Published: 30th June 2021
Here's how and why this US-based social media marketer is teaching Malayalis to speak English
Aparna Mulberry, who grew up in Kerala, is now using her skills as a tutor to help people in Kerala learn to speak, read and write English without losing ou on their mother tongue influence
Aparna Mulberry wants you to know that your English is not ‘wrong’. The English tutor believes that it’s high time that Malayalis stop disguising their rolled 'R's in an attempt to imitate American or English accents. Popularly known as Inverted Coconut on social media, the US-native spent a major part of her childhood in Kerala where her parents had settled. Aparna, who is fluent in both Malayalam and English, has decided to merge her favourite cultures by introducing English Padikkam, a virtual English learning course. We speak to the 31-year-old about why she's so passionate about teaching English and why she feels that now is the right time to introduce these classes. Excerpts:
1. Tell us about growing up multilingual. Have you always been fond of languages?
My father is American, so we spoke English at home. My mother is from Chilé, so while I am not 100 per cent fluent in Spanish, I can easily express myself. They lived in Kerala from the time I was 3 to 15. That is how I learnt to speak Malayalam. I also learnt to read and write Hindi and Sanskrit at school. It is important to learn so many languages when you're growing up because your brain is like a sponge when you’re younger. But, of course, you can always learn languages anytime, nothing should be an obstacle as long as you have the dedication and the desire.
2. How did you choose your career as a tutor?
I moved back to the US in 2005 where I finished high school and university. When I was a student in the US, I participated in a programme called AmeriCorps NCCC that engages 18 to 24-year-olds in the United States in community service. As a part of the programme, I visited a few different schools for lower-income students and I assisted the teachers there in their classes. Some of them were not able to handle the classes, so I would take over. It was my first time teaching.
Here, I developed a system of grouping students who were struggling and giving them special tutoring sessions, and it was very effective. The next year, in 2009, I went back to Kerala and visited the school that I had studied in. I implemented the same system here and it worked just as well. In 2011, I moved to Thailand briefly where I worked as a tutor with a company called VIPKid, where teachers in the US teach English to children in China. I worked with the company remotely for 5 years.
CLASS ACT: The classes take an average of 120 days
3. What led you to introduce these English classes now?
To be honest, I had no plan to do this. I started my Inverted Coconut account in February last year when I had to cancel my trip to Kerala due to COVID. I had noticed that my Malayalam fluency was dropping because I wasn't using it as much. So, I started this account to specifically listen and speak to Malayalis every day and to keep in touch with the culture. But I was getting requests to teach English so often from my followers. In the beginning, I was kind of annoyed by it. In fact, I didn’t want people to know that I am a tutor because I didn't want to defeat the purpose behind the page. Then two months ago, Entri App, a vernacular learning platform, approached me and asked if I wanted to design an English course. But with one-on-one classes, there was no way I could satisfy the demand or make enough time because now, I work as a social marketer and can get very busy.
4. How did you design this course that you teach through Entri App?
I spent a month and a half recording videos. I had them nicely edited and prepared. The course launched on June 16 and will take a student an average of 120 days to complete. It costs ₹2,999 to get year-long access to these 120 videos. They are each around 7-14 minutes long and includes everything from the basics to conversation to spoken English, pronunciation and accent coaching. There are free demo courses available for anyone who wants to see what it entails.
TIME NO BAR: The classes can be accessed at any time
5. How have your students fared so far?
It’s been just a couple of weeks since we launched. A lot of the people who are now attending the classes have learnt English in school and know how to read and write, but they’re not confident when it comes to speaking because they tend to be conscious of their grammar and everything. The people who attend the classes are at different levels. These are people who want to study or work abroad and know the importance of being multilingual. A lot of them come from lower income households and will be the first in their family to seek a job outside.
6. Do you plan to introduce more courses?
There are many advanced students who already speak English but want to learn proper pronunciation. They want accent practice and coaching. I’m excited to say that I will be going ahead and designing an advanced course by next year. This is entirely due to demand. I always tell Malayalis that they speak correctly and they don’t need to adopt a new accent. There is no such thing as wrong English, just different. I like to focus on aspects like grammar and sentence structure.