Fri | Jan 19, 2018

The English Inquisition

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If you consider it, language, or the command of a language, can be considered a sixth sense. Language allows you to communicate, to exist, to simply be in any space to carry out the exhausting or mundane things we go through in life. Yet we are losing the language to "English Inquisition."

English has been accepted as the global language, and yet there are many people in the world whose first, or mother, tongue is not English, and yet we use English as the quietest form of discrimination and institutionalised prejudice.

Education is access, language is access, and the research and all the polls show that the best education or the best access to education is taught where? Of course, in the West, where English is the accepted language. Fair enough. But what of those students whose own brilliance is cast out because of their inability to command the English language?

 

GATEKEEPER OF ACCESS

 

During her Ted Talk, British educator Patricia Ryan said: "If we knew someone who had the cure for cancer, would we not grant them admission because they don't speak English? Of course not, but yet that is what we do." Because every student coming into a school system must indicate proficiency in the English language, and, in some cases, take a test to prove stated proficiency, English is the gatekeeper of access.

The MIT Indigenous Language Initiative states that at present, there are 6,000 languages globally, and in one hundred years, only 600 of these will survive.

There is tremendous benefit to being multilingual. It is why us English speakers insist that our children learn Spanish, French, and the upcoming language inquisition, Mandarin. It is why we as adults attend courses and cultural immersion programmes in order to tick that box on our rÈsumÈ that says "Business French", but we suppress the use of other languages in "English-speaking countries".

Let's examine how our own children are suffering. Those who do not speak the 'Queen's English' are forced to straddle the fence because their proficiency in Patois, unless used casually in conversation or dub poetry, is frowned upon.

They may be slower to pick up concepts during lessons because there is need to translate. They may be insecure to speak up or participate in lessons because they are unable to fit in readily into their environment.

What we ought to realise is that there is space for each language to exist in its own right. In the same way the CEO with the command of Business French uses it to relate, to exist, and to have access to his counterparts, there is merit in English speakers learning and embracing Patois and vice versa.

Because language is culture, language is connection to home, to family, to community, it is tradition, and "tradition is not to preserve the ashes, but to pass on the flame".

Walk good.

- Article courtesy of the American International School of Kingston (AISK). Send feedback to sreid@aisk.com.