Sunday, February 21 was International Mother Language Day. If you are a native English speaker, this day may not mean much to you. For Dominicans living in the Dominican Republic, this also may not mean much to them. However, for our students who were either born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents or have migrated from Haiti to the Dominican Republic during their childhood, this day means a lot to them. It also means a lot to the majority of children growing up in Haiti.
If you look up the stats, you’ll find that about 95% of Haitians speak Haitian Creole fluently. It is their mother language. It is the language that they are immersed in day in and day out. About 5% of Haitians living in Haiti speak French. The ability to speak French well is seen as proof that someone is educated and elite. We have observed among our teachers that received schooling in Haiti that the attention focused on learning to speak French well is inconsistent with attention focused on other areas of school: math, natural sciences, problem solving, critical thinking, and general communication skills.
In the Dominican Republic, French is taught as a foreign language beginning around 6th grade. English is also taught as a foreign language, usually beginning around 4th grade. Our schools are designed to be taught bilingually in Creole and Spanish. This is what is natural for our students. As we follow the Dominican curriculum, the foreign languages of French and English are taught at the aforementioned grade levels as well.
You may think that Haitian Creole is not an international language like French, Spanish, and English, and therefore not very valuable for our students. However, it is the mother language of our students and their families. They learn best and feel the best when their schooling includes, celebrates, and validates their mother language. And in Haiti, a top priority should be teaching the population to communicate effectively amongst each other, which would make the most sense when done in Haitian Creole, the language that almost the entire country speaks fluently. Hear Jerry Floreal’s thoughts on the matter in this video.
During this pandemic, we have developed new books per grade level, per semester which contain Science, Social Studies, Spanish, and Creole content for the entire semester. For Science, Social Studies, and Spanish, we simply copied excerpts from Dominican textbooks. For the Creole section, we pieced together content from books in Creole which we have purchased from Haiti, also from the United States, and then also some online content. We have received much advice on the matter from Matenwa Community School in Lagonav, Haiti, which functions in Creole up until 9th grade. In our fifth through eight grade books, there is an excerpt included which explains the origin of the Haitian Creole Academy which was formed in 2011 and includes reading comprehension questions.
In the seventh grade book, there is a short biography about Yves Dejean (1927-2018) and an excerpt from his book An Upside School in an Upside Country. Yves Dejean was a Haitian linguist and pioneer in promoting Haitian education in Creole. His book begins comparing eight year old boys from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. He argues that if they both have been schooled, the Dominican boy will be able to read a text given to him and simultaneously understand what he is reading. A Haitian boy will be able to read a text given to him in French, he may even have good pronunciation, but he will not likely be able to understand the words he is reading. Although a lot of French vocabulary is incorporated into Haitian Creole, the sentence structure is very different. It is not a dialect but a separate language. This creates an unnecessary challenge, as Jerry also explains in the above video, and both Jerry and Dejean see this as a primary reason behind Haiti’s stunted development.
If you would like to share the beautiful language of Haitian Creole with your children and support our efforts simultaneously, purchase this children’s book about the life of a boy in rural Haiti. This is book 1 of a series.