Commentary Jamaica Magazine

The Language Of Commerce – Patois vs English

As expounded on by aspiring social worker and Pre-University student Nikita Connoley, reigning champion of the Honey Bun School days Sing-A-Thon, it seems an elegantly and entertainingly resolved conundrum, affirmed by other recent developments such as the completion of a Patois Bible (New Testament) and the upcoming Language Awareness Day at the Edna Manley College.
But the line, which serves as the theme for this year’s Honey Bun School Days project (launched at the company’s Kingston headquarters) is at the forefront of an ongoing debate and challenge, with literally billions of potential dollars in the balance
As English has grown and spread around the globe it has been adopted as the language used when two parties from differing countries, who do not speak each others language, want to conduct business.

Current figures show that there are 350 million native speakers of English, spreading into at least 100 territories, a relatively low number in comparison to other native tongues.

But, even in those countries where English is not the official language, it has become the adopted first language of governments, education and international communications. Add to that the roughly equal numbers (350 million) who use English as a second language and even some who use it as a third language.

A New York Times article from five years ago indicated that the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues, overcome declining birth rates and respond to globalization.
Business universities are driving the trend, but English is spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30% of their courses in the language. In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test for the elite Instituto de Empresa in English and enrol in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. At the Lille School of Management in France, English stopped being considered a foreign language in 1999, and now half of the post-graduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.
At stake therefore, is Jamaica’s continued place in a global trading space that , according to he World Trade Organization (WTO) hit $18.2 trillion in 2011, surpassing the previous peak of $16.1 trillion from 2008
Education Minister Hon Ronald Thwaites, who gave the keynote at the launch, pointed to the need to foster appreciation for the importance of English while not downplaying the heritage inherent in the use of Jamaican patois. In citing exam results, Minister Thwaites said the exit polls showed that the students’understanding of English was good, but their level of expression in the language remained sub-standard.
Krystal Chong of Honey Bun reiterated the Minister’s position on the duality of the Jamaican situation and said the company’s decision to add the “Patois vs. English” element to its existing Sing-a-Thon project was born out of the observation that many students were struggling with Standard English, and that this could have negative effects on their career advancement prospects given the continued dominance of English (notwithstanding China’s rise) as the business world’s lingua franca. “It’s absolutely essential for us to have a firm and comprehensive grasp of this language of commerce as this is what is required for jobs both locally and internationally.”
Chong acknowledges that The catchy couplets of Conolley and other students may not in themselves turn the situation around, but says the initiative could become a model for further action to help stem the tide of students failing English and thus help to shore up the country’s prospects as an emerging star of international trade.
It’s sounding pretty good thus far.

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