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Dialect free classrooms

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Tue, Sept 25, 2012

Chief Education Officer Lou-anne Gilchrist lamented last week that many, not all, of our students are not using a standard form of English in their writing.

She said this is one of the reasons for the national, and on a larger scale, regional low pass rate in English Language at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).{{more}}

Gilchrist highlighted a problem that is not only affecting the school system, but also communication by persons outside the school system, who find themselves in formal settings in the workplace or when they travel outside of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The fact is, many persons, especially our younger citizens, are spending less and less time reading material written in standard English. Rather, they entertain themselves using their mp4 players, iPods, iPads, video games and computers.

It is also true that in today’s world, where very few persons write letters (not emails) to each other, the only time many younger persons get an opportunity to practise writing in a form of standard English is in school. Our people are instead taking a ‘shorthand’ approach to writing and speaking, made popular with the advent of cellular telephones with text messaging capabilities.

In the fast-paced world where the word ‘YOU’ is reduced to one letter (U), and the word ‘ARE’ is texted as ‘R’, ‘I DON’T KNOW’ is ‘IDK’ and ‘LATER’ is ‘L8R’, many persons have blurred the already thin line between what is to be written in casual communication, and what must be written in the formal settings such as at work, in examinations, job applications, reports, etc.

Although a national discussion is to be held on ways to improve the grades in math and English language, the debate on the appropriate use of standard English versus dialect has been taking place for some time now and will continue for the foreseeable future. Why should we be made to learn the language of our colonisers? Is dialect a language anyway? Is one form right and the other wrong? Should dialect be banned in schools? Should our children develop competencies in both languages?

Dialect is the first language learned by many, if not most of our citizens, with standard English being the standard second language of the region, if not the world, with the form of standard English used varying according to the corner of the world you are.

While we should maintain our local dialect and use it proudly in appropriate circumstances, because our children are having fewer and fewer opportunities to practise the standard English they learn in school, the Ministry of Education should be supported in its efforts to have our classrooms become dialect-free zones.

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