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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN OUR SCHOOLS TODAY. PROGRESS OR DECAY?
The English Language has been subject to polemic for the past few weeks and a lot has been said about the gradual decline of Shakespeare’s language in our schools and colleges. This short article aims at showing the value of English in the world today, all by analyzing some of the causes of the decay.
Here are some facts that will enlarge the reader’s view about the prestige of English in the world today: without any doubt English has become the dominant language of the world communication. It is the main language of most of the world’s books, newspapers and advertising. It is the official international language of airports and traffic control and the chief maritime language. Even two-third of the world’s scientists write in English and 80% of all the information stored in the electronic retrieval systems of the world is stored in English.
If today we can boast about talking of the world as a global village, we should not forget how much credit we owe to English. Here are other examples of the daily use of English. A well-known Japanese company, wishing to negotiate with its Arabic customers, arranges all its meetings in English. A Colombian doctor reports he spends almost as much time improving his English as practicing medicine.
With the computer age today, the English Language is bound to take an added dimension worldwide. However, it is very sad to see that Shakespeare’s cherished language is on the verge of decay in our schools. Our country will surely suffer if we do not take appropriate measures in view of enhancing the standard of our official language.
SOME POSSIBLE CAUSES OF THIS DEGENERATION / DECLINE.
- No one will deny that we as Mauritian live in a very un-English milieu. As a result, we feel quite isolated from English culture and civilization. Our pupils have also got the propensity of thinking in the Creole( our regional lingo) ‘patois’ and then writing it down literally in English, leading to ungrammatical sentence constructions.
- Many people have left school with the impression that English grammar is a dull, boring, pointless subject – simply because it was presented in a dull, boring and pointless way. Something is wrong when this happens. If there is ineffective teaching of its grammar any language would suffer and this is the case for English.
- No teacher in the world would deny that a language is better learnt through frequent exposure to it. But today reading has become a hateful act for the majority of our pupils. No reading at all or even superficial reading is very often fatal for the Mauritian candidate. Go and ask a pupil who has failed in English at S.C (School Certificate), for instance. The distaste and disinterestedness in English Language and literature in upper classes is greatly responsible for the decline in passes in English at S.C.
- Gone are the days when reading books, novels, magazines etc. were as important as our daily prayers. How much pride did we take when we read Dicken’s ‘Oliver Twist’, Defoe ‘Robinson Crusoe’, Bronte ‘Jane Eyre’ or Hardy’s ‘ The Mayor of Casterbridge’ among others when we were at school? But how heart-rending is it today to see our libraries almost deserted, losing their magnetic aspects, and only filled with plenty of gossip-mongers. Somebody has rightly said “Our modern libraries are neglected storehouses of knowledge. Recently the Municipality of Port-Louis conducted a survey to find out how many citizens inhabiting the capital actually take the pain of coming to read in the various libraries of Port-Louis. The finding was shocking; less than 10% ‘use’ the libraries. The question worth asking is: Is it value-for-money maintaining such costly libraries when so few people do come and read there?
- Mauritius is some way a unique country as far its policy towards the official language is concerned. No other country in the world where English is official gives such little importance to English. Our T.V is French-dominated; most of our newspapers are in French; we speak French in our offices and ironically still, English is our official language. Sometimes we are tempted to ask ourselves if its is not a deliberate policy of the authorities to keep the lower classes at a mark disadvantage in English!
- Why have many of our secondary institutions dropped English Literature? In the past, it was strongly believed that such subjects like literature and History help to boost up pupil’s English-Today we are doing away the literature. Mrs. Christine Calay, subject officer of the English Language at Cambridge University stated during her visit to Mauritius in 1994 that if Singapore does much better in English than Mauritius, among many others reasons, there is the undisputed fact that Singapore English is given its due importance-there, the pupils ALL have to do English Literature and they speak English everywhere. When will Mauritius understand this bare truth?
HOW TO IMPROVE?
- It’s not a secret that reading is the magic key that unlocks the door to the wonderland of stories and information.
- Language and literature are first meant for pure enjoyment and appreciation. It is after that, they become academic subjects. So learn to love to enjoy your reading first, improvement is bound to follow…
- Many parents unfortunately still believe that reading is limited to the classroom only; which is no true. Reading is the most important thing that parents can do for their children, and as often and early as they can.
We should also not do away with traditional, “old fashioned” type, of learning English, rote learning and instead adopt only so called methods of language learning.
Let’s end by quoting Samuel Johnson who said “I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are pedigree of nations.”
PS: I’ve been asked to prepare an article on the above title. Also, this article refers to the current situation in Mauritius. Please edit where necessary and comments are most welcome.
Please do not overestimate the position of English.
I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.
The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!
Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.
Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential. As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)
Your readers may be interested in seeing YouTube - The language challenge -- facing up to reality Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations
A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at lernu!: Main Page
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