Jèrriais – a documentary about Jersey’s fight to preserve its old language

It is not commonly known that the Channel Islands have their own unique languages. Jèrriais is one of them and it used to be the main language of Jersey. As the spoken language becomes lost knowledge to new generations that speak English, both young and old people are making efforts to keep it alive.

I have always been passionate about learning foreign languages and, while a lot of hard work and committment are necessary in the process, every effort was worth it for me. The language skills I gained developed my brain, complemented my learning of musical instruments and made it very easy for me to learn shorthand, a very useful tool for a journalist. Other benefits include knowing words in one language that might not exist in other languages and thus being able to express some of my thoughts and feelings better… and, of course, being able to get close to people so much easier when travelling. Some people feel more comfortable speaking in their mother tongue, while others simply appreciate the efforts taken by those speaking their language because they know themselves how hard it is to learn other languages or because they find it so hard to learn a language that they haven’t even tried.

I can currently speak Romanian, English and Spanish fluently and have also studied French for four years and have basic knowledge of German and Turkish. When I faced the pressure of picking a good subject for my final year radio project, Jèrriais  seemed to be the perfect topic. It meant I got to mix so many of my passions, from travelling to Jersey to finding out about a foreign language I wasn’t familiar with, from music in Jèrriais to the historical and human importance this language has to the islanders. Jèrriais wasn’t something I knew anything about, so I seized the opportunity to learn new things and get out of my comfort zone. Getting out of my comfort zone also meant doing night and day shifts as part of my university jobs to afford five days in Jersey. I don’t receive a maintenance loan and, although my parents would have definitely supported me, I prefer to cover all the extra expenses including leisure and business travel on my own. I grew up thinking that just because I have access to stuff, doesn’t mean that I am entitled to it and it seems only fair to me to work for the additional things I want, not need, if I feel capable of handling it. This was very tiring considering how much third year uni work I had to do and the fact that I had to prepare for a work placement in Leeds, and it basically meant I had to give my holiday up once again in favour of work, work, work.  I had so many doubts as to whether my efforts were going to be worth it and there were times when I thought I could have gone for something that would have been easier to plan and would have required less stress, worries and financial efforts –  but risking a university grade and sticking to my instincts to pursue something I was truly passionate about proved to be the best decision, and not because my documentary was awarded a first, but because…

…I had the opportunity to spend more sunny days in beautiful Jersey, which made work more bearable. I even managed to pay a visit to BBC Jersey, a place I loved doing a work placement at, partly due to how friendly and supportive everyone is there;

…even though I picked Easter days for my stay in Jersey, everyone agreed to meet me. They were all very helpful and made me feel extremely welcome and become even more interested in Jèrriais. All my efforts suddenly seemed so small compared to how many efforts these people make every single day to keep their language alive, despite the younger generation speaking mainly English;

…I met an incredible, unique band called Badlabecques, whose songs are in Jèrriais. Vanessa, who plays the violin, came to pick me up from the airport and drop me at my hotel, not before dropping me at the pharmacy because I was very ill throughout my trip (but that didn’t stop me from squeezing conversations with as many amazing and inspiring people as I could every day and recording hours and hours of interesting stories and facts, which I somehow managed to cut down to 12 minutes). She then drove me to interview her and Monty, who plays the accordion and is a Jersey politician as well! Kit, who sings for the band, flew to Sheffield to meet me and showed me some songs they recorded for the new Badlabecques album. I fell in love with their music and I included some of their most recent work in the documentary;

…I met people working at L’Office Du Jèrriais, a place where they try to spread awareness of Jèrriais through all sorts of ways, including teaching the language formally and informally – in a pub. Geraint, who leads the pub sessions, blew me away with his knowledge and I could probably rightly associate him with a “human encyclopedia”. I consider myself so lucky to have had him share so much of his valuable knowledge with me;

…I met people from all the generations who joined the fight to preserve Jèrriais, from adults whose grandparents found Jèrriais helpful in World War II to children whose parents didn’t stay indifferent to their children’s knowledge of the language and realised the importance of teaching and speaking Jèrriais at home;

…Jersey’s identity now means so much to me and posting my documentary here is my attempt to spread the word about why this language is so important and how much poorer our world would be if places like this would lose their original cultural elements.

Enjoy and please share!






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