Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Gaye-Leon Williams | Use Creole to teach foreign languages

Published:Tuesday | October 1, 2019 | 12:07 AM

There is a place for Jamaican Creole in our schools. As a new researcher in this field, I would like to add my voice to the chorus that speaks to the use of Jamaican Creole in our educational institutions.

During my first-year teaching Spanish at the tertiary level, I became increasingly concerned at the difficulty encountered by students and lecturers alike in the foreign language classroom. Current models for the teaching of a foreign language relies heavily on comparisons to English language. However, the students preferred to articulate themselves using Jamaican Creole (JC), and those who attempted same using Jamaican English (JE) struggled tremendously. I wanted to assist them but was unsure how.

As my knowledge about language in general and about JC increased, I developed a better understanding regarding the students’ 'erroneous' target-language productions. As such, I decided to include JC comparisons, and discussions about our culture and about language in general, in my classroom. These were included as part of action plans built on the communicative approach to language teaching. In accordance to Vygotskian Constructivism, in which students are moved across their zone of proximal development by a more knowledgeable other through social interaction, JC could serve as the scaffold that would assist the students to attain competency in Spanish.

As I begin my third year of utilising JC in the teaching of Spanish, I can state the following observations.

First, it drastically lowers the affective filter, creating a more fun and relaxed environment in which students can learn. Students [re]learn English grammar and recognise that some of the steps they use, for example in conjugation of verbs, are similar across various languages. They come to a realisation that they do not have to consciously think about these steps for their native and second languages.

However, once they are made more aware of these steps, it is easier for them to compare and contrast what they need to know for the target language. As discussions about the various cultures ensue, students are more aware of how important language use is and the connection of a particular language to its culture, including push and pull factors.

Last, I have noticed that some of the students are able, with a greater understanding of language overall, to improve their target-language output.

Notwithstanding, preparation for classes and generating new activities that can meaningfully incorporate our native Creole is very time-consuming. There is no curriculum that outlines a standard way to implement same within the various levels of our school system. There is definitely more research needed in this area, as well as training for teachers to develop their own language awareness levels, especially as it pertains to the grammar innate to JC.

It is my hope that the development of such a curriculum can be done collaboratively by all of the relevant stakeholders, and that Jamaica will move to a place where we can use our native language in a meaningful way, to prepare and graduate students who are industry ready and globally competitive.

Gaye-Leon Williams is a lecturer at a tertiary institution and member of the Association of Graduate Researchers in Education. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gayeleon2@gmail.com.