Sunday, May 3, 2009

English only in an English language school?

OK, I need to write, to vent a little, to discuss this issue and get your opinions. You all know I was very upset this morning. I know many of you don't understand why, so let me go deeper into it...

Recently I was in the staff room and a large group was chattering away in another language. I've tried sitting with this lunchtime group before, hoping that when they laughed someone would translate the joke for me, or at the very least, someone would say, "Hi Melanie. Glad to have you here!" or "What's going on in your classroom/life?" That never happened no matter how often I tried, so I gave up. I told myself, oh well, they have to speak English all day; they don't mean to be hurtful or rude. They just need a break. The message I receive: We don't care about you.

Then I had to have a showdown with some of my grade 12 students who simply refused to speak English in my class, loudly telling jokes, laughing, even talking about me in another language. Even after I became angry and insistent, they required numerous reminders of their bad manners and never fully gave up speaking their language, occasionally over my teaching in English. I asked them how they would feel if I just taught in French and only Joe* and Bob* could understand. They just laugh at me some more and continue talking among themselves. The message they are giving me: We don't respect you.

Then this morning, I walk into homeroom where several groups are loudly engaged in conversation in various languages. I say loudly, "Good morning, everyone!" Only one student even makes eye contact, and though I can't hear her for the volume in the room, I can read her lips say, "Good morning, Mrs. Wilson!" Another student gives me a sideways glance and goes back to whatever it is she's doing.

I'm a little miffed, so I think to myself, OK, I'm going to try this again. I go to the bathroom and come back a minute later. More loudly this time, "Good morning, everyone!" I'm shocked. Absolutely no response. "I've said good morning twice now, and everyone completely ignored me," I say. One girl apologetically looks up and acknowledges me with a response. Another looks sideways at me again, this time as if I'm annoying her. Not one single other person deigns to take a second to reply to me. The message they are giving me: You don't matter.

In complaint to Mr. Hawkeswood, I realize that it's because almost everyone was engaged in conversation in their native languages, so deeply that they have no room for anyone else. I wonder if they know how blatantly disrespectful they have been...or do they even care. I think to myself, if I were to consistently ignore them when they asked me a question or said hello in the hallway, I might even lose my job - it's that important that I show people I'm available and that I care.

Is my responsibility in this school simply one-way? Am I supposed to give and give and give and expect nothing in return? Or is education a two-way proposition where both sides give and take equally? I would like to think so, yes, but I cannot help today feeling as if my worth as a teacher is only valid when a student needs or wants something from me. At other times I can be ignored, pushed aside or disregarded.

Now, I have thought a LOT about the issue of bi-lingual eduction, and I believe that we should not only encourage the retention of students' native languages and culture, but also actively help them to maintain it. Does this include allowing them to speak their languages in the classroom if necessary. I always thought it did. Now I'm not so sure. I would never dream of banning native languages in our school, but perhaps the lunchroom and the playground are the correct places for these expressions and it should be English-only in the classroom (unless, of course, you happen to be in a 2nd language classroom).

What do you think?


  1. I know what you feel Ms Wilson. Not to the degree you have but I have felt that kind of alienation as well. To comment on the speaking of english only in class, i think it is important for us to use english as the school is basically an all English school, but on occasion it think the usage of the native language is important as well.

  2. I totally understand you Ms. Wilson.The same thing happened to me when I first came here,but I got used to it and now its not a big deal.
    As for the speaking english in class, i think it is important since this is an English school but as you said the native language is important also.

  3. hmm i guess i understand how you are feeling. i wouldn't want to be in the situation you are put in.we're sorry =].but it's turned into like a habit and sometimes we don't even realize it. i think our class sometimes takes you for granted because you've been with our class for like 2 3 years and know us so well.we're so comfortable around you. but i do know that our class sometimes does cross the line.we'll try not to.=]

  4. mmm..i understand you because this kind of thing also happend to me when i was in singapore. in my class there were few people and everyone was chinese and i was the only was the preparatory class and i just ignored it.
    it was an english speaking school and everyone should speak in english. i do agree with ISU rules that we are not supposed to speak any other languages than english... In my opinion until now we've been speaking in our native languages and suddenly one day we have to speak in english it was kind of hard. we kept forgetting that we should speak in english. However we will get used to it =]

  5. Yeah, when I came here in 7th grade, I felt the same thing. I couldn't talk as well as other students did, and I often didn't understand what people were saying. So sometimes I felt left out, but I didn't care at all, I just focused on my things...the conversations were none of my business, and they were about useless stuff. But the thing is, they were talking ENGLISH....hehe so I guess it doesn't matter.
    What I'm saying here is that people around you feel left out...and it sucks. I just remembered this...So, Sorry...
    You know we're don't do the things we do purposely, right? (add all the things Sara said)Again,sorry. We'll try our best

  6. 3rd last sentence's correction WE, not WE'RE

  7. yeah you are totally right, first I thought that I wasn't comfortable in foreign country and used my own lang. But there were people whose first lang was English. I wasn't thoughtful and caring enough. I was only thinking about myself. I'm really sorry Mrs. Wilson!
    love Gayeon

  8. I didn't know how you felt that morning. I'm really sorry. Though I cannot express my feeling fully in words,I am sorry. That morning when you said hello to us I just looked at you and started conversation again. Maybe it looked like I was ignoring you but it was a response, hoping that you understand. I couldn't say anything.. that I was not really confident to say 'hello' out loud or was busy doing my 'late' hw.
    Again I apologize for my rude behavior...even though I feel so sad in the situation like this, I am also the one isolating other people.
    It is really hard to stop speaking in my native language when I talk to other friends who has same nationality, say, south korea. But I think this is something that I need to work on, to develop my english skills, and also for the respect to others who does not speak my language.
    I will try hard to use speak English more than speak in korean.
    Sorry for the situation we put you in, and thank you for writing the post that I was able to evaluate my behavior and thoughts..!

  9. I'm sorry, Mrs. Wilson.
    At first, I didn't understand why you were so upset.
    But after reading your thoughts in depth, I realize now how others will feel if we only spoke our first language and not English, like when you did.
    It's really hard, though. Speaking English with my Korean friends, because to me it sounds awkward when I do.
    But I'll try my best to respect other people's right to understand what we say.
    And thank you for reminding us.