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Language and communication through culture

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

With the aim to help improve attitude towards communication and understand the pros and cons of language, April 19-26 marked an auspicious week in the lives of 25 Communications Studies students of the Sixth Form Government School in St James. It was educational awakening in Language Art—appropriateness, importance, respective origin, beauty, opportunities, consequences and considerations—as it relates to the what, where, why, who, and how, with specific focus on T&T’s English and Creole. Through the British Council, Chemistry teacher Joy Yee Mon and Communications Studies teacher Vesha Khan were able to engage students in a Global School Partnerships (GSP) programme, in tandem with students of the Luton Sixth Form College, United Kingdom, and their English teacher Tamsyn Kramer.


In addition to teacher-student interaction in the classroom, local and British students also interacted through the Skype e-forum, where diverse views on the art of language-use and experiences they encounter while using particular tongues, in comparison to formal language, were discussed. T&T grapples with “the chicken and the egg” scenario—Which comes first? Native tongue or formal English? Which should be considered the appropriate, accepted, common-place language? Which should take centre stage? Kramer says there is a reality of what is being spoken in the home as children are entering the school system, from the Montessori level, speaking the native tongue and clueless of formal English, while having to align themselves with formal English presented in books or heard otherwise. This consequently poses a reading and/or literacy challenge, but she attempted to allay fears. Students, she said, admitted they were actually blown away after learning that, “worldwide, all countries have their unique native tongue” and “only 30 per cent of British speak the ‘Queen’s’ English.’”


This, she said, made students feel more comfortable. They learned of pidgin—the language that usually develops as a means of communication among groups of people who do not have a language in common. One student highlighted that her mother, “will have it no other way except formal English,” but she vowed to help her parent come to terms with the use of Creole. Kramer said students walked away knowing the importance and how to use it. She expressed thanks for the experience and spoke of the warmth of “the people” and of the cultural education she benefited from her first-time visit to Trinidad. A nationwide tour took her to Toco, Chaguaramas, Caroni Swamp and Waterloo among others, and she ate doubles, pelau, roti, callaloo and Chinese food. Marcelle Mapp, principal of the host school, said, “This exercise was long in the making with initial planning in May 2010. It has been a great achievement for the students.”


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