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English, ‘foreign language’ in TT

By LARA PICKFORD-GORDON Saturday, May 18 2013

In an attempt to inculcate Standard English usage and improve students’ literacy, the Education Ministry plans to treat English as “foreign language.”

The proper use of Standard English is being encouraged, and an “oral” component was introduced for students preparing for the National Certificate of Secondary Education (NCSE).

This was disclosed by Gaynelle Holdip, Director of Curriculum Development, during a sitting of the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament at the J Hamilton Maurice Room yesterday.

The improper use of Standard English by teachers was raised by MP for Diego Martin Central, Dr Amery Browne. He noted the ministry’s focus on Language Arts, but said from his interaction with primary school teachers across the country he saw “a number of teachers within the system, who themselves were unable to properly communicate in Standard English, and children learn fundamentally by example.”

Chief Education Officer, Harrilal Seecharan, said the Ministry’s analysis had identified literacy, not Standard English, as an area to be addressed. According to the Ministry’s language policy, Standard English is treated as separate from Creole.

“We acknowledged that there are issues with Standard English, literacy is one of our priority areas we are working on,” Seecharan said. Another focus of the ministry was teacher training, and reform of primary schools, and an emphasis on numeracy and literacy.

“The issue of Standard English will be taken up as part of the training for teachers, not Standard English in isolation,” he said.

Gaynelle Holdip, Director Curriculum Development, said the Ministry had introduced an oral component in Form Three. She said, “in effect we began to treat English as a foreign language. We do recognise that the issue is widespread, because at the home very often one speaks the Creole, and in the public arena, one is expected to speak Standard English.”

Holdip said even public figures who thought they were speaking Standard English were not.

She disclosed that two years ago, the ministry hired a consultant to help define its Language policy. Holdip said, “we are really considering treating English as a foreign language, and bringing in some of the techniques that one uses to address the teaching of foreign language, and bring it in to the teaching of English.”

She said students interfaced with many teachers at school, and it was not only the responsibility of the English teacher to teach Standard English. She said Browne’s comments brought a new thinking for the ministry to engage teachers of other subjects, to use Standard English.

JSC chairman Corrine Baptiste-McKnight said that while reading was done in Standard English, comprehension was still a problem, and it seemed as if Grammar had “fallen through on the syllabus.” She gave the “far out” suggestion that all schools be declared “English-speaking zones.”

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