English speaking has been a skill in high demand for anyone and everyone seeking employment. It is aspirational for learners across age groups. It can help broaden world view, access new avenues, acquire the ability to communicate effectively and pursue higher education. In many ways, it’s a skill for school, work and life. Hence it wasn’t surprising, when in a short survey conducted for rural youth across villages of Rajasthan, UP and Maharashtra – English was voted as the most popular course to learn.

English, like any other language, requires motivation and practice to hone and communicate in. To help youth to develop these particular skills, Pratham initiated a Spoken English course to help participants to speak effectively and communicate confidently.

The course was built to have three pillars – a conducive learning plan that helped students practice, a session moderator to guide, and a healthy peer group to learn. Marianna Pascal’s words from her TEDxPenangRoad talk, “Speaking a new language with confidence is all about attitude, not ability,” formed the guiding philosophy behind this course. Pratham employees across programs volunteered to take the course themselves first. The course was conducted in 12 batches of 10-12 each, over a virtual platform, Workplace by Facebook, which enables remote interaction and chats

In addition to the interaction on the platform, learners were given the Foundation Course app (an inhouse learning app) to help them navigate their individual path of self-learning through games, videos and assessments. Moreover, its advanced speech recognition technology gives room to the participants to practice their speaking through conversations and other interactive activities.

The sessions were conducted by trainers for each batch six days a week. Every day, for about 60-90 minutes, all the participants and trainers in the batch came together for a session facilitated on Workplace. The participants were required to prepare before each session, on activities and tasks given in advance. All activities were directly related to the session, and range from comprehension building to fluency enhancing, such as video comprehension, situation-based role play, self-analysis, picture description. Sometimes this also involved vocabulary building sessions on word treasure hunts and question words. For example, one of the activities required the participants to find products and items around the house, and read the English instructions on the packaging wrappers. Reading these instructions out loud helped build their vocabulary and also apply their language skills on everyday items.

While this preparation is directly related to the sessions, the participants were also recommended activities and videos on the FC app that could help them with self-study. After all, the more one practices, the better they get at a language.

Urvija, sharing her experience as a Spoken English Trainer, says, “The wide varieties of activities help create interest and motivate the participants to actively listen and speak. I feel happy to see the improvement in participants.” She elaborates that the activities are well-designed, yet simple.

Initially, Pratham piloted the course with 6 trainers and 43 participants in 4 batches in the month of July. Currently, Pratham is running 11 batches with 15 trainers and 121 participants across 12 states.

Significant improvement in the confidence levels and speaking skills of the participants has been reported after 30 sessions. Initially, it was observed that most of the participants, almost 60 percent of them, are at Level 1 in the Foundation Course App. This implies that they can try to speak but are unable to communicate the meaning. The remaining 40 percent are at Level 2. At this level, they can communicate the meaning, but they are not proficient in terms of fluency and correctness.

After completion of 30 sessions, it was observed that there was a gradual change. Now, 50 percent of the youths are at Level 3 where they can communicate the meaning fluently, but with small mistakes and minute grammatical errors. This improvement has really encouraged Pratham to take this course to the next level and scale it further to cover larger numbers.

One of the participants, a Cluster Resource Leader from Srihari, Mahabubabad, Telangana said, “I have been a part of this course for one month now. I am very thankful to everyone. I feel very confident myself and I have improved a lot as compared to earlier. My superiors are appreciating me that I am capable of doing any task, expressing the ideas more clearly. I am utilizing the opportunity very well which not only helps me in professional life but also in my personal life, like supporting my child in his studies.”

The course is now being evolved to the next phase with two course pathways: ‘Immersive Pathway’ for Pratham employees, and ‘Engagement Pathway’ for youth volunteers. The immersive pathway will continue as the current structure for four to six months. The engagement pathway will focus on self-study, giving the youth time to build their own skills and catch-up well before each class. Currently, this engagement course is being rolled out for more than 400 youth volunteers across India with the help of remotely-connected corporate volunteers.