Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2017

Street math and diglossia

In "Mathematics in the streets and in schools" (Carraher et al. 1985), child street vendors were given a paper and pencil and asked to calculate multiplications that they had, in fact, already done in their heads in the course of selling their wares. The results were often sobering, as in the following case:
Informal test
Customer: OK, I'll take three coconuts (at the price of Cr$ 40.00 each). How much is that?
Child: (Without gestures, calculates out loud) 40, 80, 120.

Formal test
Child solves the item 40 x 3 and obtains 70. She then explains the procedure 'Lower the zero; 4 and 3 is 7'.

As you can see, the children were perfectly capable of doing (some!) multiplication their own way, but when faced with school-style problems, this ability frequently deserted them. Confronted with a piece of paper, they attempted to apply the algorithm they had learned at school, without so much as checking their answers against the algorithm they had mastered as part of their daily life. In daily life, conversely, they presumably weren't getting much out of the multiplication algorithm they had learnt at school, even though it would let them tackle a much wider range of multiplication problems. School-learning that stays at school, and never affects real life despite having an obvious potential to be useful there: it's an educator's nightmare.

What this immediately reminded me of is diglossia. In a schoolroom or an essay, you obediently attempt to use Standard Arabic, and all the grammatical rules and vocabulary you learned for it. Almost anywhere else, you carefully avoid it, even while claiming to accept that Standard Arabic is correct and that what you actually make very sure to speak is wrong. To me, that seems to send a fundamentally problematic message: that what you learn in school is not supposed to be useful outside of some limited institutional contexts. I hope that's not the message most people get from it, but it would be great to know for sure. I don't suppose anyone knows of a study addressing the question?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

How Tunisia ruined its PISA performance

PISA 2015 is an OECD-run survey intended to evaluate education systems worldwide by giving the same test to (almost) all students of the same grade across a large number of countries and comparing the results. This years' results have gotten a lot of coverage, notably for the dismal perfomance of all the Arabic-speaking countries participating. The UAE did least badly in terms of combined scores, managing 48th place out of 70; it was trailed by Qatar (59th), Jordan (61st), Lebanon (65th), Tunisia (66th), and, most ignominiously, Algeria at 69th place, barely beating the Dominican Republic.

Laudably, PISA have made their science tests publicly available online in many languages, including four Arabic versions labelled Israel, Qatar, Tunisia, and the UAE - don't ask me what happened to Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Browsing through these, one immediately notices that the Tunisian translation (unlike the Gulf ones) has a remarkable number of grammatical errors, typos, and phrasings so awkward as to be barely comprehensible. For instance:

  • Bird Migration 1: "يستعملون العدّ الذي يقوم به المتطوّعين" - wrong case: should be المتطوّعون
  • Bird Migration 1: extremely awkward phrasing: "هجرة الطيور هي حركة موسمية كبيرة، يتنقل أثناءها الطيور نحو أماكن تكاثرها أو هي تعود منها." ("Bird migration is a great seasonal movement, during which birds move to the places of their reproduction and they come back from them.") Contrast the clearer phrasing in the Qatar version: "هجرة الطيور الموسمية هي انتقال واسع النطاق للطيور من وإلى مناطق تكاثرها. وفي كل عام يتولى متطوعون إحصاء عدد الطيور المهاجرة في مواقع محددة."
  • Bird Migration 3: the bird's name is "الزقزوق الذهبي" in the text, but in the question it turns into "الزقزاق الذهبي".
  • Running in Hot Weather 1: Garden path title: anyone looking at "العدو في الطقس الحار" is going to read it as "the enemy in hot weather", at least until the context is established. Contrast the Qatari translation "الجري في الجو الحار", using a better known, graphically unambiguous term for "running".
  • Running in Hot Weather 1: Grammatical error in "يدل على ذلك {كمية العرق | ضياع الماء | درجة حرارة الجسم} العداء بعد ساعة من السباق": for the sentence to make sense (even in dialectal Arabic!), none of the alternatives should contain the definite article, since they form part of an idafa genitive. Contrast the Qatari version, which avoids the problem by putting "للعداء".
  • Running in Hot Weather 2: Garden path sentence: "شرب الماء خلال السباق يمكن أن يكون له تأثير على حصول تجفّف وضربة حرارة بالنسبة إلى العداء. أيّهما؟ " Anyone reading this will start by reading the first word as šariba "he drank", giving "he drank water during the race, it can have an effect..." and only after the fifth word will they be in a position to read it, as intended, as "Drinking water during the race can have an effect on the occurrence of dehydration and heatstroke for the runner. Which of the two?" Having gotten that far, they'll still be given pause by the need to decide the intended referents of "Which of the two?" Contrast, yet again, the much easier to read Qatari version: " ماهو تأثير شرب المياه خلال الجري على تعرض العداء للجفاف وضربة الشمس ؟ " (What is the effect of drinking water during the race on the runner's exposure to dehydration and heatstroke?")

I could keep going, and no doubt more fluent Arabic speakers can find problems I haven't even noticed, but the pattern is clear: Compared to Qatari students, to say nothing of Western ones, Tunisian students were systematically disadvantaged in the PISA 2015 science tests by bad translation.

Whose fault is this? Clearly there was a failure at the level of PISA's international verification, which should have eliminated such problems. But the translations themselves are carried out at the national level (PISA2012 Technical Report Ch. 5). In other words, this mess was produced by Tunisian translators under the direction of the Tunisian government.

How is that possible? Simple: in Tunisia, appallingly enough, science is taught in French from the start of secondary school onwards. Science teachers have little need to keep up their Standard Arabic proficiency. Which raises the question of why this test, targeted at 15-year-olds, was administered in Arabic there to begin with.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Phonics and whole word teaching in Algeria

Just about every parent I've spoken to in Dellys is concerned one way or another about the direction the educational system has been going – over-complex curricula, excessively heavy backpacks, extramural tutoring, discipline, class sizes... How children are taught to read and write looms relatively small among these concerns, except for parents who find their own child having serious difficulties. The more I've learned about this issue, though, the more worrying it seems.

During my brief, unpleasant experience with Algerian education in the late 1980s, reading and writing were taught in much the same way as in my American home school. We learned how to build up letters into words and break down words into letters – in brief, a variant of phonics. Arabic spelling is almost perfectly regular, so this stage is actually significantly easier in Arabic than in English (although this advantage is no doubt more than offset later on by diglossia). Today's Algerian children, however, are taught to memorise words and texts as wholes, and are only exposed to individual letters well after having memorised words containing them – in other words, a rather extreme version of the whole language method. This change of method – imposed not by the controversial current Minister of Education, but by her well-connected predecessor – is enforced by teaching inspectors, who are empowered to penalize efforts to teach in the older way.

This would be all very well if the whole language method were more effective. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from a quick literature meta-review (and notwithstanding some conspicuous sketchy political exploitation of the issue), the evidence seems to be pretty clear-cut (eg [1], [2], [3]) that including phonics makes reading instruction more effective even in a language as irregularly spelled as English, and tends to favour a primary (if not exclusive) focus on phonic methods in early teaching. In other words, Benbouzid's "modernizing" educational reforms seem likely to have deprived Algerian children of one of the very few advantages they enjoyed over English-speaking children.

A question especially for any readers with a wider background in education: do you know of any good studies of the effectiveness of different methods of teaching Arabic early literacy, preferably carried out within Arabic-speaking countries?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Lexical gaps in diglossia: When you can't write what you know

"Write what you know" is what they tell aspiring writers. If you're an English speaker who made it through high school, you should be able to do just that, on any topic that you know anything about (although the spelling might need work.) In Algeria (as in other Arabic-speaking countries) diglossia makes it a little more complicated. You may have mastered the grammar perfectly, and gotten a great score on your high school exams. You may be an excellent plumber, or a great fisherman, or an expert carpenter - and you certainly have no problem talking about any of these things in Darja (dialectal Arabic). But try to write about any of those fields, and you're almost guaranteed to run into the limits of your Fusha vocabulary (standard Arabic).

You don't even have to get all that specialised to run into difficulties. If you're Algerian, all of the items listed below should be familiar to you from daily life - some of the words might be different in your region, but you almost certainly still know a Darja word with the appropriate meaning. But how many of them can you name in Fusha? (No fair using a dictionary, especially since you're unlikely to have a Darja-Fusha dictionary.)

  • تورنيفيس (screwdriver)
  • لومبرياج (clutch of a car)
  • زربوط (top)
  • حرّايق (nettle)
  • مشيمشة (loquat)
  • بلاّرج (stork)
  • أكليل، أزير (rosemary)
  • رعف (to have a nosebleed)
  • زبر (to prune)
  • ددّش (to toddle)
  • هترف (to sleep-talk)
In the very unlikely event that you did know all of these in Fusha, ask yourself for each one: if you used this word in an article, how many readers do you think would understand? Granted, a couple of them are trick questions - cases where the Fusha word is basically the same as the Darja one. But the main point stands even in those cases: you probably didn't know that before checking it, and for at least one of those words, I can confirm from personal experience that there are professors teaching in Arabic, and journalists working in Arabic, who didn't know that either. In Algeria (though not necessarily in other countries, like Egypt), the default assumption is always that a Darja word is wrong until proven otherwise.

It's understandable that Algerians (and quite likely other Arabic speakers) tend not to know these words in Fusha. How often do any of them come up in journalism, or religion, or poetry, or any of the other contexts in which people are most frequently exposed to Fusha? But what it means is that even well-educated Algerians don't know enough Fusha to adequately describe their daily life, much less to write all they know. In effect, compared to their Darja abilities, they're suffering from a Fusha-specific language deficiency that limits what they can write about. If you agree with me that it would be nice to see more good Algerian novels, or even more Algerian DIY handbooks, then that's a problem.

Friday, March 18, 2016

School in a language you don't speak

When I was six years old, I started first grade in a small Algerian city, right after having done kindergarten in the US and forgotten most of the Arabic I had previously known. It was by far the most painful institutional transition I've ever had to make. At home, I was devouring National Geographics and starting to tackle The Lord of the Rings - but at school, I'm pretty sure the teacher thought I was retarded. In the classroom, I spent a lot of that year completely tuned out, playing with pens or bits of bread and waiting for the boredom to stop. By the end of second grade I had formed some idea of what the teacher was talking about - her vivid descriptions of hellfire and torture remain particularly memorable - though I still had no idea that there might be actual principles determining whether my writing was judged as correct or incorrect. At that point, however, my parents decided that enough was enough, and we started homeschooling, mostly in the language I spoke best - English. It felt like being released from jail.

My experience of starting school in a language I didn't know is not exactly typical, of course. I was a lot luckier than most. Sure, I was failing at school, but I could already read English just fine, so even at six I could see that that school wasn't the only game around. For most children who start school in a language they don't know, the choices are starker: master the new language, or give up on education altogether.

Plenty of Algerian children have faced precisely that situation, as I saw doing fieldwork in the southwest - and not just during the colonial era. It's what has led the people of Tabelbala and Igli to start speaking Arabic to their children rather than Korandje or Berber. For that matter, so have plenty of American children - Native Americans during the era of forced boarding schools come to mind. It's a problem faced by linguistic minorities all over the world, and, unless they manage to force the schools to make concessions, it often ends in language extinction, as the next generation of parents try to spare their children the trauma they themselves had experienced.

The big difference, though, is that in America, most children come to school speaking something pretty close to the language of their textbooks. In Algeria, and any other Arabic-speaking country, it's a little more complicated. Most children come to school speaking Algerian Arabic, and most teachers use Algerian Arabic with them to some extent, even though they're not supposed to. But the Standard Arabic that they're learning to read is as different from what they speak as the language of Chaucer from 21st-century American English. Even the most divergent Appalachian or inner city dialects are closer to standard English than the home language of the most highly educated middle-class Algerians is to standard Arabic.

Don't get me wrong: it's much easier than starting school in a completely different language. Even before independence, when TV was an unaffordable luxury and 90% of Algerians were illiterate in any language, a sufficiently motivated Arabic speaker could learn to read well enough to do it for fun, without ever passing through anything the colonial government considered to count as a school; that's what my own father did. And now that most children are watching cartoons in Standard Arabic from a young age, the gap is narrower than it used to be. Nevertheless, the difficulties it poses seem conspicuous to anyone lucky enough to have studied in their own language: how many children would be willing to read Chaucer in the original for fun?

You might suppose that the solution is obvious: speak "properly" to your kids! Or, alternatively: Make the spoken dialect into a written language! However, both ideas are almost equally taboo. The idea of teaching dialect at school seems as ridiculous to the average Algerian as it does to the average English speaker: we send them to school to learn stuff they don't know, not the language of the street! But, whereas many English speakers actively try to speak "correct" English, with their children and with everyone else, an Algerian who tried to speak Standard Arabic to everyone would be shunned; you can't seriously expect to be part of Algerian society without speaking the dialect. Of course, English speakers don't react well either when someone tries to speak too formally in an informal situation. But in most English-speaking social circles, it is possible - by the judicious avoidance of words like "judicious" and "avoidance" - to speak English in a way that is simultaneously informal enough to be friendly and prescriptively correct enough to be written down in an essay. That is not possible in Arabic, irrespective of social class: you have to choose one or the other. For me, that lack of a middle ground is what's really distinctive about the situation. For the foreseeable future, this means that most Algerian children will continue to be expected to learn both Algerian Arabic and Standard Arabic (not to mention French and English and sometimes Tamazight too), while having practically no opportunities to hold a conversation in Standard Arabic.

What's the best way to achieve that goal, and what evidence bears on that question? I've been reading around that a bit lately, but if you have any recommendations, please feel free to post them below!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Teaching in Dardja before colonial rule

In a recent article on RFI, I'm quoted as saying that Darja (Algerian dialectal Arabic) was already used in education before the colonial period. Here's why I said so.

If you talk to anyone who studied at a Qur'ānic school before independence, you'll find they learned their letters by reciting a little ditty in Darja that goes ألف ما ينقط شي، البا نقطة من تحت، التا زوج من فوق... etc. (Alif ma yənqəṭ ši, əlba nŭqṭa mən təħt, ətta zuj mən fuq..., ie: "Alif is not dotted, ba has a dot underneath, ta has two on top...") The same ditty existed in Kabyle: alif u yneqqeḍ ara, ba yiweṯ s wadda, ta snaṯ ufella... . My own aunt learned her letters that way before independence - in a school affiliated with the Association of Muslim Ulama, who today are pressing for a school boycott if dialect is officially introduced as a means of primary instruction... Well, it turns out that this exact ditty is already attested in Franciscus de Dombay's Grammatica linguae mauro-arabicae, a study of the Arabic dialect of northern Morocco published in Vienna in 1800, thirty years before the occupation of Algiers, when European power in North Africa was limited to a handful of ports:

Standard Arabic was, of course, by far the most important language to learn. But it turns out that at least one other language was taught using Darja: Kabyle Berber! In Des noms et des lieux, Mostefa Lacheraf notes:

A propos de ces départs pour les zaouias du Djurdjura [...] je découvris l'existence de poèmes mnémotechniques que ces jeunes gens arabophones des Hauts-Plateaux et du Tell apprenaient par coeur dans le but de se familiariser avec un vocabulaire kabyle fonctionnel, et pédagogiquement bien choisi, qui serait susceptible de les aider à se reconnaître dans leur nouveau milieu. Je regrette de n'en avoir pas gardé un spécimen, mais je me souviens que dans cette poésie pratique, utilitaire, au rhythme bien élevé, en un dialectal correct, figuraient des verbes, substantifs et expressions berbères avec leurs équivalents arabes désignant des objets et des actes essentiels à leur vie courante. (pp. 218-219)
[Through these trips to the zawiyas of the Djurdjura... I discovered the existence of mnemonic poems which these young Arabic speakers of the High Plateau and the Tell learned by heart in order to make themselves familiar with a practical Kabyle vocabulary, pedagogically well chosen, which would help them to find their footing in their new situation. I regret not having kept a specimen, but I remember that this practical, utilitarian poetry, with a good rhythm and in a correct dialectal [Arabic], included Berber verbs, nouns and expressions with their Arabic equivalents, referring to objects and acts essential to their daily life.]

I've written previously about a Classical Arabic poem intended to teach Songhay in a similar context: students coming to study in areas where a different language is spoken. Unfortunately the poems Lacheraf describes have not been published, as far as I know, but the papers of the noted anti-colonial leader Shaykh Aheddad include a Dardja-Kabyle wordlist presumably intended for the same purpose; this is described in Aïssani's 2012 article Le lexique manuscrit Arabe dialectal-Kabyle de la Zawiyya historique de Cheikh Aheddad.

The merits of teaching in Darja are open to debate, as are the motivations of Benghabrit. But to go into a sudden moral panic over Benghabrit's proposal, you need to ignore not only current but also historical practice among Algerian teachers. Anyone who really thinks Darja should be banned from the classroom should push to have that actually happen, not wait until someone admits to it to start protesting - and should acknowledge that doing that would in fact be something new.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Algerian Arabic in schools? More smoke than fire

Conveniently distracting public attention from the recent assassination attempt on the president's brother and the continuing drop in oil prices, Algeria's Minister of Education, Nouria Benghebrit, has recently provoked a stormy debate by announcing that preschool, 1st grade, and 2nd grade would from now on be taught partly in local dialects. (Contrary to some reporting, there is no question of introducing dialectal Arabic as a school subject.) In a TV interview, she points out that nearly 10% of Algerian children repeat second grade, and argues that the solution is for the teacher to make more use of the linguistic abilities they come into school with.

Public opinion in Dellys seems to be overwhelmingly against this move, and I suspect that applies to most of Algeria. The president of the teachers' union (UNPEF) called it "a dangerous precedent" reminiscent of "France's [colonial-era] efforts to erase the pillars of the national identity", while the Association of Muslim Ulama went so far as to call for a school boycott (also here) in the event of its implementation - echoing the strategy by which, twenty years ago, Kabyle activists forced the state to teach Berber in school. However, an independent teachers' union (SATEF) expressed its support, claiming that "in the 1970s Algeria called in Egyptian teachers who taught in Egyptian Arabic and no one said anything". I won't bother with the statements of party politicians, whose easily predictable positions are meaningless to anyone but the few who still take their game seriously; but it is interesting that quite a few journalists seem to have come out in support.

Despite all this noise, however, this move will have no direct consequences (except potentially for Berber speakers), for a simple reason: Algerian primary school teachers already, by necessity, teach largely in dialect. The minister admits as much in the same interview, breaking into French to say that this move will simply "déculpabiliser" the teachers. The more intelligent among her critics, such as Mohamed Djemai, make the same point. The problems Benghebrit points to are real enough - such as massive rates of subject failure in Arabic in completely Arabic-speaking regions - but telling teachers to start doing something that they're already doing is hardly likely to solve them!

Rather than as a change in practice, this statement could be understood as an attempt to move Algeria's Overton window (at least insofar as as it's anything but a distraction). If a government minister can now get away with suggesting publicly that the dialect has a positive role to play in education, then maybe one ten years down the line will be able to make proposals that are currently unthinkable. Whether she can in fact get away with this suggestion, or gets thrown out for it at the next reshuffle, remains to be seen. Algerians often assume that any proposal to improve the status of dialectal Arabic is just a stalking horse for preserving the position of French, so it doesn't help that Benghebrit speaks rather poor Arabic: even her conversational dialectal Arabic sounds rather halting when contrasted with the fluency of her frequent and jarring shifts into French.

So would more dialect in education be a good thing?

The state, and many parents, want all children to learn Standard Arabic, French, and English, in that order. Children's exposure to Standard Arabic is practically limited to school and the cartoons they watch; rather, they speak Algerian Arabic, which shares some basic structure and vocabulary but is still effectively a different language, or Berber, which is radically different. In effect, children are learning Standard Arabic as a second language, as well as French and English. That being the case, the question we need to ask in all three cases (not just for Standard Arabic!) is: is it more effective to teach a second language in the learners' first language, or in the target language, or in a combination of both? Algerians usually assume that the answer is to teach exclusively in the target language. There isn't as much scientific evidence on this question as one might hope, and the question is often debated without any convincing empirical evidence (Bruhlmann 2012 summarises some of this in regards to English teaching). August et al. find that non-English-speakers in English-speaking countries learn to read English better if educated in both languages than if educated only in English; but such students are also extensively exposed to English outside their homes, making the situations less comparable. Any SLA researchers reading this are cordially invited to propose better references.

However, schooling is not just about learning languages. Is it more effective to teach other subjects in students' first language, or in a second language? The answer seems too obvious to bear investigating, but it too has occasionally been investigated - notably in the context of America's bilingual education debate. Both Rolstad et al. (2005) and Slavin and Cheng (2005), usefully summarised here, find that immigrant children in the US learn more if taught bilingually than if taught only in English, even as measured by tests in English. Similarly, students in Hong Kong taught in English (Lo and Lo 2013) were found to perform more poorly in non-language subjects than those taught in Chinese, despite the large difference between the Chinese used in school (Mandarin) and that spoken at home there (Cantonese). So it seems that the obvious conclusion is true: it's easier to learn non-language subjects in your first language (i.e. Algerian dialectal Arabic), and failing that, easier to learn them in a closely related language (i.e. Standard Arabic) than in a very different one (i.e. French). This suggests that dialectal Arabic should play a rather larger role in Algerian schools than almost anyone is willing to consider at the moment.

Quite apart from school performance or school curricula, though - and no matter what the underlying agenda may be - it's nice that Algerian dialectal Arabic is finally getting taken seriously enough for proposals like this to be heard. It may be a shame that most Algerians can only express themselves fluently in this "dialect", but it's a fact - and their voices should not be banished from public debate by their inability to dress their thoughts up in a more prestigious language. A good knowledge of its extensive vocabulary and its complex morphology is an achievement that takes years; why do we insist on treating it as an embarrassment or a sign of ignorance?

One of the most interesting responses to this debate was by a teacher, interviewed by Mohamed Saadoune. She strongly supports teaching in Fusha, not for nationalistic or religious reasons, but simply - because its use lets teachers reassert their authority over the class! "It clearly signals to the student that we are no longer in the street, but rather in a place where we learn, and where there are rules. Putting Standard Arabic into question quite simply signals to the students that there is no longer any difference between the street and the school. This necessary boundary risks being erased." Understandable as it might be given the state of Algerian society, this is a counsel of despair: it presupposes that the way you learn to behave in school has nothing to do with the rest of life! In that case, what good does school do at all? Surely the goal should be, precisely, to erase or at least blur the boundary between school and the street - to make it clear that what you ideally learn at school, including expanded vocabulary and polite behaviour, can and should be applied outside school?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Linguistics for high schools: what would a syllabus look like?

Today, just for fun, I'd like to invite you to discuss a topic a little off the beaten track for this blog: how much linguistics should a high school graduate know? The question may seem bizarre - there have been occasional efforts to introduce linguistics courses into high schools (MIT, Milwaukee), but you don't expect to see "linguistics" on a high school curriculum. Still, let's not get confused by labels. Linguistics is inextricably woven into language teaching, and even the most resolutely monolingual curriculum includes at least the school's own language. (I recently happened to come across an 8th grade final exam from 1895 from Kansas; no foreign languages were featured, but no less than two out of the six subjects tested, Grammar and Orthography, rely heavily on linguistic concepts.)

One useful way of separating linguistic education from language education is to look at universality. Some of what you learn in English class is useful across practically all languages, like the idea of a verb or of a vowel. Some of it is much more parochial; the fact that the plural of "child" is "children" is a historical accident relevant only to English and, at best, its closest relatives. Such parochial facts can be vital, of course; if you're going to grow up in an English-speaking country, you'd better be able to form your English irregular plurals correctly. But the more general concepts have a deeper interest; they help you analyse what you're saying, and make it easier to learn new languages. Unfortunately, those concepts are precisely the ones that have suffered most in recent decades. In the UK, at least, my own experience suggests that most high school graduates can't even reliably tell a noun from a verb. In theory, the latest changes to the English syllabus should change that - but given that many of the teachers were hardly taught any grammar either, one wonders how successful the reform will be.

In any case, if I were designing a syllabus, here is what I would suggest to start with. I'd be interested to see what other linguistically oriented people think:

Phonetics has never been a focus of early education, apart from the minimum necessary for teaching a child to read and write (and even that gets de-emphasised in some approaches). This is a shame, because the younger you are, the easier it is to learn to hear and pronounce unfamiliar sounds. Why not learn:
- The IPA, or at least the most commonly used symbols in it; be able to pronounce and recognise them. This should include tone if at all possible.
- Basic articulatory phonetics: how the configuration of your vocal organs relates to the sound produced, and how to use this knowledge to pronounce unfamiliar sounds. (If your language uses Devanagari, you should have an advantage, as this is practically built in to the alphabet anyway; students of tajweed too will come across this issue at some point.)
- Phonology: the concepts of the phoneme and of conditioned allophones. That way when you learn another language you'll at least know why some sounds give you so much more trouble than others.
- Metric structure: syllable, foot, etc. (Yes, I know the concept of syllable is controversial, but you'll need this to be able to study poetry anyway.)

Morphology is a lot more language-specific than the other topics here, but one should at least know:
- How to decompose a word into its component morphemes (prefixes, suffixes, templates, roots...), and guess its meaning from them if necessary.

Syntax: Unlike phonology, this has traditionally been deliberately taught, and you should certainly know:
- The parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, preposition, etc... and how to tell them apart.
- Argument structure and case: subject, direct object, nominative, accusative, etc.
- How to to break down a sentence into its phrase structure: what modifies what? What is a phrase, and what is its head? For best results, try being able to diagram it.

Unfortunately, it's not quite so simple: all three of those - especially the latter - are the subject of major controversies between different syntactic theories... (Two good Language Log posts on this issue: parts of speech and sentence diagramming.) If you teach whatever theory happens to be traditional where you're from, you may not make any friends in academia, and you risk perpetuating some old misconceptions; but you will certainly leave your students much better prepared to learn any more current theory - or any language - than if they had studied no grammar at all.

Historical linguistics and sociolinguistics: The language you speak most likely has relatives, and certainly contains words borrowed from other languages. You should understand:
- That there is normally variation inside a single language, which people often use to signal their social position and to identify the social position of others, and over which people's control is limited.
- That languages change over time as some variants become obsolete and others emerge, and in what ways they change - sound shift, semantic shift, borrowing, morphological and syntactic change...
- That different changes accumulating in different areas can split what used to be one language into several, and that people can abandon one language and start speaking another one instead.
- That sound shifts are usually regular, and that this regularity can be used to identify potential cognates (making it easier to learn languages related to ones you know.)

There should certainly also be some semantics and pragmatics in this list, but I'm not feeling especially inspired on either subject at the moment - any thoughts?