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Multilingualism key to move country forward – Morris - UN youth ambassador renews call for J’cans to learn more languages

Published:Monday | February 25, 2019 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Santana Morris (left), Jamaica’s youth ambassador to the United Nations, speaking at a Youth Month Leadership Forum hosted by the St James Municipal Corporation last November. Looking on is Ayanna Waite, a sixth-form student at Mount Alvernia High School.

Before the end of her tenure as Jamaica’s Youth Ambassador to the United Nations later this year, Santana Morris wants to see a more urgent move towards Jamaica introducing multilingualism, starting from the early childhood level.

An avid traveller, Morris recently reiterated concerns to The Gleaner that the island continues to miss out on investments and overseas opportunities as a result of most citizens speaking only English and Patois.

The Government says it intends to boost Jamaica’s economic prospects by incorporating key foreign language concepts in the education system and last year, a partnership was forged among the Government, the Spanish Embassy and the Shortwood Teachers’ College to offer intensive Spanish training to scores of trainee teachers. However, Morris believes the increasing global environment requires that Jamaica moves at a faster pace.

“My recommendation is we begin now to introduce a bilingual literacy teaching concept at the early childhood level. There are a lot of benefits. It will reduce – if not eliminate – communication barriers on the global level and benefit us where job opportunities are concerned,” said Morris, who is the executive director of the Jamaica Intensive Reading Clinic. “More tourists who speak foreign languages will want to come here as well.”

Better tertiary opportunities

“Being bilingual puts our children in a position to gain higher education in non-English-speaking countries,” she added, pointing out that Jamaicans can seek opportunities for free tertiary education as far as Europe. “These countries include Germany and Norway. It would equip citizens who wish to take up various jobs in the business process outsourcing sector in areas that cater to non-English-speaking clients.”

She recommended French and Mandarin as two languages to consider implementing from early childhood.

“The Chinese are booming economically and because of that, many countries can attest to the benefits being gained from a relationship with the Chinese.”

The idea of Mandarin becoming an official language in Jamaica has found favour with counsellor at the Chinese Embassy, Fan Jianghong.

“China is growing rapidly, economically and socially. We have a very unique culture. It is important for more people outside China to effectively communicate with the Chinese to understand our culture,” Fan told The Gleaner. “They will learn what we have been doing to make China a prosperous society, like the discipline, punctuality, and very good work ethics. Being able to speak our language effectively is important to understand why China is growing so fast.”

French Ambassador Denys Wibaux noted that learning French would give Jamaicans access to important French literature for advancement.

“French, in many countries, has been like a language of resistance. We have many philosophers and we also have revolutionary ideas written in French. We, the French, have public policies in place to support expansion of the French language,” he told The Gleaner.