Letters & Opinion

National Language Policy: Creating a Way Forward for Creole in Schools in St. Lucia

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B. E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B. E

THE government of St. Lucia is now in the process of formulating a National Language Policy for our country. There is the general understanding that the policy will pave the way for creole to be  used as a medium of instruction in schools.

For more than two decades I have advocated for the teaching of creole in schools. That also meant the use of creole as a medium of instruction in the school. I wrote an article entitled: “Teaching Creole in Schools”. Advocacy has gone unheeded until now that the present government has seen the merit in the clarion call.

It is a fact that Creole is our ‘Mother Tongue’ or first language. English is our second Language, but we are busy teaching our children in English when many of those children our coming from homes where creole is the main medium of communication.

Many schools in Haiti are now resorting to teaching Haitian creole in schools instead of French. Those educators have seen the benefits of teaching their children in the creole which they hear at home and in the community every day of their lives.

Research is heavy laden with advantages of the mother tongue. Mother tongue makes it easier for children to pick up and learn other languages.

Mother tongue develops a child’s personal, social and cultural identity.

Using mother tongue helps a child develop their critical thinking and literacy skills.

By critical thinking I mean that the learner is required to use his or her ability to reason out things for himself or herself. It’s about being an active learner rather than a passive receiver of information. Critical thinkers always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the true picture.

Literacy skills provide the learner with the ability to read and write. That is they understand units of sounds; they can recognize and use words and sentences correctly or intelligently.

Children learn better and faster in a language they can understand, and they enjoy school more. As a classroom teacher, I remember some of the most exciting moments for many students were when I spoke or explained a concept or idea in creole; or told a story in creole. Children were always very excited and participated fully in the lessons.

It must be noted that in a classroom where learners enjoy the lessons, they come to school regularly and on time. And they look forward for an exciting day.

When children develop their mother tongue, they can transfer their understanding of the structure of language to learning of another language, in our case, English.

Creole is a language which has structure like any other language. And every language is different. The way we say things in creole would be different in the way we say it in English. For example: In English we say, “a red table”. The adjective comes before the noun. In creole we say “un tab rouge”. In this case, the noun comes before the adjective. When learners understand that simple structure, learning becomes exciting.

Soon the children will have a desire to develop a vocabulary in Kweyol such as: chez, chat, bef, pen, fet, gason, hach, tifi. Very simple words which would enable children to converse. Vocabulary building is an important aspect or structure of a language.

Strong roots with their cultural heritage give children a sense of belonging. Fluency in their mother tongue helps them understand where they came from. And they are better able to decide where they are going.

Now children will understand that ‘bef’ in kweyol means cow or cattle in English. Many of the children would be involved with cows or cattle at home. They may have to tie the cow before going to school, and even milking the cow sometimes. Now the milk is consumed at home and some of it sold to make some money which would buy food for them to eat. For them, it becomes a way of life, culture.

Pen, jako, nich and mouton help children get clear ideas about the things around them. Words provide a picture to help us better understand the world around us.

As it relates to pronunciation and spelling, bread for example is a more difficult word to pronounce than pen.

And many words in Kweyol are simple, easy to spell and pronounce.

All that I have said so far makes the case for the use of Kweyol or creole as a medium of instruction.

The point is that we can’t do away with standard English since we will have to communicate with people near and far in English. We can use both languages to teach our children. School performance in English is bound to improve!

The national mean or average in English Language is 50% (percent). Creole as a medium of instruction could help boost that average for students and the nation.

Now the use of Kweyol as a medium of instruction would provide some challenges. Among those challenges is the need for teachers or facilitators of learning themselves be capable of teaching the subject. They should know the Kweyol and be fluent in the language themselves.

But to be honest, it can be done. With some preparation and proper organization, we can make it happen.

As I have indicated earlier in this article, teachers in Haiti are making it happen. We too, can make it happen in St. Lucia.

Kweyol has been introduced in our House of Assembly where the various parliamentary representative are able to speak to the constituents in a language they know very well and understand.

We need to go a little further. And I welcome a national policy.

Join me next week when we present another lesson for you in the “Open School.”

2 Comments

  1. I think it is a wrong policy to spend time, energy and finance to teach Creole as a require subject at school, when the same effort could be made to enhance learnings in science, mathematics and an international language beside French or Spanish, since we are surrounded by Spanish speaking Nations. The very mention of Haiti with them teaching their Creole at school is not a positive indicator for anyone else to follow, since it has not gained them any notoriety favorably elsewhere, beyond their shores. We all grew up speaking Creole (Patois) in St. Lucia and I’ve been away for 64 years but haven’t forgotten a word of the Patois spoken at the Market, on the street or at the many homes I’ve visited. Do whatever you may, but I speak as one who have lived a long time in Europe and in North America, where I had to brush up on the little french I was tought and had to pick up on Spanish and a little Italian. It served me well to have done so, but not Creole. Be ye Blessed.

  2. The responder has been away from his/her homeland for so long and has now lost the roots that feed the significance of Patois in our history, culture, our being and sovereignty as St. Lucians.

    Understand well, that what places the stamp of belonging on the people of any country, state, or community, is their language.

    When St.Lucians, living abroad,hear that nostalgic sound of Patois eclatay somewhere at the supermarket, office,school, bus stops or other public venues, they are immediately drawn like a magnet to the person(s). When they connect, the most animated expressions of a prodigal language splits the foreign air.

    Mamai lacaye! Wasaasye! Deaupi moi tanne Patois-a, moi Savre sa mamai lacaye!

    And all the typical loud voice hand, head and body gestures that follow, says to the American, French, Spanish or other foreign onlookers, that there is a place called St.Lucia, and we too, poses our unique vernacular of language.

    History will reveal that a nation begins its descent into oblivion when it begins to cede the bastion of its language- its characteristic vernacular- idioms, proverbs, folk lore, and other integral roots of language, speech and communication- to foreign polyglot.

    When it happens that St.Lucians lose that native Patois, it’s unique inflections and tones;

    When we can no longer distinguish mamai Dennery from mamai Micoud, then we hav become a nation of cat birds, uttering fake rendition of borrowed languages.

    It is imperative that our children be taught Patois as a language and its significance in the maintaining of selfhood in the global community.

    So that when, in the future, they stand among people speaking French, Spanish, Hebrew audibly and effusively to each other, they too can speak Patois audibly and effusively to each other and show and tell the world that there is a language called Patois

    Souplaiy, quitay Patois veway le’col.

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