Gordon Swaby

The Jamaican debate: English vs Jamaican Patois

Is it really English vs patois? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not as informed as the academics, but I’m still allowed to have an opinion. My two cents: we have a problem; no question about that. I think it’s mainly two things: a lot of shoddy teachers of English and students who don’t read.  Students have two problems with the English Language: 

1. They can’t speak it properly and 

2. They have an issue writing it.

But they don’t have a problem understanding it ( as far as I see). You become better at writing English by reading English, I don’t see anybody talking about that. Students aren’t reading and that’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Students will get better at speaking English if they hear English being spoken more often-immersing themselves in the language, which is where I don’t understand how teaching them English in Patois is going to work.

I know we’re working on standardising patois, but it’s extremely hard to read. It’s also very dynamic – new words are seemingly created monthly via the Dancehall genre.

I’m not against teaching students English with patois, but I’m also not for it. I’m mostly neutral right now. But the status quo isn’t working so a change needs to happen, I’m just not sure how teaching students in patois is going to work, but research has been done and I’d love to know more. If you’re more informed than me, shed some light in the comments section.

English A is offered at the CSEC level on EduFocal 1 We collect data on every student’s performance and I’ll be more than willing to share this data with the Ministry in a few months (not an individual student, in aggregate). When you’re testing students electronically nothing is missed, so those results will be interesting to analyse.

Written by Gordon Swaby

Gordon Swaby

Founder and CEO of social learning service EduFocal.com. I’m passionate about technology, the internet and the use of technology in education. I am a recipient of Governor General’s Youth Award, the PSOJ’s 50 Under 50 Award, The commonwealth Youth Award and many others.

  1. EduFocal is a “gamified” online test preparation service for students sitting the GSAT and CSEC examinations. EduFocal’s “gamified” approach to test prep helps students to better enjoy the test preparation process.

Lovingly made on Monday, August 27th, 2012 at 1:23 am. Filed under Interesting, Jamaica/Politics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/akeil.bryan Akeil Bryan

    A good command of the English language is a necessity in today’s society and global marketplace. However, for Jamaican citizens, I would encourage them to embrace patois primarily because it is a part of the Jamaican culture. I personalty rather to speak patois as opposed to standard english, but, I was told by many that I have a good grasp of the Queen’s language whenever I chose to speak it.

  • Alice Clare

    You raise a good point about students not reading enough, and that’s not unique to Jamaica. So, yes, that’s an issue to be addressed. I don’t think it’s impossible to USE patois — not teach in patois, there is a distinction and it is an important one — to improve understanding of and use of English *and* to address the lack of reading. If anything encouraging and requiring more reading is necessary to reinforce concepts taught in the classroom as well as to improve comprehension skills. And I think that leisure reading has many other benefits. I also wonder if things like dictation still happen in school? I don’t hear my younger sister and cousin mention it; all they talk about us material for this or that test.



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