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KARACHI, Oct 16: A variety of lectures, symposiums, workshops and exhibitions marked the concluding day of SPELT's 27th international conference 'ELT: Building Bridges' at the Habib Public School on Sunday.

Dr Tariq Rahman's morning plenary session 'Pakistani English revisited' provided a rich introduction to Pakistani English while looking at how some commonly-used words and expressions meant something else in British spoken English.

“For instance, 'hotel' may be an establishment providing paid lodging for a few days but if you ask anyone to take you to a hotel in Pakistan, that person may take you to a restaurant,” he explained. “Or 'healthy' here refers to overweight people when it is just about being fit in British spoken English. Similarly, as a sign of respect we avoid using first names of people who are older than us to call them 'uncle' or 'aunty', whereas British use those words for relations only,” he argued.

A writing symposium moderated by Prof Fatima Shahabuddin with Prof Zakia Sarwar, Mohsin Tejani and Aisha Uzma being the panelists started a lively debate on the difference between educators and proofreaders when teaching children to write at the earliest level. The teachers were asked not to clamp down creativity from the very start but to allow the little ones to grow in the process of writing and learn how to enjoy it.

Aisha Uzma encouraged the use of different mediums such as writing in sand, using paint brushes, etc., before the children actually hold a pencil in their hands to first get their motor skills going and then building from those skills. “Only then come the words and sentences which grow into paragraphs,” she said.

Prof Zakia Sarwar picked up from there with, “Having taught at the college level, I feel that the students studying at that stage, too, have to work on their elementary writing skills.” She believed that this was due to their being false beginners when their teachers didn't allow their creativity to flow freely. She disliked finding faults with students' work from the very beginning when they should have been allowed to set their imagination free. Hence they had copies full of school exercises but no writing skills.

“Writing should not be confused with handwriting. It is a messy process where students need to understand that finished books that they see were not as perfect to begin with and went through a process of several revisions through self-assessment and taking peer feedback,” she said.

Mohsin Tejani stressed on helping young writers feel confident enough to share their writing. “The teacher has to create a safe environment for them to be able to do that,” he said. “They should be treated with respect for whatever they write and be made to feel that they are improving,” he added.

“As teachers, we shouldn't be looking at their class level and the competencies expected at that level as most students here have been taught without learning everything that they should have learnt. That's why it is important to take them through the process instead of showing them the process,” Prof Fatima Shahabuddin explained.

Free writing where children are allowed to be the masters of all they survey and not corrected at every step was seen as a fine medium of expression to get early writers going.

Meanwhile, the timing of Dr Arfa Syeda's afternoon plenary session on 'Developing the habit of reading' created confusion when due to a printing error the Urdu schedule read '3:00pm to 3:50pm' while the English schedule had the correct time of '2:00pm to 2:50pm'. Being informed about the mistake the professor who was following the Urdu schedule, arrived late but had her audience all geared up for a session of giggles with, “I was following Urdu but these days even time is on the side of English!”

Another panel discussion on “Fun with English” moderated by Mohsin Tejani with Peter Grundy, Tina Hameed, Dilshad Noorali and Farida Faizullah being the panelists had the visiting professor from Durham University stealing the show with his jokes and stories.

“Having learnt German when teaching at the University of Vienna, I was happy to find people telling me that I spoke good German. But then when I boasted to someone that three people today had told me that my German was good, that person said to me, 'had your German been good, no one would have told you that you spoke good German',” he narrated.

Another panelist, Tina Hameed, said that teaching could never be boring if teacher was committed to his job. “A committed teacher will have the students motivated,” she said, prompting Dilshad Noorali to conclude the discussion by quoting Newton's law of motion: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The three-day conference reached its finale with radiant dance performances with soulful music and song presented by young and aspiring artists dancer Suhaee Abro, vocalists Ahsan Bari, Sara Haider, Carol Noronha and acoustic guitarist Ali Haider of the Nritaal Group. —Shazia Hasan