Tribute to a modern languages pioneer
On this Teachers’ Day, I fondly remember Fraulein Daphne Adams, my first German teacher who influenced my love for languages and who transitioned recently in Jamaica.
Miss Adams was first and foremost an excellent, no-nonsense teacher of modern languages. But she was also beautiful, classy, dazzlingly stylish, and bright. She made grand entrances to classrooms, and her presence was complemented by an array of colourful scarves. Fraulein Adams did some theatre, too, acting in a few plays and winning speech competitions. She often made it clear that she could never abide with those who were hell-bent on “taking liberties with the sanctity of language”. In other words, she was a stickler for excellence.
I must admit that for the first year of the two-year ‘O’ level programme, done from Leinster Road at St Hugh’s, I can’t recall her ever speaking English as she was a pioneer of total immersion in the target language. She was wonderfully polite, too, always calling me Herr Rodney (Mr Rodney) when I was only 15 years old. I looked forward to learning German carols at Christmas time, and I was truly impressed when she taught the popular Jamaican folk song Linstead Market in German. She would sometimes kindly offer me a ride for part of the way home after our Tuesday and Thursday classes.
She was a graduate of The University of the West Indies (UWI), and she also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Goethe Insitut in Germany. I later learnt that while she was a student at The UWI, she won the crown for Campus Queen in 1958. Looking back, her coronation was a considerable accomplishment in those days as that role would have been normally reserved for women of lighter hues. For many years, she did phenomenal work at St Hugh’s High School as head of modern languages, where she helped create the first language laboratory at a high school in Jamaica. She also brought her magic to the Language Training Centre with Spanish, French, and German, and a few years after, she founded Language Today Ltd, a developmental space for translators and interpreters. Additionally, she was an elected official at the Translators and Interpreters Association of Jamaica.
When Jamaica began to realise the importance of foreign languages for development in the 1970s, Miss Adams, at the request of the then prime minister, tasked her sixth-form girls at St Hugh’s to translate all government JIS brochures to Spanish, French, and German for use in overseas embassies and missions. (Some of her rising stars like Paula Robinson, Lucy Kitchin, Michelle Neita, Margaret Edwards, Dahlia Woodbine, and Novlett Morgan were part of that project).
I am very happy that I was able to thank her sincerely for schooling me in German years before she departed. I remembered Miss Adams in great detail a few years ago as I sat on a national television show in Africa, interpreting for the Marleys, Third World, and Marcia Griffiths. I am sure many of her students near and far will remember her for positively affecting their lives, too. Thank you, Miss Adams, your star will forever shine brightly.