Cultural legacy and linguistic realities

Judging from complaints aired by pre-primary schoolteachers, governmental institutions seem to have overlooked local cultural factors in the choice of songs and poems. Indeed, the predominance of the French language, almost 71%, over other languages calls for a serious review of the language policy regarding very young children. Due consideration should be given to undeniable cultural facts, and these facts cannot be measured only in terms of what is generally spoken in families. 

It sounds logical that the language policy should also be gauged in terms of appreciation, attachment and receptivity. Songs and poems are made up of sounds, rhymes, internal rhymes, rhythm, repetitions, alliterations and assonances. They contribute to the artistic quality of songs in a given language and appeal to those who are regularly exposed to this form of expression in their family environment, at the movies and social gatherings. It is a matter of what songs young children hum or hear their brothers, sisters, parents, relatives and friends sing, and what music and songs are listened to on the radio and television in their homes, during festivals and weddings. It is not a matter of identifying and understanding every single word in the songs.

The other essential point is whether, at a ministerial level, there is a clear policy of promotion of specific languages. If we all agree that there should be a cultural link to children’s family environment, we had better give serious consideration to the issue of languages in pre-primary schools. It is obvious that Hindi and Bhojpuri songs have a much larger audience among children in terms of exposure and receptivity and accordingly, the highest number of songs and poems for most pre-primary school children should be in the two languages. How come they are non-existent in the curriculum that is being submitted to teachers? A reasonable number of Kreol songs and poems should also be part of the curriculum as it is a commonly spoken and quite easy for children to relate to.

English songs for young children help them to get acquainted with the sounds of a language which they later need to come to grips with the various subjects that are taught in primary and secondary schools through that medium. It is an international language which most of us need to connect with the outside world. Loads of songs for children are available in English.

French songs at an early age help children to acquire a proper pronunciation of ‘ch’ in ‘chaque’, or ‘j’ in ‘jour’ and other sounds which are mercilessly mishandled in the kreolized French one hears all around. Songs and poems are a good means to learn the right pronunciation of English and French at an early age. Currently, spoken English is even more ill-treated than French due to an overwhelming influence of Kreol pronunciation and intonation.

Oriental languages contain a much higher number of phonemes than European languages and this factor also accounts for the fact that native speakers of Oriental languages adapt and learn other languages quite easily.

As regards pre-primary schoolchildren and the songs and poems that are selected by ministerial bodies, the factor of cultural attachment and receptivity in the family environment of young children cannot be overlooked. Schools cannot be a place where ‘deculturation’ and uprootedness are inflicted on children, where children are made to feel ashamed of our cultural legacy and linguistic realities. To avoid long-term damaging consequences on the learning process in subsequent years, it would be wise to define priorities in language exposure for the youngest members of the school population.

* Published in print edition on 23 August 2013

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