Thursday, 12 March 2015

Spare a thought for non-English speaking students



The above clip 'Skwerl' is a short film spoken in fake English. Although the script is spoken in complete gibberish, an English speaker feels connected to the conversation due to the familiarity of sounds and basic English words spoken throughout. It highlights the difficulty and frustration that a non/limited English speaker may experience when they are among English speaking groups. 


In watching the the clip, the viewer gets a good sense of what's happening based on body language and tone of voice. However, if the viewer was asked to retell the conversation, they wouldn't know where to start.


As I was watching the clip, I thought of the ESL learners in my classroom (English as a Second Language). Many of my students can only communicate verbally using a very limited vocabulary. As you can imagine, it must be exhausting for them to stay tuned in for five hours a day when they can only identify one or two words within every sentence. 


Although English is a second language for 50% of my class, I only have a teaching assistant for two out of five hours. My assistant does not speak Anindilyakwa (the Indigenous language spoken on Groote) and has no formal teaching background. Therefore, my students are required to determine what's going on based on body language, hand gestures and tone of voice. The assistant only serves as light relief by being available to give further explanations (again, in English) and spend a greater amount of time modelling how to complete basic tasks. 


If you were asked to comment or draw conclusions based on what happened in the 'Skwerl' clip, could you? Imagine being required to carry out a series of tasks at work each day when most of the instructions are incomprehensible. You look around and everyone else is effortlessly going about their work and even casually conversing at the same time. By studying facial expressions and body stances, you can vaguely gather that a group are sharing personal experiences. They laugh in unison at a staff member's joke and you wonder what they said that was so funny. Similar scenarios occur daily for many of my ESL students within the mainstream classroom. 


Many people seem to wonder why Indigenous students' attendance is low in English speaking schools. They might make the assumption that they don't value education or are 'too lazy' to go. But I ask you, if your workplace didn't speak your language, gave instructions you didn't really understand, asking you to carry out unfamiliar tasks AND, to top it all off, you knew you weren't really doing the task properly...would you return each day?  


I think this short film is great because it urges the viewer to spare a thought for those who may not have the words to explain how it feels to be isolated by language barriers. Next time you're in a group situation with a non-English speaker, spare a thought...