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It's never too late to learn your mother tongue

AUTHOR: Trina John-Charles

A DOMINICAN woman was prompted to learn her native language after she was told it was a disgrace that she could not fluently speak Kwéyòl.

Trina John-Charles, 33, a freelance writer from Paddington was born in England to Dominican parents, but she did not learn to speak the Kwéyòl (also known as Patois or Creole) language fluently as a child.

John-Charles told The Voice: “I knew swear words like most kids usually do and a few odd words and phrases, but that was it really.

“My parents didn’t really speak it unless they were discussing something they didn’t want us to hear. When I was around 27, my friend’s mum wanted to tell me something, but she didn’t want everyone else to hear.

“She knew my parents were Dominican and asked if I could speak patois. When I said, ‘no’ she basically told me my parents had failed. In a weird way, I thought she was right.”

John-Charles began to teach herself Kwéyòl, which although was derived in St. Lucia, is also spoken in Dominica and other Caribbean islands.

She added: “It was really difficult to find reading material. I looked both online, in stores and even contacted shops in Dominica. The books I could find were hard to follow.”

It takes just three generations before a language is lost completely, and there is already an emergence of third generation Dominicans and St Lucians living in the UK.


TEACHING AID: The Kwéyòl 4 Kids number book

According to John-Charles, out of ten six-year-olds of Kwéyòl descent living in the UK, none were able to speak a basic sentence in the language when surveyed and less than half could speak any words at all.

This inspired her to launch the Kwéyòl 4 Kids project with a view to teach it in an easy format that children could follow and where parents could learn with their children.

She said: “It’s alarming to think that a language can disappear like that. Children are our future, and I think it’s important for them to start learning languages from an early age.”

The Kwéyòl 4 Kids learning books and teaching aids, which were first published in 2009, included an activity book, colouring book, reading book and wall posters teaching numbers, body parts and colours.

John-Charles said several publishers had rejected the original book manuscripts because “Kwéyòl was not a recognised language.”

She told The Voice: “Initially I thought, ‘how dare you!’ How is somebody working at a publishing house qualified to tell me what languages are recognised and which ones are not?’ Kwéyòl is very recognised by me and the many other Caribbean speakers out there.”

Undeterred, the young entrepreneur decided to self-published the books herself.

“I will not let ignorance deny children the opportunity to learn their mother tongue. When I have children, I’ll make sure they learn from young and I will encourage them to speak English as well ass Kwéyòl,” she explained.

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