As current University of Guyana students in the Education and Humanities Faculty and secondary school teachers of English Language, we have read and debated issues surrounding Guyanese Creolese on many occasions. Much of the discussion about Creole language use has failed to consider the teacher-student perspective.
Persons who view Guyanese Creolese as a kind of deficient variety of Standard English instead of a language fail to consider definitions of language. Language may be defined as a system of conventional spoken, manual, or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. Language is a part of what identifies us as who we are. Our language, Guyanese Creolese, is what identifies and defines us as a people and a nation. Thus, when we as teachers deny students the use of their language in the classroom, we are denigrating their identity.
Individuals who are adamant that we should teach ‘proper English’ and disregard Guyanese Creolese should know that if a language dies so does an expression of human experience that is unique. Many of the students in our classroom can only express their experiences through Creolese. Should we as teachers ‘shut them up’ because they can’t speak ‘proper English’?
Oral language is a bridge to written language development, and if we want our students to speak ‘proper English’, we must first accept their oral language before we can show them the difference between their oral language structures and written language structures.
In addition, most theories of second language acquisition agree that variables such as learner motivation, attitudes, self-confidence, and anxiety have an effect on Second Language (SL/L2) attainment. These factors are especially important with regard to our Guyanese Creolese speaking students, who often have a negative self-image because of the frequent correction of their language in the schools and, sometimes, the denigration of their speech and culture as well.
It may be of consequence to note that the use of the Creolese in formal education may result in positive values to the variables with regard to learning the standard. As researchers point out, when the child’s mother tongue is valued in the educational setting, it leads to low anxiety, high motivation, and high self-confidence. Those three factors are closely related to successful language learning.
It is important to mention that when Guyanese Creolese is used in the classroom, it is not actually taught because they know it already, but it is used to help students in their learning. As teachers, we have been lucky to interact with students who employ both Creolese and ‘Standard English’ (or their approximation of) in the classroom. Most learners show more respect when ‘proper English’ is used in the classroom, but the majority cannot always understand and follow instructions when given in the Standard English. On the other hand, when they are given instructions in their first language (Creolese), they are able to follow and engage in classroom activities.
We urge the policy-making bodies of Guyana to support teachers to help our students to understand the language which they speak and use their language as a bridge to help them to speak ‘proper English’ whatever that might be.
Tain Campus University of Guyana