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Dialect-free classrooms – justified

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Tue, Oct 9, 2012

EDITOR: As a child, I remember my mother being fond of the adage: “there’s a time and a place for everything under the sun.” Therefore, I found it justifiable when in her report at the press conference of the Ministry of Education, the Chief Education Officer, Ms Lou-Anne Gilchrist, stressed “Dialect has its place … in settings outside of teaching and learning.”{{more}} I found this a reasonable call and in no way did I see it as an attempt to “purge” or “flush” our Vincentian Creole from our culture. In fact, that would be near impossible, as our Creole is commonplace in our primary learning environment, the home.

On the other hand, it is quite possible and indeed necessary for teachers to use standard English within our secondary learning environment, the classroom. This is because standard English is the official language of the academic world. That is, all our textbooks, journals, scholarly articles, and examinations etcetera are set in standard English, not in tech English or in dialect. As such, the onus is on teachers to model not only professional behaviour within the classroom, but also professional speech, which students can then emulate, especially as students tend to write in the manner in which they speak.

Furthermore, there is a misconception regarding students’ familiarity with dialect. Although they may be accustomed to hearing and speaking dialect, most students cannot read it. This essentially means that students are not truly bilingual. Their translation of tech English further supports this belief. “Where R U” is translated not “par yuh dey”, but “where are you”, which is standard English. Clearly, this supports the premise that our present dilemma regarding the poor performance of our students at CSEC English examination can be overcome if we consciously make an effort to facilitate and encourage the use of standard English within the classroom.

To modify yet another favoured adage of my mother’s, “practice does indeed make better.” If teachers insist on the use of standard English within the classroom, by themselves and by their students, there is a good chance that there will be an overall improvement in students’ writing, as they will be writing in the manner in which they are speaking. Moreover, dialect-free classrooms will strengthen the association between standard English and academic writing.

Standard English is only one form of English. It is by no means the only English, but for a developing country with ambition of being successful not only at regional CSEC examinations, but also on the global economic scene, there is definitely a need for a firmer grasp of standard English, starting particularly within our local classrooms.

Athalie Caine-Soleyn (Mrs)
English Teacher
B.A. Hons. (U.W.I), Cert. in Literacy Development in Secondary Schools
U.W.I), P.G.C.E. Merit (Nottingham)

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