What I feel about students using English in my classroom?
I was asked a question. This teacher has a concern and she wanted to know how do I feel about it. Apparently, she has learned an immersion classroom teacher has been sending students to time out when the students speak English in Chinese class.
She said it doesn’t feel right but she didn’t know what to say or think.
My answer might not be right but I have my reasons to not to agree with this kind of consequences.
Reason one, these students are living in US, of course they need to speak English and speaking English shouldn’t be punished. One might argue, but they are in Chinese Immersion classroom and they should be speaking Chinese only. I agree and I also ask my students to do the same but I don’t punish them when they speak English. Politely, I explain again and again in Chinese that they should speak Chinese only in Chinese class and speak English in English class. If classroom procedures have been established and a trusting relationship has formed, students will show respect.
What if some students still speak in English? Reason two, these children don’t have enough vocabularies in their heads. We can’t expect everything to be done in Chinese and Chinese only. We can try to cut down the usage of English by providing language that can help them to learn new vocabularies. Encourage them to say as much as they can then provide the words that are missing in the sentences. Teach them to say “how do I say this in Chinese?” A student tried to say "pirate" but he knew he should not use English so he acted it out by squinting one eye, turning one finger to a hook, and saying "Arrr". I provided "海盗”, then asked him to draw picture below my writing then adding this to our Halloween word list. Another student was excited about dressing up as a cowboy so he said "陈老师，我明天是cowboy."（Ms Chen, I will be a cowboy tomorrow.) The other students didn't like the fact that he used English, they told him "请你说中文。"(Please speak Chinese.) Another girl said "如果你不知道中文，你可以做。"(If you don't know how to say it in Chinese, you can act it out.)
Reason three, we are teaching children to be bilingual. The goal is for them to be able to use both languages freely. Why cast a shadow over one of the languages? Reason with them; tell them there is a place and time to do certain thing. As an adult, I caught myself being self-conscious when speaking English to other people when I first started teaching Chinese Immersion. I was nervous about it because teachers were reminded over and over again not to speak English in front of the children. Then I thought teachers are supposed to be role models. If teachers only speak one language, on what ground do teachers have the right to ask children to be bilingual?
Time out means misbehaving and children know that. I hate to see them put an equal sign between speaking first language and misbehaving.
I just feel that as an immersion teacher, we are teaching students to be bilingual. We are not teaching them to feel bad about using their first language. I believe the students will show respect when teachers ask nicely. I believe if everyone reminds each other “please speak Chinese”, children response to that.