Letters to the Editor

No one is suggesting schoolchildren be taught only patois

Wednesday, August 29, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

I wish to comment on Keeble McFarlane's column of August 25 - "English is the only way to keep up with the world". As someone who also received excellent instruction in Standard English, I fear that the issues in the matter of the teaching of English continue to be misunderstood. No one is suggesting that Jamaican children be taught only creole (Jamaican/Jamaican English).

However, many of us are pleading that we use the evidence provided about how people learn, and in particular about how people acquire language, to devise the most effective, efficient and appropriate methods for ensuring that our children are indeed able "to keep up with the world". What my colleagues and I have been asking is that our policy makers recognise that the language which an ever-increasing majority of our children speak is not Standard English, and that an important first step in helping them to acquire fluency in Standard English is to accept this fact. Therein lies the call for Standard English to be taught as a second/foreign language.

Actually, I think the debate would be aided by us being more specific and accepting that there is a Jamaican English in the same way one accepts American English or Australian English. Indeed, I would argue that there is a greater difference between Jamaican and Standard English than there is between American or Australian English and Standard English, yet we have no difficulty accepting these variants.

This is one of the occasions when recalling the experience of an earlier time is not helpful. It is not only the teaching of English which has changed. Most universities now devote considerable resources to helping their faculty become conversant with more contemporary (and effective) methods of instruction. As someone who has spent many years in higher education, I cannot tell you how painful it is to correct assignments where it is clear that the student is writing a combination of Standard and Jamaican English, blissfully unaware that he is doing so.

It is also not just a matter of being able to use the language. I perfectly understand why comprehension has proved to be such a problem in our CSEC English exams. If we cannot manipulate the language, we cannot truly understand it and we certainly will not be able to find ways of communicating ideas in it!

Keeble, I hope I have encouraged you to revisit your own views on this matter and re-examine what you perceive to be the assumptions of those you see as pursuing this "sterile argument".

Peta-Anne Baker, PhD

Senior Lecturer

Dept of Sociology, Psychology & Social Work

UWI, Mona

Kingston 7

petaanne.baker@uwimona.edu.jm

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