In Jamaica, speaking proper English can get you killed in the Inner-City, as it makes you see girly.
So says a recent survey by the British Council (WilsonHarris, 2015, September 6), which was a precursor to the ‘Teaching teachers to teach English’ programme in Jamaica. Teaching teachers to teach English’ programme in Jamaica is currently in one hundred (100) countries spanning six (6) continents.
The survey was conducted by language consultants visiting six non-traditional high schools, one primary school, one traditional high school and two teachereducation colleges to determine why there was a decline in student’s performance in the CSEC English passes in 2015. The survey concluded that decline in student’s performance in the CSEC English passes in 2015 was cause by:
- Nonreading culture
- The use of Patois to avoid speaking standard Jamaican English
- The perception among boys that reading in English was effeminate
- Poor grasp and usage of English by non-English Teachers
According to the British Council, this was obvious in Jamaica’s CSEC English passes for 2015:
- 40,148 Grade 11 students sat CSEC Exams
- 8% or 26,872 of the Grade 11 students elected to sit the CSEC English Exams
The Ministry of Education stats seem to back up the results of the British Council:
- 26,419 of the 26,872 actually sat the CSEC English Exams
- 453 did not turn up for the CSEC English Exams
- 65% of the 26,419 passed the CSEC English Exams
- 5% of the females who sat the CSEC English Exams received a passing grade
- 9% of the males who sat the CSEC English Exams received a passing grade
So what is the cause of this perception of English among Jamaican boys?
British Council Survey report on English Proficiency – boys fear stigmatization
Jamaica has the distinction of befitting from this program due to our bi-lingual status.
However, the act of speaking English being associated with effeminacy and a fear of being teased doesn’t surprise Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of the WestIndies, Mona, Dr Silvia Kouwenberg, quote: “This observation is not new to me. Nor is it surprising, considering that we live in a society where boys earn prestige by being ‘rude’”.
Speaking proper English and displaying proper behaviour is associated with being effeminate and often confused with homosexuality. Thus males see acting rude as being an indication that they are males and not females, to quote Dr Silvia Kouwenberg: “In the linguistic reality of Jamaica, English is associated with being well behaved in the classroom as girls are expected to be. This in turn makes English a ‘girlish’ language. So a boy who does well at English is seen as girlish by his peers”.
Based on my personal experience in the inner-City community of Swallowfield, you may also get picked on severely by the street urchins in the community simply because you dress properly and speak proper English. This become especially glaring if you work in a Call Center, which requires English spoke at a high level of proficiency and having to interact with members of the community.
These street urchins, who are members of the Swallowfield community, may regard you as being fake or worse, pick on you because you’re perceived as effeminate and possibly a homosexual simply because you speak proper English.
Subject Teachers and English – Fear of speaking English as Students only speaking Patios
Teacher contributed to this problem by not speaking proper English themselves, being as many are not confident enough to speak proper English as noted by Dr Silvia Kouwenberg: “At this time, in my opinion, teachers are not equipped with a useful method of English language teaching where most of their charges speak Jamaican Creole”.
Interestingly the British Council Survey report observed that teachers often resorting to using Patios to be understood in the classroom, as workbooks and worksheets did not provide for extended learning, quote: “… the teachers refer to ‘the writing process’ but the structured progressive journey of speaking and listening (vocabulary), reading and writing is not always clear to the teachers and, therefore, not constructed for children”.
This mean that English was not being used outside of the classroom, as teachers were not relating to the student the importance of English outside of a school context as a tool (Beebe, Beebe, Redmond, 2005) to get through life, quote: “The truth is that a language which is learnt and used only at school and does not make the transition to other social contexts is unlikely to thrive”.
As such, due to this lack of confidence to use English in the classroom and poor CSEC Results, many teacher are reluctant to recommend student to sit the CSEC English Exams, hence the low numbers at the recent sitting of the CSEC English Exams for 2015.
To quote Dr Silvia Kouwenberg, this knowledge is the reason why CSEC English passes are on the decline, quote: “At this time, in my opinion, teachers are not equipped with a useful method of English language teaching where most of their charges speak Jamaican Creole. It is well known, and was exposed in a series of Gleaner articles a few years ago, that about half the age cohort is not given an opportunity to fail CSEC English as the schools will not allow these children to go up for the examination”.
So what does the Ministry of Education plan to do about this problem of boys not speaking proper English or passing the CSEC English Exams?
English as a Second Language – Oral Presentation coming to CSEC and PEP Exams
First, it’s good to note that passing English isn’t enough; you have to gain mastery over the language. And the only way to do so, as with any foreign language, is to immerse yourself in English, both in the written and spoken form in everyday life.
To this end, the Ministry of Education is planning to introduce an oral presentation aspect to CSEC English by CSEC Exams in 2017. In effect, English will receive the same treatment as Spanish, which already has an oral presentation component, to quote then Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites:“We are on an arc of improvement, but still not where we would want to be, and I think the reason is because we don’t recognise that for many people, English is a second language, and we need to teach it as a second language, which the ministry is now doing”.
After all, you’ll need English to not only communicate in the workplace but to also display emotional intelligence (Bradberry, 2015, January 7) key to making lots of money and impressing girls, as pointed out by Ronald Thwaites: “Boys want to grow into men who are accomplished and responsible and professional and can earn money and please girlsand all those things. What we need to get across to them is that a command of the English language is absolutely essential to do this”.
The Grade Six Achievement Test, which will be replaced by the PEP (Primary Exit Profile) in 2019 (Deer, 2016, March 30), will also include an oral presentation in a bid to address the problem of poor English proficiency at the Grade 6 Level before it becomes a problems at Grade 11. After all, this idea that English is for girls and not boys has to erased from their minds when they are young, to quote Ronald Thwaites: “If you are going to cut off your nose to spite your face, by thinking that it makes people think you are effeminate, well, you won’t be doing well in those subjects”.
Speaking and writing English, albeit unpleasant, is an artform in itself and a necessary tool, even for a seasoned blogger like myself. Albeit you will get teased, it’s good to remember that speaking proper English when necessary will enable you to get work anywhere, influence wealthy people with your positive outlook on life (Deer, 2016, April 16) and make a difference, no matter you current status in life.
- Beebe, S.A., Beebe, S.J., Redmond, M.V. (2005). Interpersonal Communications – Relating to Others (4th Ed). New York: Pearson
- Bradberry, T. (2015, January 7). Why You Need Emotional Intelligence To Succeed. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2015/01/07/why-you-need-emotional-intelligence-to-succeed/
- WilsonHarris, N. (2015, September 6).‘English Is For Sissies!’ Crisis As boys rejecting English Language. Retrieved from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20150906/english-sissies-crisis-boys-rejecting-english-language
- Deer, L. (2016, March 30). Why PEP to replace GSAT in 2019 and How to dispose of an old Jamaican Flag. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/why-pep-to-replace-gsat-in-2019-and-how-to-dispose-of-an-old-jamaican-flag/
- Deer, L. (2016, April 16). Why self-made millionaires people are attracted to optimists and avoid pessimists. Retrieved from https://lindsworthdeer.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/why-self-made-millionaires-people-are-attracted-to-optimists-and-avoid-pessimists/