Relationship between proficiency in French and academic achievement in the Caribbean island of Saint Martin
The Caribbean islands or West Indies are an archipelago of islands located between Florida and Venezuela. This region was the site of many wars being fought by the Europeans to take possession of the “islands of cane sugar.” Thus, from the beginning of the war of the Antilles, several languages were in contact. The principal languages were European, African and Amerindian. Creole languages were subsequently formed. Most of the islands gained their independence during the last century and have retained the colonial language as their official language; the Creole language is spoken on the streets and in households. The island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten has a very unique status in the Caribbean. The northern part is a French overseas territory, and the southern part depends on the Kingdom of the Netherlands but retains certain autonomy. In the northern part of the island the language of instruction is French and the southern part uses English or Dutch. Language is very important in the development of an individual. Especially for students, language determines their performance and this is not only performance in class but it also extends to their future life (Fortune & Tedick, 2008). School performance and the way that students are taught greatly determine their future careers and life. Language is a key determinant of their achievement as well as their future (Zangani, 2012). First, it is necessary to understand language proficiency. Language proficiency is the ability of a person to speak or perform in a language that he or she has acquired. Accuracy and fluency are major keys in language proficiency (Zongrang, 2009). Native speakers of a language can be considered fluent without being considered proficient. This is because they did not learn that language as their second language. French in Saint Martin is considered a secondary language while Creole is considered a native language (Zangani, 2012). Academic achievement is the extent to which an institution, student or teacher has achieved their academic goals. Studies have shown that difference in languages used in learning can affect ones cognitive aspect (Han, 2012). It has long been suggested that, in a bilingual setting, proficiency in the first and second languages has a bearing on a subject’s cognitive aspect and consequently academic functioning (Farrell, 2011). In many cases, the use of different languages affects students in that they will face difficulties in trying to translate from one language to the other (Richards & Lockhart, 1994). Furthermore, the use of multidimensional models to uncover new knowledge of the historical problem of underachievement in multicultural and multilingual students was acknowledged (Gonzales & Soltero, 2012). The common sense perspective that the lack of fluency in the language of instruction means poorer academic performance has been challenged in recent research (August & Shanaban, 2008). Recent research shows the benefits of bilingualism to children academic performance (Han, 2012). Nevertheless, many Saint Martiners still consider the education system to be unadapted to the island and the language barrier still persists (Academy of Guadeloupe, 2012). A serious study of language systems and academic performances are a minimum requirement in any attempt to introduce a vernacular school, because it puts us in contact with the formal structure as well as statements uttered which are an important set of cognitive models that capture the experience (Alby & Léglise, 2007).
Statement of the Problem In Saint Martin, the French language is used as the mode of instruction although most Saint Martiners regard and use this language in practice only as secondary (Tourism Office of Saint Martin, 2011). There is an assumption concerning bilingual children that their proficiency in two languages is usually unbalanced (Dixon, Wu & Daraghmeh, 2012). Furthermore, proficiency in the language of instruction greatly influences academic achievement (Halle, Hair, Wandner, Mcnamara & Chien, 2012). According to Farraudiere (2008), there is an achievement gap between the students in mainland France and in the French overseas territories. Studies conducted by different researchers showed that French, being the language of instruction, affects school performances in some overseas territories and former colonies (Genelot, Negro, & Peslages, 2007; Ndao, 2008; Lezouret & Chatry-Komarek, 2007). These studies were mostly carried out on the French overseas territories where there is a diglossia between Creole and French (Frederic, 2007; Coste, 2008). No such study was conducted in Saint Martin. The intent of this research is therefore to examine the relationship between the students’ achievement in school and the proficiency in the French language in Saint Martin. To improve students’ results in school, a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of the linguistic situation in Saint Martin and the way it affects students’ performances are needed to develop innovative and appropriate educational plans. Educators have limited information to assess the difficulties that Saint Martin students face. A deeper analysis of the linguistic situation and the specificities of each island and its implication for education is a step forward to closing the achievement gap with metropolitan France (Chaudenson, 2007).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this quantitative study is to investigate the relationship between Saint Martin students` performance on a standardized French test and a test of academic achievement. This will help determine whether students with high proficiency in French perform significantly better than students with low proficiency in French in academic achievement tests. A combined ex-post facto and regression design will be adopted in this study in view of the fact that secondary data will be used. The scores on the French standardized test will measure French proficiency and the history and geography and math scores will measure academic achievement. The multiple regression analysis will determine the relationship between the French standardized test and the history and geography and math tests. Based on a G power analysis, the convenience sample will consist of 100 participants who are students from the Junior High school in Quartier d `Orleans, Saint Martin. All data will be de-identified.
Research Questions This study will explore the relationship between proficiency in French on academic achievement among junior high students in Saint Martin. Academic achievement will be determined by two standardized tests, one in history and geography and another in math. Specifically, this study will address two research questions:
RQ1: What is the relationship between French proficiency and performance on the history and geography standardized test? RQ2: What is the relationship between French proficiency and performance on the math-standardized test?