English language

I would like to endorse the comments of two correspondents (27/11) who have suggested reasons for the undisputed fact that the standard of English in Fiji is declining.

Joan McGoon writes that one source of the problem is that English is taught by non-native speakers.

True. Ideally all language teachers should be trained native speakers (or bilinguals), but since we cannot afford this, we should try to train non-native speakers to a higher level.

This is why, I believe, as I have written many times in these columns, that most primary education should be carried out in vernaculars, and the introduction of English be delayed until around the seventh year.

This way we will require fewer English teachers. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening, because many parents like their children to be taught in what they perceive as “English”, regardless of the quality.

Edwin Karl Skiba argues that many children are already speaking poor English before they go to school.

This is also true, and the reason is not so much the parents — fortunately, not many parents now try to be English teachers — but the linguistic environment, that is, the simple fact that almost all the English spoken now in Fiji is Fiji Pidgin English, a very different language from any form of standard English, and this is the first kind of English children pick up, before they even start school.

As I have written before, the best English speakers (and writers) in Fiji are seldom those who come from ‘English’-speaking homes or schools, but the ones who are grounded well in their own cultures and languages, who often come from remote rural backgrounds and spoke no English until they were in their teens, then read a lot and studied hard with the help of a competent teacher.

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