Hassan Basarally 806007430 EDLA 3111 Ms.



Factors Which Affect the Teaching and Learning of English in the Anglophone Caribbean

Factors Which Affect the Teaching and Learning of English in the Anglophone Caribbean Hassan Basarally 806007430 Principles, Approaches and Methods in Teaching English in the Caribbean- EDLA 3111 17th April, 2009 Semester 2, 2008-2009 Faculty of Humanities and Education Department of Liberal Arts University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad

Hassan Basarally 806007430 EDLA 3111 Ms. Jaggernauth


The Anglophone1 Caribbean region poses a unique linguistic situation and with it unique challenges which affect the teaching and learning of English. The term English refers to the Standard English2 that has been adopted as the official language of the territories. Language learning is affected by different factors: teaching factors, learning factors and sociolinguistic factors. Factors that affect English language learning are the multilingual nature of the region, language attitudes of teachers, and students’ perceptions of Creole and English. The Anglophone Caribbean is not monolingual. It is multilingual, consisting of English Lexicon creoles in Grenada, French Lexicon creoles in St. Lucia and Dominica and Neo Indian creoles such as Garifuna in Belize. In addition Trinidad and Tobago has a Trinidad English Creole and Tobago English Creole. In addition, the creoles3 spoken are the first language to the majority of the student and teacher population. The result is that English was taught as a native language to an audience who in reality has it as a second language. The student in the region is different to other non native learners of English as the Creoles share the lexicon and many aspects of the structure of English. Hence, Robertson (1995), disapproves of the second language label, so “bi dialetalism” (Nero, 2000, p. 501) could be used or “linguistic schizophrenia” (p. 20). The fact that the region can be classified as multilingual, bi dialectal etc. has implications for the nature of language acquisition. Simmons-McDonald and Robertson (2006) hold that cognitive development is hindered when first language is ignored, ease of second language acquisition is dependent of first language competence and “initial literacy is best acquired in the first language”4. Despite these linguistic realities language teaching and learning in the region has been mostly monolingual in the official language, there is complete immersion in English in the classroom with no use of Creole. The result is that teachers fail to apply appropriate second language learning techniques and theories in the classroom. Development of skills in all domains

Hassan Basarally 806007430 EDLA 3111 Ms. Jaggernauth


of language is sought, i.e. reading, writing, speaking and listening. It cannot be achieved as the skills need to be developed in both the first and target language. Language attitudes of the teacher determine classroom practices and shapes student perception of language. Attitudes are a result of language awareness of teacher, student and society at large. In the region, language awareness is responsible for an individual’s perception of Creole in the classroom. For a long time in the history of the education system in the region, the creole speaking students were considered “linguistically and cognitively deprived, and consequently low in mental ability” (Craig, 2006, p. 11). As a result of this mentality, teachers were not motivated to use Creole in language learning and attempts were made to eradicate Creole from the classroom. Teachers may also have no training in dealing with classes whose students are Creole speakers or even sufficient knowledge of English. Parents also, view education including creole as hampering learning of English. This impacted on the language learning ability of students as the most effective teaching is done in the students’ first language. Robertson (1995), states that “the linguistic norm for transmission of cultural items which distinguish the Caribbean is therefore, non-standard” (p. 20). Also not utilising the creole as a method of instruction denies the child the right to be taught in the first language. Student language awareness and attitude determines the intrinsic motivation to learn English. The presence of the creole continuum affects students’ motivation to learn English. The continuum holds that decreolisation takes place and a creole moves towards the standard. This means that there is a basilect which is farthest from the standard, a mesolect in the middle and an acrolect close to the standard. As many students use English based creoles there is no perception that the creole is very different from the standard. In addition, Barbadian English Creole and Trinidad English Creole are acrolects, making students think there is even less difference. The student is unaware of the phonological difference between English and Creole, e.g. the Creole

Hassan Basarally 806007430 EDLA 3111 Ms. Jaggernauth


use of [d] instead of [ɵ] as in ‘dis’ instead of ‘this’. Or syntactic differences, e.g. the placing of the negative particle before the verb phrase or noun phrase as in ‘No woman like no poor man’ while English has it before the verb phrase alone. In addition the region has a high instance of code switching and varilingualism. This has students interchanging the use of Creole and English depending on the situation, many times incorrectly. Students are only required to utilise English for examination purposes, hence everyday use is minimal. As communication with peers and other members of the society can be conducted in Creole, English learning is deemed purely academic. This attitude is not helped by various education ministries having no language policy, or even recognising the multilingualism of the territories. This is now changing g with territories such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and St. Lucia utilising Creole in the classroom. However, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) allows optional Creole use in a limited role in creative writing, showing that Creole is still of little importance. Due to the close resemblance of the Creole and English, the bi dialectal term can be applied. In addition, the superficial similarity between the creole and English causes teachers great difficulty in presenting the features of English that must be learnt as different from that of the students’ language. The Anglophone Caribbean is multilingual, with English being the official language and Creoles occupying first language status. Stigmatisation of Creoles has led to attempts at its removal from classroom. In addition, teacher knowledge of the similarities and differences between English and Creole hamper effective teaching. Student motivation is affected by the closeness of English and the Creole, seeing no distinction and the limited functional use of English in life; students assume they already speak English. These factors compose the main challenges to teaching English in the region. Works Cited

Hassan Basarally 806007430 EDLA 3111 Ms. Jaggernauth


Craig, D. (2006) Language teaching & literacy to Caribbean students: From vernacular to standard english. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers. Nero, J. S. (2000). The Changing Faces of English: A Caribbean Perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 34 (3), 483-510. Robertson, I. (1995) Teaching the official language (english) in the caribbean: some perspectives. Simmons-McDonald, H. & Robertson, I. (Eds.). (2006). Exploring the boundaries of Caribbean creole languages. Jamaica: UWI Press.


1The Anglophone Caribbean is both a political and linguistic demarcation. Politically, it refers to British territories or now associated states, independent nations or republics. Linguistically, it refers to territories whose official language is English; in addition it refers to territories that have the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) as the regional examinations body. The territories are: Anguilla, Antigua/Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent/Grenadines, Trinidad/Tobago and Turks/Caicos. 2There exists in the region several English lexicon Creoles in addition to English, hence the need to classify English as Standard English. 3Creoles, in this sense, can be defined by Nero (2000, p. 486) as “a combination of phonology, morphology and syntax of West African and other ethnic languages, with the largest contribution to the lexicon coming from British English”. 4This is also held by Craig (1977), Simmons-McDonald (1996) and Shields-Brodber (1997).