Careers & Education

'Teach English as a second language, but...'

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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JAMAICA Teachers' Association (JTA) President Clayton Hall has insisted that teaching English language as a second language is critical to boosting performance in the subject in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams.

"We assume that our students are native speakers of English, therefore when we teach English, we are teaching it to persons who we think already know it, and that's not the case," he said.

However, he was quick to add that the JTA was in no way advocating for creole to be taught in school, but rather that strategies and programmes which utilise creole in teaching, be used to teach English language.

"So because the first language is creole, then creole must also be used in facilitating a deeper understanding of English," Hall said. "We need to facilitate higher-level reasoning in English, but what we do in the school system is that we immerse in English while the creole is frowned upon and not used."

His comments come in the wake of recent CSEC results, which show that only 46.2 per cent earned a pass in English language, down from 63.9 per cent last year and 64.9 per cent in 2010.

According to Hall, the current method of teaching the subject creates speakers who are semi-literate in both English and Jamaican creole. If higher-level thinking, such as, induction and forecasting, was facilitated in both English and creole, then students would be able to switch between codes at will; rather than being taught English at the expense of the mother tongue, the JTA boss said.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites disagrees. He has said that teachers must speak to children in English in order to ensure better performances in the subject.

"We must ensure that the children at the earliest stage hear and understand the English language without prejudice to the marvellous language that we speak of our own," Thwaites said at St Joseph's Teachers' College Alumni Association luncheon recently.

"The language of employment, of instruction, of professionalism, the language of world view is the English language, not anything else," the minister added.

Hall, too, was careful to note that with competent trained teachers at the early childhood level guiding students in the language, problems with performances in English and other subjects could be addressed at that stage.

Noting that studies have shown that children acquire language most easily at that level, he said the JTA's position is that "instead of remediation, let's do it right the first time because remediation is expensive".

At the same time, Hall said he believes the CSEC English exams should have an oral component, similar to the Spanish and French examinations.

"Orals should be a necessary part of our assessment in English because we recognise that even with the phonetics of English, we have some misconceptions with pronunciation. Many Jamaicans say 'cerfiticate' for 'certificate', for example, not because they don't know how to spell the word or how to write it down, but because they have been exposed to this mispronunciation over such a long time," he said.

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