The Ministry of Education Language

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The Ministry of Education Language Education Policy (2001) states that in the Caribbean, English is the official language of instruction and it is estimated according to the number of persons who attend school. Craig (2006) supports with the statement that the majority student population of the Caribbean experiences a magnitude of difficulty in acquiring English. This highlights the difficulty that students experience in talking English and the need for an understanding of the factors that contribute to the difficulties. It is also relevant to understand the background against which the language situation exists.

The Background

English- based Creole developed as a native language of West Indies people and today extreme forms of Creole is found in Jamaica Craig (2006). This Creole is a language developed through contact with one or more of the European languages and which has eventually become the first language for successive generations.Jamaican Creole is the language that is more widely used although in the country. This standard variety of the language is accepted as the model for official form of communications within the educational sphere.

For the Jamaican national and nationals of other regional countries, the indigenous Creole is the language that is most often spoken. Persons who speaks the indigenous Creole language and is learning the Jamaican English is actually taking on a second language. It is not strange for Jamaica teachers, to at some point in their careers, question the influence that the first language has on the teaching of English within their classrooms.

Jamaican English is the language of formal communication into which educational instructions falls and as a consequence of the status accorded to English, it is considered the prestige language while Jamaican Creole is relegated to the subordinate. For the typical Jamaican students, Standard English is the second language and having a limited background of this second language serve to limit the opportunities that are presented to them within the schools and other facets of their daily lives.

Jamaica is a bilingual society with Jamaican English (JE) and Jamaican Creole (JC) being the two languages in operation (Alleyne 1989; Shields 1989). The fluid nature of language usage between these languages, as well as the peculiar nature of the linguistic relationship they share, creates difficulties for the some Creole speakers (Ministry of Education Language Education Policy, 2001). According to the Language Education Policy (2001) the magnitude of the difficulties is confirmed in a survey of learners' performance between 1998 and 2000 which shows that despite interventions by the MOEY&C, an average of 50% of learners consistently fails to achieve established passing levels.

The speech of many Jamaican children entering school reflects the variety of combinations between Jamaican Creole and Jamaican English existing in the society. The majority are likely to use forms nearer to Jamaican Creole than to Jamaican English (The Language Education Policy, 2001). Student talk is crucial to the teaching learning situation. It directly correlates with learning and that which needs to be learnt. Their articulation in English foster the effective connection to learning as this provides teachers with valuable information on their learning needs with regards to the language. However, it is not uncommon in many Jamaican classrooms for students to communicate in their dominant language during informal interactions. Students often communicate with their peers in the Jamaican Creole in informal group conversational settings.

Motivation for the Study

The impetus for this study comes as a result of the researcher's experiences in the classroom where a group of Grade 5 students in an urban primary school communicate effectively in Jamaican Creole but experience challenges in talking English. There is also an interest in exploring the discrepancies that exist between the English and the Jamaican Creole which may be the key to understanding the challenges that these students experience. The present study draws on the work of various linguists, psychologists and educators and attempts to analyze the possible role of the Jamaican Creole and other socio-cultural variables in the achieving competence in English.

As previously stated, many Jamaican students experience difficulty in talking English and use of the linguistic devices which assist them in communicating orally. Oral language or talk is adapted to a specific audience and to a specific socio-cultural setting and community. It needs to be understood in relation to written language since they often function as interdependent forms of communication in schools.

Some of what students understand and learn in school comes through talk and talk may be spontaneously produced from informal speech in conversational situations. The researcher's observations are that teacher-student interactions are sometimes restricted to limited opportunities for students to engage in conversations in English. Regardless of this, student to student informal conversations occur in the home language and are restricted to outside of the classroom. In essence, the home language is unimportant for formal activities.

The motivation for the study also comes as a result of the teaching approaches use for developing students' talk in English. It is a fact that current approaches are grounded in prescriptive and corrective methods rather that focused too much on language structure rather than on communicative competence.

The Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is advance previous research in students' talk and the development of oral competence in English. English in this case refers to a second language of speech and this study will also seek to explore the relationship between formal and informal conversational styles and the impact they have on speaking English. A second language means embarking on learning an additional language, at least some years after they have already acquire a first language (Mitchell & Myles, 1998). In other words, it is that which is acquired after a first language is learnt. There must be a degree of oral competence in this second language for there to be success. Competence in talking English means students must learn not only grammatically, but also appropriately Scarcella, Andersen & Krashen (1990). The idea is for students to develop competence in talking in English under different conditions.

The purpose of the study also spans identifying the factors that contribute to the incompetence that students experience in talking English. The Ministry of Education Language Education Policy (2001) states that the unsatisfactory performance of students in language and literacy at all levels of the Jamaican educational system, and its accompanying effects on language competence and on the potential for human development in the wider society, have perpetually been matters of concern. While there are various reason that contribute to second language learning in the classroom, there are also factors outside of the classroom that impact students' ability to learn and use the target language.

The study aims to give an understanding of the relevance of the first language a to the development of competence in the second language. In Jamaica, talking English is synonymous with classroom teaching thereby excluding the home language form this setting. Conversely, outside of the classroom English is not necessarily the language of social interactions and is therefore lock our of this social sphere. The understanding is that, the home language forms the basis for competence in the second language. Crystal (1987) proposes that maintaining the home language is a desirable form of cultural diversity in the society, promote ethnic identity, lead to social acceptability, add psychological security to students and develop linguistic awareness.

It is established that students' experience deficiencies in talking English and are required to develop competence for communication. It is also established that there are factors that contribute to this lack of competence but what how might students' be assisted in developing communicative competence in this second language. The study seeks to present and explain various teaching approaches to support students' efforts in talking English.

Statement of the Problem

Children learn the language of their parents and sub-culture on the one hand and almost with bewilderment, have to learn English as a second language in the classroom. The dychotomy of the situation is, the former can hardly be prevented while the latter takes much to bring about. Teachers of English are aware that the mastery of a language does not mean the ability to use it to communicate effectively. They recognize that free expression, if and when it does occur, consists of careful regurgitation of previously memorized materials. Jamaican teachers often keep strictly within the limits that students are expected to learn. They recognize that although some students may do well on language tests, they are not always competent at communicating orally in English.

It is generally accepted that Jamaican students, like many other students within the region, experience challenges in communicating in English. There is a deficit in language competences which has adversely impacted oral and written communications in our schools and has manifested itself in internal and external examinations.

The challenge that many teachers of English face is assisting students to develop an awareness and competence in the use of the target language. The clear differentiation of both the Jamaican Creole and English is also necessary in the classroom. The current practice however, is total exclusion of the Jamaican Creole from the formal language classroom. A question that teachers fail to ask themselves is how to develop the necessary language awareness in students. The opportunities for shifting between the languages during are classroom interactions quite limited and students own perception of the Jamaican Creole and its relation to the English language is not elicited by teachers. This elicitation is important to ensure that students internalize the contrasts between the languages (Craig, 2006).

It is assumed that irrespective of the fact that Jamaican students speak Jamaican Creole, it is also discreetly assumed that they are also able to speak and understand English. Although there are some similarities between the languages and the fact that many students can communicate in Jamaican Creole does not reflect the shortcomings experienced in English. Teachers recognize the differences between the Jamaican Creole and English and kept the two languages separate.

According to Craig (2006, p. 29-30), the guide books provided by the Ministry of Education for teachers are references to the fact that teachers need to be taught the patterns and structures of English but it is not always taught. They need to be conscious about what they are doing in the classroom and be cognizant of the extent to which students gain competence in English. Student talk is crucial and it correlates with learning and that which needs to be learnt. The fact that students are able to articulate, bolster the effective connection to learning. It provides teachers with valuable information on the learning needs of the students with regards to the language. It is not uncommon in many Jamaican classrooms for students to communicate in their dominant language during informal interactions. They communicate with their peers in the

Jamaica Creole and also with their teachers and other persons who are competent in the second language. The researcher suspects that there are a number of factors that contribute to the challenges experienced in talking English. The researcher will therefore seek to find answers for the following research questions:

Why do Jamaican students experience difficulties in talking English?

Will increased opportunities for talking English result in communicative


How does positive attitudes towards talking English increase communicative


What teaching approaches would effectively stimulate improvements in talking