Friday, 23 May 2008

"Distressed @ Standard of English"

"I teach at a local university and I am very distressed by the standard of written English the students present. To say it is generally poor is to understate the case." These are the opening sentences of a letter addressed to the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner by one Michael R. Nicholson on Monday of this week.

Michael's concern is not new - ever so often, one stumbles upon an article expressing similar concerns in our papers. I would not be alarmed, if markers of the pending CXC exams do not reiterate their alarm at the plight of our children’s grasp of our national language - English. (For one reason or another, I cringe when I have to describe English as being our national language – I am not fond of the collocation!)

Mr Nicholson posed an important question: "How is it that we, with English as our official language, have our students unable to write or speak it properly?" We need not go far in search for an answer however; the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture has provided an answer to Michael’s query in its “Language Education Policy.” The second paragraph of the Policy’s Executive Summary contains the words: “Although Jamaica is described as a bilingual country with Standard Jamaican English (SJE) and Jamaican Creole (JC) being the two languages in operation, the fluid nature of language usage between these languages, as well as the peculiar nature of the linguistic relationship they share, creates difficulties for the majority of Creole speakers learning English.”

Having answered the above question partially (for our problem is more than linguistic though), we are at once faced with another – and this is where the issue becomes tensive and political– “By what means should the Jamaican government help its children become proficient in Standard Jamaican English?”

I am of the opinion that the best means of addressing this grave concern of ours is to adopt a mother tongue-based multilingual education (MLE) policy

Many persons involved with Wycliffe Bible Translators believe that it is wise and that it would be profitable if governments began their children’s education in their first language and gradually transition them to the use of the language of wider communication. In our context that would be from Jamaican Creole to Standard Jamaican English.

I unapologetically support bilingualism; I have never been opposed to teaching our children English – in fact, I insist upon their acquisition of the language successfully. I take seriously therefore the unanimous evidence laid before us by leading education and language experts - that when taught in their mother tongue, children learn the national language better, faster, and more easily. Other well established benefits occasioned by Wycliffe’s Bible translation efforts are psychological, economical, social, pedagogical, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, human rights, et cetera.

1 comment :

Jo said...

There are actually sociolinguistic and sociopolitical differences between "official" language and "national" language.