Foreign Language Education in Post-Colonial English Speaking Caribbean

Article excerpt

Foreign language education in the Caribbean has improved since the post-colonial era. However, language teaching and learning in this region needs to be revisited so that it caters to the needs of a broader society. This can be done with the implementation of better and more meaningful programs. It must go beyond high school and must now include elementary schools and persons in the broader community--businessmen, travelers and parents. This can only be achieved by a significant increase in the number of foreign language teachers who are better prepared. Foreign consulates in the Caribbean must also play an important role in language acquisition. Improved foreign language teaching and learning will result in better communication, greater job opportunities and improved trade among the English, Spanish and French speaking Caribbean countries.

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Foreign language pedagogy in almost every country in the world has gone through several stages within the last thirty or forty years and the Caribbean is no exception. Changes in population, world economies, communication, all contribute to determine the focus of foreign language teaching. In discussing foreign language education in post-colonial Caribbean countries this article looks into what was the status of language teaching during the colonial era, the present teaching practices and finally makes suggestions for the improving the teaching and learning of foreign languages in the region.

The Colonial Era Education

Most of the countries in the English speaking Caribbean received their independence in the 1960s. Before this time and for a while after, education was geared for life in Britain. All textbooks used were of British origin. Books such as the Royal Reader (see note) were used by students at almost all levels in elementary school. Even the names of the book, "Royal" indicated the origin. That is to say the islands were ruled by the British monarchy and this was reflected even in the names of the textbooks. Students who attended school in those days were familiar with the conversion table, which indicated how many cents equaled one shilling. It was referred to as the pounds, shillings and pence table. This was the money used in Britain and not in the Caribbean country. We studied about pounds, shillings and pence while we used dollars and cents in our country. They also read in their Nelson West Indian Reader of the black boy being scrubbed to make him white. There was very little, if anything, in those readers that related to the lives of persons living in the Caribbean.

Language Education, the Student and the Outcomes

Even foreign languages were not spared this British influence since most of the schools were modeled after the British system and offered what was known as a classical education, with the advanced study of Latin and Greek. The choice of languages to be taught was not related to proximity to, or relationship with, the countries who spoke foreign language. It was thought that a "learned" person knew Latin and there was sophistication in knowing a foreign language. The study of a foreign language was seen as an integral part of a sound education, even though the goals were mainly intellectual and literary (Maurice Report, 1959). Examples of foreign language textbooks used during that time were The New First Spanish Course, by Hills, Ford & Riviera which was published in 1942 and A New Course in French Composition by Kastner & Marks. Textbooks published later included Seguimos Adelante published in 1957 by Dean and Roberts (Moodie-Kublalsingh, 1993).

The teaching, like the text, centered around grammar-translation, preparing the student to regurgitate words learned, to recite grammar rules and to translate sentences. Foreign language study continued over the years to be a necessary and important goal of the secondary curriculum and apparently there was some measure of success. …