Status Of Languages In Mauritius English Language Essay

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The study of this dissertation is based on the use of modern technology in the teaching and learning process at secondary level education. Being a language teacher (French language), I have focused my study on language classes being conducted in a technology-based environment, also known as a Language Laboratory. This dissertation will seek to evaluate the use and the effectiveness of a language laboratory to teach second languages such as English and French languages in Mauritian secondary schools.

It is a comparative study between the St. Andrews School, situated at Rose-Hill, which is equipped with a language lab and the Vacoas SSS (Girls) which represents the classical classroom method of teaching languages.

1.1 BACKGROUND: STATUS OF LANGUAGES IN MAURITIUS

In the official website of the Government of Mauritius, the status of languages in Mauritius is described as follows: "English is the official language. French is extensively used and Creole is widely spoken. Asian languages also form part of the linguistic mosaic." (Government portal of Mauritius 2012)

However, when unfolding the above-mentioned description of the linguistic situation in Mauritius, we will see that it is not that simple, due to its complex history of immigration and colonization.

1.1.1 COLONIAL HISTORY OF MAURITIUS

The colonial history of Mauritius is the root cause of our multiethnic and multilingual society. It all started with the Arab and then Portugese sailors who are believed to have visited our island in the early XVIth century.

Between 1590 and 1710, the Dutch colonized the island and their main activity was the exportation of ebony wood. For this purpose, they brought several Malagasy slaves in Mauritius. However they have not made major developments apart from the introduction of sugar cane, domestic animals and deer.

In 1715, Mauritius became a french colony and it has been extensively developped especially when Mahé de Labourdonnais governed the country as from 1735. Many slaves were imported mostly from Africa and Madagascar and a few Indians came from Coromanddel and Malabar Coast.

Other French governors continued the development of the island until 1810 when the British took over. However, they decided to preserve the laws, customs, language, religion and property, that is, the civil and judicial administration of the island as it was during the French reign. During the English colony, sugar production increased to become a major foreign income earner, thus leading to economic progress which called for the expansion and development of means of communication and appropriate infrastructure. All these development necessitated the importation of more slaves from Africa and Madagascar.

However in 1835 the abolition of slavery brought major changes in the island on the socio-economic and demographic fields. A large number of indentured laborer from different parts in India were coming to Mauritius to work in the sugar cane fields and later a small number of Chinese traders joined them in the island. In 1907 the immigration ceased, however many Indians had already settled permanently in the island and as a matter of fact they formed the majority of the population. The gathering of a mosaic of people from India, China, Africa and Europe lead to a process of hybridization and intercultural frictions and dialogues. In 1959, voting took place for the first time on the basis of universal adult suffrage and the number of electors rose to 208,684. In 1968 Mauritius gained its independence. (Government protal of Mauritius 2012)

1.1.2 ACTUAL LINGUISTIC SITUATION OF MAURITIUS

Today the population of Mauritius is more than 1.2 million people, which consists of 68% Indo-Mauritians (Hindus and Muslims), 27% Creole (Af ro-Mauritians and mixed population), 3% Sino-Mauritians and 2% Franco-Mauritians (CIA, 2008).

Rajah-Carrim (2005) has identified eleven main languages actually used in Mauritius and she further classified them into three categories: colonial languages (English and French) and language of everyday communication (Creole), and ancestral languages (Indian and Chinese languages) which are used on limited occasions.

Mahadeo (2004) explains the linguistic situation of Mauritius in these terms : "Given the number of languages (at least 12) used by different ethnic groups in an island with a population which now exceeds 1.2 million people and an area of 720 square miles, Mauritius presents an extreme case of individual multilingualism"

According to Chiba (2006), Mauritius is "the most linguistically fashionable place on the planet". Mauritian swap languages depending on the circumstances, in the same way as others change clothes. He further illustrated his point of view with the following example:" Over the course of a day a typical Mauritian might use English to write a school essay, Kreol Morisien to chat with friends, French to read a novel and Bhojpuri to spend a quiet evening with the family."

Chiba (2006) then classified the use of the major languages as follows:

Home: Kreol and Bhojpuri

Government and schools: English

Business: French and Kreol

Literature, newspapers and television: French

Casual speech: Kreol

However Chiba (2006) pointed out that this table is only an overview since French is also often present in government and English is not completely absent in the media.

In his Ethnologue: Languages of the world, Lewis (2009) has enumerated the main languages spoken in Mauritius with their respective number of users:

English: 3,000 speakers (1993), French: 37,000 speakers, Morisyen: 800,000 speakers (2005), Bhojpuri: 336,000 speakers (2001), Urdu: 64,000 speakers (1993), Hakka Chinese: 35,000 speakers (1990), Tamil: 31,000 speakers (2001), Eastern Panjabi: speakers (1990), Marathi: 11,800 speakers (1990), Telugu: 10,700 speakers (1990) and Gujarati: 3,340 speakers (1990).

The main colonial languages used in Mauritius are English, which is the official language and French which is considered as the second and semi-official language and which is widely used in the media and for oral communication. However other languages such as Spanish, Italian and German are also used especially in the sector of education and tourism.

The lingua franca of Mauritius is the Kreol Morisyen which is considered by the majority of Mauritians, as their mother tongue. Moreover, this language as acts as a language of unity and many works are being presently carried out to standardise its orthographe and its grammar. The Kreol Morisyen is now present in the education system of Mauritius, at primary level where the students are given the choice to opt for this language or an oriental language.

A quite large number of ancestral languages are also present in Mauritius such as Bhojpuri, Hindi, Gujerati, Kutchi, Mandarin, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and Arabic, but their use are limited to cultural instances. However the Bhojpuri language can be considered as another lingua franca of Mauritius since quite a large number of Mauritians still use it for oral communication.

1.2 AIM

The aim of this study is to find out whether the language lab can be considered as a solution to the various language issues faced by Mauritian students, by evaluating its impact in the teaching and learning process of languages at secondary level of education.

1.3 OBJECTIVES

The set objectives of this study are to evaluate:

1. The level of improvement, if any, in the language competencies of the students with the language laboratory

2. The students' level of comfort and ease in a language lab, a modern class setting and with modern learning tools.

3. The students' level of motivation, interest and response in language laboratory classes.

4. The Teachers' response, the classroom management and the classroom atmosphere in a

language lab.

5. A comparison between language classes in a language lab and language classes in a traditional language class.

1.4 PROBLEM STATEMENT

Mauritians are considered bilingual; we can communicate in both English and French languages. Even if Mauritians use the Creole language to communicate orally, English is the official language in Mauritius and French is considered as a semi-official language in Mauritius. Both these languages are taught in primary schools as compulsory subjects alongside the Mauritian Kreol and some oriental languages which are optional subjects. In secondary schools, English and French languages are core compulsory subjects from the Form I till the School certificate classes and they are taught as second languages and not foreign languages.

Thus we can say that all Mauritian students study English and French languages since the age of 5 or 6 yrs old, but still at the end of the secondary education, few of us can have a proper conversation or can write a letter without grammatical errors in these languages. A precise analysis of the statistics, published by Mauritius Examination Syndicate MES on the pass rate of Mauritian students, clearly shows that the level of Mauritian students in English and French is low. Even though the percentage pass is high, quality-wise the results are not good. (MES, 2011)

There are various factors which can explain this problem and the main reasons are: the lack of motivation of the students in language classes, the lack of exposure to the languages, contact with other languages, the decline of the reading culture, the language subjects being considered as less important subjects and the exam oriented syllabus among others.

This research will thus propose an alternative way of conducting language classes, namely using the language laboratory. It will try to measure its effectiveness, efficiency and relevance and whether it can be considered as a solution to the above mentioned problem.

1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS

According to the objectives of the study, the research questions have been formulated as follows:

1. What are the language issues in the teaching and learning process of second languages

in Mauritius?

2. What are the roles of modern technology in language classes and to what extent can

technology be a remedy to these issues?

3. What is a language laboratory and what is its impact in a secondary school?

4. What is the students' and teachers' response in a language laboratory which is a

modern class setting with modern teaching and learning tools?

5. To what extent can the students compare this modern language class with their

traditional language classes?

6. Have the teachers and the students noticed an improvement in their language

competencies

with the language laboratories? If yes, which specific domain(s) of their language

competencies have been improved? (E.g. grammar, pronunciation, vocabularies,

reading, writing, spelling, fluency…)

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