Our Readers' Opinions
November 22, 2013
It’s time to introduce English as a second language in schools

Fri Nov 22, 2013

Editor: I note with some interest the recent statements from the Ministry of Education regarding the centrality of literacy, vocabulary and pronunciation in the primary as well as secondary schools, and in addition, the recent upsurge in interest in foreign language instruction. I am moved to suggest that this might be the appropriate time to introduce “English as a Second Language” into the syllabus of both primary and secondary schools. Students could be re-introduced to the possessive pronouns “his”, “her” and “my” as appropriate replacements for “he”, “she” and “me” The former words seemed to have entirely disappeared in common spoken communication.{{more}} Often, immediately after being quite rightly and emphatically informed by someone that “Me nah know”, I am hesitantly directed to a 13-year-old female in iridescent see through short-shorts, but am pulled back by a tug on the arm by my benighted guide with “Nah, she nah know either. Look nau, buss cumma — he know…”

I realize that since independence many cultural, including linguistic, influences that might be regarded as Eurocentric are not only suspect, but reviled. In our quest for a “Caribbean civilization” we have retreated to Pidgin English, not only accepting dialect in formal classroom compositions, but in some instances actually encouraging it. Many fine authors and comedians have brilliantly exploited various dialects and non-standard usages in their works, and the serious study of these forms is a respected field in advanced linguistic studies, to help us understand origins and structures of verbal communication as used in remote or isolated areas where people have not been exposed to (or even need) more subtle, complex, and nuanced languages; I trust that is not St Vincent’s case.

But the devolution of the English language, as heard on the street, in buses and stores, and in the school yards throughout this country, is not something to be proud of, to be flouted as a badge of self-determination—it’s not hip or clever: screw the rules, I can talk anyway I want! It is ignorance pure and simple and it’s prevalence and growth is only retarding real social and cultural progress. Gresham’s Law obtains here: “Bad drives out good.

It is not entirely impossible that a young person, currently enrolled in primary or secondary school today might find cause tomorrow to travel, study, or seek employment abroad or even find a position within St Vincent that may require verbal communication of some subtlety with an Anglophone in a country where English is the native tongue. In the event, it would indeed prove useful to have attained a modicum of proficiency in that language. Or, of course, one can always stay here and steal goats, perhaps even moving up to become a cocaine/marijuana/gun trafficker; I am told opportunities abound and the work is profitable – and the verbal skills requirement, at an entry level, are minimal. Those activities are surely part of Caribbean civilization.