Jamaica: A Foreign Language Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Oct 1 15:18:08 UTC 2008

A Foreign Language Policy

It was interesting to read in the Gleaner this week that the Ministry
of Education in Jamaica has plans for a foreign language policy. This
is a step in the right direction. As far as I know, there is no clear
policy on what languages should be taught in schools, and at what
level should the teaching begin. For example, some schools focus on
Spanish, others French and in some cases, both are taught.

Bilingualism or even multi-lingualism are important skills and persons
who can speak two or more languages are highly sought after in the job
market. Having a formal policy in place will bring some
standardization to the teaching of foreign languages, and the earlier
we start (at the elementary level), the better the results. Given
Jamaica's geographic position, and the languages spoken in some of our
sister islands, perhaps the emphasis should be on Spanish, French and
Dutch. Many Jamaicans travel to Guadelupe, Martinique, Suriname, Aruba
and Bonaire for both business and vacation. However, we should also
aspire to include the option of additional languages such as
Portuguese, Japanese and Mandarin, if we are to maximise our trading
relationships with places such as Brazil, Japan and China.

Some challenges which we currently and will continue to face in the
near term are the shortage of language teachers and adequate language
labs and other teaching resources. Foreign language teachers are in
demand, globally, and Jamaica loses many of these specialists to
countries like the United States every year. Our partnership with
places like Cuba with respect to teacher recruitment might help in the
area of Spanish. However, we will need many more teachers trained to
fill the gap relating to the other languages I mentioned.

I had a really great experience learning Spanish in Jamaica, starting
at the elementary level, and that positive experience with exposure to
language at an early age led to my pursuing Spanish language and
literature at the undergraduate level. I found (and I later learned
that research confirms this) that learning a second language gives one
a better understanding of the structure of one's own language. When
you begin to compare your language structure with another language,
you actually gain even more mastery of your own language.

So, Ministry of Education, this is a step in the right direction. I
hope that very soon, we will begin to see aspects of the policy in
place and working.


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