Last week it seemed as if I almost killed a guy in my, what is now, weekly yoga class. It was hardly my fault due to the fact that I think the major problem was the fact that he couldn’t understand me.
There seem to be many people here on the island that can’t speak English which I find rather odd considering that English is the ‘official’ language here.
After my class, I asked the group if the asanas and pace of the class was o.k. to which I was told, “It’s great, but can you speak French?” I had to respond with an unfortunate, “I’m sorry. No. But, I’m trying desperately to learn. Maybe someday.”
So, how does a country decide and declare it’s official language? It would seem to me that if the official language of a country was English, most people would, in fact, speak English.
To be fair there are lots of languages and dialects spoken here: Creole, French, English, Hindi, Tamil, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Hakka, Marathi, Cantonese and more. Perhaps, the English just gets lost and mixed within all the rest.
But, all the major newspapers here are in French with the occasional article here and there in English. The major TV stations and radio stations broadcast primarily in French and Creole and most restaurant menus and roadway billboards are in French.
There was an article printed in one of the major island newspapers over the weekend that spoke about how English is taught in the schools here. At least that’s what I thought it was about because it was written in French.
My old team of workers back at the ranch told me that the public schools follow the British schooling system with classes and textbooks in English; however, Creole is what’s spoken in the hallways and while waiting for the teacher. French is also taught along with another language of choice which is usually an Indian or Chinese dialect depending on where the student lives and what the family speaks at home.
The island is small, approximately 2040 sq km, and with not that much geographic distance to cover, I would think that one dominant language would have to emerge as the official one. I believe that language is Creole.
On the streets, in the shops and in the office everyone speaks to each other in Creole. But even the Creole will vary sightly from group to group and from region to region.
With all these differences in language in the day-to-day, I know realize that there were moments when I was addressing people at work when not 100% of everything I said was completely understood. But, that’s o.k. You learn new ways of communicating and develop an increased sense of patience (at least that’s what I told myself).
But, I just wish I hadn’t of arrived here thinking that English would be spoken and written here like it is in other countries where English is the official language. It’s true that all the business emails I have ever received have been in English, but there were many business meetings that I attended that would start out in English, but then switch into Creole.
So why not make Creole the official language with English and French as secondary languages. If I had initially thought that English was a secondary language here instead of the primary one, I would have approached all my business communications in a much different way right off the bat.
It’s important for potential investment in the country and for current and future offshore work that English continue to be the official language here, but if that’s the case then shouldn’t it slowly start to find its way into mainstream media such as newspapers, websites and TV?
The language mix here may continue to be mass media in French, written business in English with everyone speaking some form of Creole along with their other family tongue depending on to whom they are speaking. Many local blogs and blog commentary are in Creole which I find really interesting because there’s not really an official written form of Creole.
It’s like the electrical outlets here. Some houses, offices and hotels have the standard British 3-prong plug outlet, but others have the 2-prong French outlet. I don’t know how it’s decided when to use which one. Maybe it just depends on what happens to be available on the day the plugs are being installed.