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Hoy os presento humildemente, Sra. Sihle Atkinson. (I humbly present to you today, Ms. Sihle Atkinson.)
Do you have any qualifications in a/any foreign languages?
“Yes, I graduated from the University of the West Indies, Mona with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish with a minor in Japanese. English is my native language, but I have a certificate from the International TEFL Academy to teach it as a foreign language.”
Is it really necessary to learn another language in today’s world?
“Well, the operative word here is “necessary”. I genuinely believe that if your aim is to get the most profound experiences from life, then learning a foreign language is an excellent way to attract those kinds of experiences. Imagine that there are billions of people in the world with rich culture and invaluable wisdom to share through their literature, music, and life experiences, but you only have access to a tiny percentage of these people because you only understand one language. Not only is it commercially beneficial to anyone in any field, but it’s also personally enriching to invest in a foreign language to make your life way more full and interesting.”
Do you think Jamaican Patois can be a marketable international language?
“Definitely. It’s already a point of intrigue to so many foreigners. Shoot, even native speakers like myself too! We underestimate how much of an advantage it is. Just last week, I met a Japanese language partner who greeted me with a hearty, “Waah gwaan!!?” after which he explained that he had to do a presentation on Jamaica during college and was very interested in Jamaican music and culture. He expressed the desire to learn Jamaican Patois at a conversational level. Imagine how much impact we’ve made on people from places so far away. Our music and literature is an excellent catapult to share our unique language. Just like there are people who want to learn Japanese or Spanish to understand anime or reggaetón respectively, there are people who would pay to learn Jamaican Patois to understand dancehall or be able to chat with Jamaicans upon visiting the island, or just to impress their friends!”
Is it hard to learn, or does one have to be at a certain age to learn languages efficiently?
“It’s hard to gauge difficulty since it’s so relative, but personally I think a good approach could be compared to learning a new musical instrument. It won’t sound beautiful from the start but with a bunch of effort and practice you’ll definitely see improvement. It also depends on the similarities between your native language and your target language. In general, for us, Spanish is easier to learn than Japanese. But someone from China will usually find Japanese easier to learn than French.
As it relates to age, yes, children learn new languages more easily but you can start learning a language at literally ANY age. It’s important to remember it’s not just some course in a classroom; a foreign language is a part of a culture, and it’s an instrument through which people experience life. You’re not just studying Spanish, Russian or Mandarin so you can get an A+, you’re learning to listen to news about current events in the countries in which the languages are spoken, learning to better enjoy their music, and learning to express your opinions to people who only understand those languages. Whatever appeals to you in general, can be found in language learning. What that looks like for me goes from singing along to bachata music, to greeting my French family members and even have a videogame I’m playing in Japanese. It’s life, just in another language!”
What role does the English Language play in our society?
“Though English is Jamaica’s official language, you’ll find many Jamaicans more comfortable and/or capable of speaking Patois, rather than English. It’s the language of the people. There’s a lot to unpack as to how English is treated in our society in contrary to Patois. We know that Jamaica used to be an English colony, and that people were enslaved and brought from Africa to the island to work on plantations. Just imagine one group of people with their own language and culture exercising a perceived superiority over another group with different languages and cultures. The language of the former will be endorsed as the more ideal. If Jamaica had remained a Spanish colony for example, the language of Spain would be seen as superior.
Anyway, the abolishment of slavery did nothing to change this. It takes a very long time to undo that kind of conditioning, you know? As the years went on, English was more associated with the upper class and the creole of the people seen as the language of the poor and uneducated because of the history of the two and their relation to “the master” or “the slave”. Though there have been stalwarts such as Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley who shed positive light on the Jamaican Creole and strong figures in art and theatre who encouraged people to see the cultural relevance of the language, we still have a far way to go before people stop associating Jamaican Standard English with the idea of the educated, classy, upstanding citizens and Jamaican Patois with the poor, uneducated, ghetto folk. If I choose to speak Patois, it doesn’t make me any less educated or moral, nor do I “chat bad”, and speaking English doesn’t suddenly grant me manners and respect for others or means that I’m now speaking “properly”.
Aside from all that, English has provided us the benefits of better relationships with powerful English-speaking nations and the advantage of being able to communicate easily using the international language of business, which boosts our trade relations and tourism. I think that Jamaica has taken many baby steps towards dissolving the archaic perspective of English as the superior language, and it just takes consistent effort from those passionate about this issue to provide a fresh lens through which to see our unique culture (and the language that comes with it) as just as relevant and beautiful.”
Please feel free to contact Sihle below at:
Blog: “Amid The Thunder”
Blessings in abundance!