Celebrating Kreyòl!

Yesterday, the UN celebrated French Language Day—one of several efforts to promote multilingualism. Today, The Haitian Project brings you a Community Update written by first-year Volunteer and 2018 University of Dallas graduate Abigail Knapp about how Louverture Cleary School (LCS) students practice and celebrate four languages throughout their school week.

Volunteer Abigail Knapp with Louverture Cleary School Sizyem (US 7th grade) students.

Volunteer Abigail Knapp with Louverture Cleary School Sizyem (US 7th grade) students.

On Sunday afternoon at LCS Santo 5, students can be heard excitedly chattering as they return from the weekend at home. Each day of the school week has a designated spoken language: English, Spanish, or French. On Sunday, the students speak Kreyòl. 

Kreyòl is the familial language of Haiti. Conversations about family, politics and sports are almost always in  Kreyòl! Vocally, French and Kreyòl sound somewhat similar; however, the two languages' spelling and grammar differ. Kreyòl has a rich history. It has developed naturally over the course of Haiti's history—it is very much a living language. Originally, it was mostly an oral language. At the end of the 20th century, it acquired an official written form. 

Louverturians have great pride in their native language, which is part of the school’s language curriculum. This gives the students a greater understanding of the roots and history of their language.

LCS Santo 5 Staff Member and Kreyòl teacher Myriam Jean-Baptiste (LCS ’10) emphasizes the importance of Kreyòl class so that the students “understand not only the spoken word but the grammar, the style, the history, especially learning the best way to write in Kreyòl.” 

The LCS community celebrates their language and culture through the annual “Kreyòl Day” celebration on October 28th, and the knowledge the students gain from their Kreyòl classes gives the day a greater meaning. Reflecting on the importance of the day filled with singing, dancing and recitations, all in Kreyòl, LCS Santo 5 Dean of Students Obed Gilles (LCS ’09) notes:

The culture of a nation is related to its language, you cannot take that apart. The students are able to better know the country, and by that, better know themselves.

Love of language goes beyond Kreyòl, as the students learn to fluently speak three other languages. From Sizyem (US 7th grade) to Philo (US 12th grade +1), Louverturians take seven years of four languages. The “language of the day” program requires students to speak the day’s language from breakfast to between classes and throughout afternoon play hour and evening study hour. 

Additionally, Rhéto (US 12th grade) and Philo (US 12th grade +1) students have started clubs for the younger children to practice. Volunteers reward students who practice their languages with tickets for the Language Store, which is especially popular among the younger students. As head of the Language Store this year, I can personally attest that students are most eager to practice English for tickets at anytime. They come to the store with their earnings, ready to purchase pens, paper, notebooks, or other odds and ends.

Philo (US 12th grade +1) student Brenel Charles reflects that the LCS Language Program is one of the best in Haiti:

It is not easy, but it is an efficient method to learn the language. It is totally different than other schools, where the teacher just comes but they don’t practice beyond the classroom. We learn the languages proficiently. This will serve us later in our careers and life.