April 24, 2013

Spoken English: Difficulty for Mauritians

1.29 billion people in the world speak English as their mother tongue or second language. In Mauritius, English is the official language. Yet there is a lack of exposure. World Day of the English language, observed in Tuesday, April 23, is an opportunity to make the point.

English is among the six most spoken languages in the world. In Mauritius, as our official language, it is essential for many administrative tasks. Following the implementation of new strategies by the Ministry of Education, student performance in examinations of School Certificate and Higher School Certificate has improved.

According to statistics obtained from the Mauritius Examination Syndicate (MES), performance in English shows an increase of 79.82% in 2012 against 78.51% in 2011 for SC and 89.23% in 2011 against 89.15% in 2012 General Paper for the HSC.

At first glance, these numbers seem promising, but should we stop it? These figures show the performance of students in writing. But what about the oral?

In this area, there is a paradox in Mauritius. Despite the fact that English is our official language, spoken level is poor. For many people, it is very difficult to hold a conversation in that language. It becomes apparent that in many offices and institutions, among others, we welcome you in French or Creole. Where does this difficulty?

The teacher Surendra Bissoondoyal suggests two major findings regarding the level of spoken English. "Young people are not sufficiently exposed to an English-speaking environment. Previously, teachers speak English and French in the classroom. Today, however, they are required to converse in Creole so that there is no confusion. However, teachers and parents could use simple sentences in English because children learn better. The other factor that causes the decrease in written as well as oral reading is. Young people are more interested to spend their free time on social networks and sending text messages, "he argues.

Surendra Bissoondoyal draws attention to another phenomenon that lasts for years. Students, he said, tend to associate English to academic subjects like math, but not as a language. They are limited as well as writing. Because English is compulsory, they have little choice. However, very few students opt for English literature. "The authorities must make a change in textbooks. Now is the time to find ways to develop students' interest in the language. One recommendation is to put more 'short stories' in the textbooks, "he adds.

At the English Speaking Union (ESU), several projects are underway to improve the level of English both oral and written in Mauritius. This is confirmed by Marie-France Roussety, Vice-President of the ESU. "Schools are doing their best to improve the level of English, but the lack of exposure to language slows progress. There is a tendency in Mauritius to consider English as a language of elite reserved for those who pursued lengthy studies. To reverse this school of thought, it has implemented several projects to develop this language. Many activities, such as debates and utterances are held annually. Because pronunciation is the main weakness of many Mauritians, especially youth, ESU emphasizes the importance of reading. However, it regrets the lack of English in the media and in entertainment. In this area, more efforts must be made, "she says.

Cathy Glover, academic director at the British Council: "Discover the richness and diversity of the English language"

One of the reasons that pushes young Mauritians and professionals in language institutions is to improve their level of English. Total immersion in an English environment has proven to be a very effective way. This is attested Cathy Glover, academic director of the British Council in Mauritius. This institution offers strategies to improve the level of English spoken and written. "The courses we offer are based on methods to improve spoken English. Students are taught an English level based on different situations they face because of their age and their social environment. It is found that students tend to associate the English school subjects, not as a language in itself. We then offer them the opportunity to discover the richness and diversity of the English language. English classes are composed of oral and written activities that lead students to think and develop their vocabulary, "says Cathy Glover.

What about exposure to the English language? Academic Director supports the fact that exposing students to the English language is a great way to raise the level. "Our teachers are in constant contact with the UK and other English speaking countries. The purpose of this approach is to allow students to discover through their teachers, the culture and traditions of these countries to better understand the language. Our students are also a member of English Speakers Club, which allows them to better understand the English language, "she advance.

Ginny Lam, head of libraries Bookcourt “Mauritians prefer French to English”

It is now clear that improving the level of English spoken or written, it is vital to get more exposure to the language. However, we note that for many Mauritians, English books are not the first choice. In contrast, the French being closer to the Creole, French novels and other publications are highly valued. Ginny Lam, head of libraries Bookcourt specialized in English literature, is of the same opinion. "In general, there is no problem with the sale of books in English. They are purchased at almost the same rate as the French books. However, it is more than obvious that the readers of these books is comprised of individuals who have made major studies. Many among them are parts of England where their interest in English literature. In my view, the fact that we are not sufficiently exposed to the English language is a factor responsible for this situation. Mauritians prefer French to English despite the fact that this language is our official language. The authorities, particularly the Ministry of Education, must redouble our efforts to encourage young people to read either English or French, "she says.

Dansinghani Raj, Adviser at the Ministry of Education: "We can not rest on our laurels"

> What strategies (methodology, teaching tools) in place to raise the level of English in schools in Mauritius?

It should be noted that improving the standard of English in schools has always been of great importance to the department. English is not our only official language, it is also the language of instruction, administration and justice. It is also the global language and the basic tool of communication. Regarding the education sector, "Silence, we read" is a project that has been implemented in collaboration with libraries to enable young people to develop a taste for reading. The introduction of drama, recitation and 'slam' also helped to maintain a significant level in schools.

On the other hand, extra-curricular activities are held in English. In addition, teachers CPE attended a workshop to improve the grammar and syntax class. Also, spoken English is a test exams, teachers have access to the website of Cambridge International Examination (CIE) for the materials for classroom discussions.

> Despite the English level up, which points to work?

We can not rest on our laurels. We are aware of gaps in the curriculum. First, it should be noted that the lack of exposure to the English language persists over time. Even when it comes to electronic media, Mauritian Creole and French are the means of communication used most. Despite our efforts, there is always the reluctance of learners to develop an interest in reading in English. Another factor that could contribute to a lack of interest is the fact that fewer students opt for English literature. For the last batch, among 16,895 students who took the exams SC, 2706 only had opted for English literature.

> What is the responsibility of teachers and academic directors?

The Ministry of Education will ensure the continuous professional development of teachers at primary and secondary level. These models are students and they should be creative in the classroom. We must also continue to work on managing transitions from one level to another. For example, teachers must also eliminate the 'language gap', which is a difference in level between the CPE and Form I. Ultimately, school officials must set goals and strive to achieve them.

With the implementation of the Quality Assurance and Inspection Division, more visits will be conducted in the classroom. Furthermore, we must persevere in our efforts to ensure that we deserve our reputation multilingual society.

Maneesha Anmol, English teacher: "Shakespeare is no longer of our time"

What are the factors that could explain the lack of interest of youth in English literature? While many proponents point to the lack of exposure to the English language, many English teachers argue that students are not interested in books in the program.

Maneesha Anmol, English teacher, believes it is now time to include modern books in the program. "The level of English both oral and written among high school students is very low. Because English is a complex language, frequent exposure to language is recommended. However, it regrets that the media does not sufficiently promote the English language. There are very few newspapers, TV shows and movies in that language. Furthermore, regarding the literature, there is evidence that Shakespeare is not our time. For students, literature classes are boring. The introduction of modern books authors can be seen to change this situation. Many students who have difficulty expressing themselves in English. They have the tendency to think in Creole literally translate their ideas. Thus, tests and written productions are often a very low ", she said.



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