As a child grows up in the midst of his parents and loved ones, the kid automatically picks up words in his own mother tongue or any other language adopted by the family and spoken regularly at home. As the child grows up and starts playing with other kids in the neighbourhood or in playschool, he picks up other languages spoken by children who come from different language backgrounds. Similarly, if the household has a domestic help from a different language community, the kid would pick up that language, too.
Now, note here, that none of these languages are actually taught to him and the ability he picks up is more of a conversational style, devoid of much grammar or proper usage. The kid may not be able to read or write such additional languages that he picks up as a matter of routine. For that matter, even his own mother tongue may not be so proficiently taught to him, unless that becomes his second language or medium of instruction in school.
For most children, the English language is still a foreign language despite the fact that it has been adopted by India as equal to the national or regional languages, for, it is a medium of instruction in many institutions and a bridge for higher education, employment and better career prospects.
“How do we all learn the mother tongue so well and so easily? How does a 4-year-old child in the slums of Dharavi learn three or more languages just from the environment with no teaching at all? Why is it that after seven or more years of learning Hindi as a subject in the best of schools in Chennai, most of the students do not understand or speak the language fluently?” asks C. P. Viswanath, Director, Karadi Path Education Company Private Limited. “For the last 12 years, we have been working in a focused way towards answering these questions. We have been working towards deconstructing the way we learn language naturally from our environment and reconstructing a similar process for the classroom.”
Viswanath, his wife Shobha and his brother Narayan Parasuram founded Karadi Tales, an independent children’s book publishing house, twenty-one years ago. Over the years, their unique story books in conventional and audio formats have not only become bestsellers but also used by many school teachers to teach better English to children. “This was a revelation to us and we put our brains into hyperdrive and pooled in all our resources and went into a research mode for close to 8 years. We floated another company, Karadi Path to explore ways and means to teach English in a more constructive manner than just by rote,” says Viswanath.
The core of the Karadi Path methodology lies in the natural way we acquire languages, whether it is the mother tongue or languages that we constantly hear around us. It uses intuitive intelligence (right-brain oriented) over logical intelligence (left-brain oriented) – the intelligence with which we learn to walk, learn our mother tongue and learn to sing. It creates a rich immersive language environment in the classroom through various modes. It provides multiple paths to the goal of language learning allowing every individual learner to use his or her preferred way of learning. All learning is delivered experientially without any instructions and without explaining meanings of words or phrases. Learning language is taught through listening, seeing and doing with a high focus on listening.
“At Karadi Path, the above principles of language learning are activated through three modules: Action Path: This is about learning the language using the body. Through a variety of commands and actions, this allows the learner to quickly assimilate elementary vocabulary and phraseology, building the foundation for further learning. Music Path: This tunes the brain to recognise the patterns of an alien language thereby laying the foundation for impactful listening. The learner engages with a series of rhymes that address specific aspects of language such as functional, descriptive and emotional. Story Path: In this, the learners learn the language through exciting audiobook stories with a rich narrative and soundtrack. The audiobook stories are scripted and presented specifically to aid intuitive expansion of the language. This is further reinforced by contextual and non-contextual conversational and theatrical exercises,” explains Viswanath.
Research showed that English language cannot be taught in isolation, or after school hours. “We emphasised that the language skills have to be incorporated into the daily study routine of a student. Initially, it was difficult to point out to the school or the authorities that their way of teaching was flawed. But, slowly, it sunk in that a different approach to teaching methodologies has to be implemented for more effective learning. Today, Karadi Path programmes are present in 3000 plus schools across the country, primarily in the West and South regions. In Tamil Nadu, there are more private schools than government-run institutions (130) which have incorporated our programme, while, in a state like Andhra Pradesh, more than 900 government schools are in the programme,” says Viswanath.
Much time, effort and investment (in research and development) have gone into the successful launch of Karadi Path programmes. “It is difficult to peg a figure to the overall funds that have gone into Karadi Path. The genesis of this must have been during the initial stages of Karadi Tales when we realised that schools were actually using our audio books to teach children proper English. The actual start-off point must have been around year 2000, when we set about researching which went on for about 8 years. The commercial marketing of the pro-grammes started around 2012. We have received substantial funding from two entities - Pearson Affordable Learning Fund and VC investor Aavishkaar India. Karadi Path is currently notching up an annual turnover of Rs. 20 crore,” states Viswanath.
Expanding in a well-structured manner, in regions where sufficient number of schools are showing interest in implementing Karadi Path programmes, Viswanath and his team of implementers and enablers have established their presence in the South (easy proximity) and western India. “In fact, Goa was the first city in the West that showed interest in our programmes. Spreading ourselves thin just to make our programmes available all over the country will only work against what we have achieved so far. It does involve trained personnel being deployed to schools to implement and train teachers. We also need to continually monitor the progress till such time it can work independently. Next, we will look at eastern and northern India for expansion,” concludes Viswanath.