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From Learning English in Delhi to Teaching English in Minnesota

By Saurabh Anand

Growing up in New Delhi in a middle-class family in the late 1990s and early years of this century was a peculiar experience for me as it shaped my mental framework and laid the foundations of what I am doing today.

In 1982 my father left Moradabad, a small town in North India, and shifted to New Delhi in search of greener pastures. Owing to the family’s business background, my grandparents did ensure he completed his school education. But attending college wasn’t considered important, even though my father was eager to attend one. On the other hand, though my mother did attend college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Hindi Literature, her medium of instruction later became a hindrance to getting jobs. Besides the bachelor’s degree, my mother also earned a license to teach Hindi to high school students in India. But the job market in post-colonial India is such that knowledge of English enhanced one’s chances of getting a job, and the lack of it meant a long struggle ahead. This was despite the fact that my mother always wanted to teach Hindi, a subject she was qualified to teach.

Thus, my father’s unfulfilled dream of attending college and mother’s struggle with getting a job because she didn’t know English well enough, meant that my parents ensured that my sister and I would be provided a learning environment where we would not have to suffer what they did. Unable to get a job, my mother decided to take responsibility for our education, while my father continued with our family business.

One of my earliest memories of reading and writing is of a school in our neighborhood. It was so close to our house that we shared our walls with the school building.

My mother says I wasn’t even three when I first visited this neighborhood school that operated out of an apartment and catered to students from kindergarten up till Grade 5. I wasn’t formally enrolled in it because I was too young. But I remember that every morning I would sneak into one of its classrooms and imitate other students repeating the teacher’s words.

At times, teachers did catch me, but they never scolded. They would call my mother and ask her to take me home. It was in these moments when I heard things like ‘A’ for Apple, ‘B’ for Boy, etc. These early impressions and curiosity to learn the language stayed with me. At home, I would repeat these examples, and my mother would help me whenever I stumbled or forgot any alphabet. My father would eagerly draw pictures of apples, elephants, horses, etc. for each alphabet. This whole experience was very spontaneous, inspiring, and nursed my interest in academics.

My high school experience was more of a phase of self-discovery. I always knew that I was interested in academics but wasn’t very clear as to what form of learning I really wanted to pursue in the long run. At school, I was quite active in extracurricular activities like debates and theatre. These, in turn, made me realize the importance of using appropriate words, their modes of delivery, expressions, among other aspects of effective communication. These experiences also helped me hone my writing skills and have stayed with me since.

For my under-graduation, I joined a management college, and my parents were happy because they wanted me to diversify our family business. Back then, this did make sense to me. But over the years, I changed my career plans, discovering new interests.

During my undergraduate days, I started learning the German language. The experience of learning a foreign language was thoroughly enjoyable. It not only helped me strengthen my grasp over a language that I was new to but also helped me develop a deeper understanding of the ones I was already fluent in.

While learning German, I was able to associate with the challenges and experiences a person learning a new language. Inspired by this, I also started learning Hungarian. Learning these languages gave me the lived experience of how it feels like to learn a different language. I decided that I would utilize this experience to help others who would be struggling to learn new languages. Soon, I earned a diploma in Teaching German as a Foreign Language and started taking German language classes on a part-time basis.

Meanwhile, after graduation, I joined one of India’s largest education management companies as a senior executive in the Education Sales & Marketing department. My primary responsibility was to assist enrolled students and prospective students to enroll in the coaching classes. But I was also called upon to counsel them on presenting the strengths of my company’s products and services in attractive ways so that it could generate interest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the experience I gathered while learning German and Hungarian came handy in effectively communicating with young students while also ensuring that I was putting forward the company’s strengths in the best possible manner for mutual benefit.

Speaking about my present role, I am actually enjoying a fantastic opportunity at the Minnesota State University, Mankato, where besides pursuing my M.A. English (TESOL), I am also getting to teach and interact with students whose first language isn’t English. This experience has been incredibly valuable for me as I am able to appreciate the richness of diversity in the English language, the students’ L1 literacies, and their overall socio-cultural diversity in the class.

I aim to make contextually appropriate use of these rich experiences of my students’ identities in my classroom so that they develop an interest in English language learning. I believe literacy development is a perennial process. All one wants is confidence, respect, and empathy to develop new literacy skills.

In a recent interaction, one of my students told me that the pedagogy that I have in my class helped her overcome some obstacles in her personal life. I could connect with her recalling my time when I was going through similar experiences. I had teachers too whom I could always turn up to discussing not only academic but also personal matters. This particular moment was going back to my ways, and I was delighted that I could help her just as my teachers back then helped me with their constructive feedback.

Saurabh Anand
is an M.A. English (TESOL) student and a graduate teaching assistant at the Department of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He knows Hindi, English, Punjabi, German, and Hungarian. His research interests are World Englishes, intercultural communication, digital literacy development, and second language writing. Facebook: @anandsaurabh20; Twitter: @saur_anand


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