L.N.: Initially, we would like to ask you what drew you into the field of education.
Dr. Sipra: Frankly speaking, I never thought of joining the field of education or teaching. I joined the teaching profession with the intention that I would quit this job as soon as I get any managerial or administrative position. As the time went by, I worked hard in this profession and gradually started enjoying university teaching. Presently, I can’t think of any other job and teaching is my passion now.
L.N.: One of your main interests is bilingualism. How did you select it as such,and why do you think it is important for language learning?
Dr. Sipra: In my country, we are all not only bilinguals but multilinguals. We have two medium of instruction i.e. Urdu and English. Majority is the product of Grammar Translation Method (GTM). I myself started learning English after primary education I mean I started learning English from Y-6 during school time. We are taught English through GTM in Urdu medium schools. When the same students come to learn English language in language institutions, they expect from their language instructors to explain some difficult concepts in their own language where bilingualism occurs. In fact, the bilingual system in our education and such circumstances faced by the students compelled me to conduct research on this topic.
Now I would like to answer the second part of your question why bilingualism is important in language learning. Bilingualism has a small but very important role in communicating meaning and content especially while teaching integrated skills at beginners’ level. It is used as a teaching technique. It has been endorsed by many teachers during my research on bilingualism that the translation of many words, complex ideas or even the whole passages is a good way to learn a foreign language. Pedagogically speaking, bilingualism in which two languages are at work, are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Moreover, there is no empirical support for the view that bilingualism detracts from development of a foreign language.
L.N.: What are some of the most fascinating aspects of bilingualism for you?
Dr. Sipra: The interesting and fascinating aspect of bilingualism is that it is a teaching aid and a facility for both teachers and students. Simultaneously, it is surprising that some of our colleagues deny the contribution of bilingualism despite the fact that they benefit from it in their classes. The reason behind this is, some misconceptions about bilingualism. I have observed and experienced that it develops association between the teacher and the students. It is less time-consuming while teaching and learning a foreign language.
L.N.: We would like to know more about the program you teach at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. What is the background of your students? What do the courses include?
Dr. Sipra: The English Language Course labelled as Intensive English I & II has been designed to put more emphasis on the basics of English language. The New Interchange Series by Cambridge is used to motivate our students to improve their ability to communicate in English fluently. Additionally, Rosetta Stone Software for English Language Learning is also used in our Language Labs to expedite and consolidate learning process. The students are made to improve their understanding of written texts as well as spoken language. Integration of skills has been made the target to achieve the goals. So, all the skills like Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and, of course, Grammar have been made the focal point of teaching & learning. In my Department, the students join the university for undergraduate courses after completing 12 years of schooling. Since the level of our students is so low, we have to work very hard with them as far as English language is concerned. They don’t study English intensively or extensively at school so they have to face a lot of difficulty in a university. Consequently, we have to start from the scratch and after spending 32 weeks with us, our students may interact in English comfortably to some extent.
L.N.: Your talk for our workshop is under the title of: Contribution of Bilingualism in Language Teaching at Beginners’ Level. Could you give us a brief introduction, and why you chose this topic?
Dr. Sipra: Well, I am going to talk about what bilingualism is and some misconceptions about it. Briefly speaking, my main focus will be on the applied side of bilingualism. I would like to share some data collected from the EFL teachers and the learners of English Language and will explain at what occasions, bilingualism assists teaching and learning.
L.N.: You have also written extensively in the subject, be it articles or books. Is there a topic you have not yet explored through your writing, that you would like to write on?
Dr. Sipra: Bilingualism is a very fast field. There are many aspects of bilingualism which need to be researched and explored. However, I would like to continue with the comparative analysis of Monolingualism and Bilingualism in future.
L.N.: And one more question about your writing. You have written many articles for the Canadian Center of Science and Education. How did that collaboration initiate?
Dr. Sipra: Well, I not only contributed but I am also part of the editorial board of one of their renowned journals in English language teaching which has been indexed and archived in world’s famous databases and libraries. I found this group very committed and well organized. They have maintained quality instead of quantity. Their contribution in the field of applied linguistics and research is highly appreciated. When I sent them my first research article for publication, I came to know that they have zero tolerance for plagiarism. So there I decided to contribute and work with them and our collaboration and mutual cooperation still continues.
L.N.: To close this interview, what advice would you like to give language teachers around the world for their careers?
Dr. Sipra: “To be great is to be a teacher”.
Education is truly an important field. It requires lots of hard-work and commitment from us as teachers. Continuous teacher development is the need of the hour. One has to manage such development oneself. A teacher has to be up-to-date in the present scenario and s/he should be able to understand the psychology of the students. To me, teaching is one of the most beautiful professions of the world.
L.N.: Thank you so much for your insights and time, Dr. Sipra!
Please feel free to explore the following links concerning Dr Aslam Sipra, his work, King Abdulaziz University and our 2013 Loras Network Workshop: