A Haitian Creole Immersion Program for Children

Jaden Timoun students (Photo by Daphney Boutin Photography via The Haitian Times)

The Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York, based in Brooklyn and now in its fifth year, is offering classes for children ages 2-5 through the Jaden Timoun: Pre-School Haitian Creole Language Immersion Program. By participating in hands-on activities that include art and music, children not only learn Kreyòl, but also become familiar with Haitian culture. The program will inform parents and guardians on how to continue the lessons at home.

The Haitian Times‘ Kairi Coe speaks to HCLI founder Wynnie Lamour and Darnelle Champagne, an educator specializing in early childhood, who worked together in building the immersion program.

During France’s reign centuries ago, colonists made it so the children of Haiti would learn French as their primary language, or what some consider “the language of higher socioeconomic prestige,” according to Lamour. Champagne explains “Language is part of a people’s identity and stigmatizing the Haitian Creole language served as one of the tools to strip away part of that identity to better control them.” The country’s youth were often forbidden to read and write in their native Kreyòl, generating a disconnect where Haitians were made to feel inferior.

“Kreyòl Ayisyen has an official orthography but many people will misspell Kreyòl words and not even make an effort to make corrections. Kreyòl Ayisyen is often described as a ‘broken’ French.”

“All of this is a direct result of French colonialism, which had to dehumanize a people in order to function. That dehumanization extended to the Haitian Creole language,” Darnelle adds. “Jaden Timoun is an initiative that is working to unravel these post-colonial ideologies.”

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