Last month's article on the City College in Birmingham, UK teaching a course on Jamaican Language and Culture generated a few letters to the instructor Heather Reid. This month she shares a few of these letters with us. ,
Interviews

Letters in response to Patois Class Interview with course facilitator Heather Reid

Dear Heather,
I must say it is appalling to read that someone will be teaching patois, it is a disgrace to our Jamaican heritage . I can remember growing up in ja. my parents are always correcting us . please speak proper English and now you are teaching this broken language that no one can understand . This is why Ja. is going to crime and violent, is people like you and those who sing those song of killing.Our beautiful sunny ja. will never return because of you, the corrupt government and all the vendors on the street selling their goods. they do not know anything else,Patois is not the way to uplift ja. you black people must go back to Africa you all spoil ja. there are some working class people still lives there. so we do not need you people.Please try and put your energy to something more constructive.

Thank you
Pat

Dear Pat,

I must sincerely thank you for your email – we value all the feedback we receive about what we’re doing.

Please try to picture the plight of a young Jamaican child arriving in England, who did not have parents like yours who could teach her standard English. Imagine that the only way that this child knows how to speak is in “patois”. Here in England, the teachers don’t understand her, other children tease and ridicule her, and if there are any other Jamaican students in her class, they tend to look down at her with disdain, because of how appallingly she speaks (in their opinion). That poor girl will struggle right through the education system here in the UK, and is likely to fail, if she does not receive specialised help from someone who understands her situation.

In the City College Jamaican Language and Culture Course, we are targetting Jamaicans who want to help students like that little girl. More than half the participants in the course are qualified teachers and lecturers who are fluent in both English and “patois”. When they learn more about their Jamaican history, culture, body language and perceptions about our “patois”, they will better be able to help Jamaican students here in England who are literally struggling in the British education system.

The relevant British authorities need to be made aware that Jamaican students who speak “patois” need to be taught English as if it were a second language in order to progress in the education system. (For many Jamaicans in Britain, English is indeed a second language.) Students from Asia, Eastern Europe and other regions – for whom Standard English is not their mother tongue – have access to extra funding and resources to help them learn to speak English. Jamaican students will have no such benefits, if our “patois” is not recognised and the need of our Jamaican students for additional help in English.

Similar challenges occur in the health sector. My husband happens to be a doctor in the British National Health Service. He is articulate in both English and “patois”. I have chatted with him and many of his Jamaican colleagues in the medical profession. On numerous occasions, they have had to act unofficially as interpreters for Jamaican patients being seen by British doctors. Too often, Jamaican patients are misdiagnosed and mistreated because neither the patient nor the doctor can fully understand what the other is trying to say. Can you imagine how unpleasant it is for those Jamaican patients who don’t have the good fortune of a Jamaican doctor happening to overhear their difficulty and choosing to come to their assistance?

One of the students in the Jamaican Language and Culture course is a taxi driver who read about the course in the newspaper and decided to attend. Last week he spoke with me, explaining that since he’s come to England, he’s felt that his own relatives have looked down upon him because he grew up in Jamaica and because of the way in which he speaks. He said that until he attended the course, he was very introverted and inhibited to speak in public, because he is not very articulate in Standard English. Now that he understands more about his history, culture and the development of his Jamaican language, and has regular meetings with other progressive Jamaicans, he feels more confident to express himself in public and has changed his opinion of himself and his role in the British society. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on to do a course in Basic English at City College, and other courses to improve his qualifications and ultimately himself. Before the course, he wouldn’t even dream of setting foot in a college, because his expectation was that no one would understand or value him.

Pat, I have written a long reply. It’s because I’m very passionate about what I’m doing. You see, I have personally experienced low self esteem/low self confidence in my life. It is a horrible thing. Thank God I have overcome the worst of it! When one’s self confidence and ability to express oneself in whatever language is improved, one can accomplish so much more! One can then seek to influence others for good!

I wish you all the best and I hope this email will lend some clarity to what we’re seeking to do in the UK. Please do reply and tell me what you think.

By the way, on a lighter note, I’d love to be “sent back to Africa” – it’s one of my life dreams to visit South Africa, in particular, and hopefully to meet Mr Nelson Mandela in his homeland. So if you can help to facilitate that, I’d be deeply appreciative.

Walk good,

Heather Reid

Course Facilitator – Jamaican Language and Culture Course, City College, Birmingham UK.

 

More Comments

 

Hi Ms Reid,

I have to applaud you for daring to teach Jamaican despite the oppositions you have faced. I agree with you that we need to keep our culture alive and our language is such an integral part of that culture. I just completed a course in African American English and found it interesting how similar it is to Jamaican and I think it is about time that we validate our language instead of trying to sell it as a tourist attraction. I have been writing an article for the West Indian paper in Hartford CT USA for a number of years and find that most Jamaicans have a hard time reading it because they have not seen it written. Their children and African Americans, however have no porblem reading it. I also compiled about 20 of these articles “Country Gal a Foreign” into a book and I also contribute to jamaicans.com each month. It would be wonderful if you could extend your program to us at some point. We can’t lose it. Thanks so much.

Vjange Hazle

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Hi there:
I am living in the US, Birmingham to be exact. I looked at your page because I thought it was about Birmingham, Alabama. How delighted I was to find your site. I am originally from Jamaica and I read it with intense pleasure to my “American” daughter.
Do you ever plan to have an online course? If so please let me know.
Gwaan du yu couse and doan business wid wat odda people seh!
Congratulations.
DC.

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HR

 

I am not in the UK. I am not even Jamaican, but I read Jamaican literature on-line (my grandparents are from Barbados). It would be nice if your course were offered on line for those outside of the UK to benefit as well. Please think about it.

 

DM

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Xavier Murphy