INTRODUCING SCHOOL 1
School 1 is a co-ed secondary school, located in the South Western Sydney in the School Education Area of Fairfield. 90% of 1200 students are from language background other than English. The School population is largely made up of non-English speaking background community and low socio-economic community. School receives Resource Allocation Model monies – RAM funding from government to provide additional funding to improve learning outcomes. This funding contributes to developing positive strategies in home, school, community partnerships, school organization and quality teaching and learning.
As the school is culturally and linguistically diverse, the school strongly values acceptance and openness to multiculturalism. This is clearly evident in the official school values: safety, respect, learning and belonging. The school’s annual event ‘International Flag Day’ is the symbol of these values. The school also holds ‘Harmony Day’ to celebrate the cultural diversity.
Not only is the school open to diverse cultural backgrounds of students, the school also tries its best to consider and help students in terms of the challenges, difficulties and prejudices that coincides with the cultural backgrounds. This places an important value in the role of the school as it provides support for students from a migrant background or low socio-economic backgrounds, and also generally assist students who have different cultural backgrounds in their everyday life in Australia.
The school offers education for years 7-12. The school offers second language courses and English as a second language (ESL). The school also has an Intensive English Centre (IEC) to cater for students’ educational needs who have recently arrived in Australia. The IEC has rich resources and great programs and staff to provide the best learning experiences for students who have recently arrived in Australia. Also, the school website has abundant resources and study tips for international students that are simple, easily accessible for students from language backgrounds other than English such as text types, understanding the verbs and writing a bibliography. As for academic achievements, the school achieves consistently above average results from the area and region in public examinations and assessments. The Higher School Certificate results are also frequently above state average.
English as a second language (ESL)
- ESL Parallel classes Years 7 to 10
- Elective ESL in Years 9 and 10
- Stage 6 (English) ESL for Years 11 and 12
- ESL Bridging course in Year 11- including preparation and fundamentals in English
Student support services
- Community liaison officers
The interview responses are made up of the transcript of what the student has said, which was noted down during the interview. As a reminder, school 1 is a highly multicultural school – with 90% of students coming from diverse ethnic backgrounds. From school 1, we have interviewed a student who has a Vietnamese background. She arrived in Australia with her family when she was 13 and has been living in Australia for 4 years. She attended the IEC (Intensive English Centre) for 4 full terms (1 year) and has been attending the High School for 3 years. When looking at the interview responses, it is worth noting that the student has been in Australia for a relatively short time so she prefers and feels more comfortable to speak in Vietnamese.
1. Are you freely allowed to speak languages other than English in the classroom?
- The students are not allowed to freely speak languages other than English in classrooms. Despite this unspoken rule, students still speak quietly among themselves in languages of their choice.
2. What is your cultural (ethnicity) background?
- The interviewee’s cultural/ ethnic background is Vietnamese. She arrived in Australia when she was 11 with her family.
3. Do you speak language other than English (at school or at home)?
- At school, the student speaks English and Vietnamese. She mainly hangs out with friends who speak Vietnamese. In classrooms, she speaks English with her classmates. At home, she speaks Vietnamese only. Her parents do not speak much English. She also has an older brother who can speak English but they converse in Vietnamese.
4. Do teachers communicate with students using language other than English?
- Most of her teachers communicate in English inside and outside of classrooms. There is a Vietnamese teacher in her maths class, who speaks to her in Vietnamese occasionally outside of classrooms. Also, one of the school administrator speaks Vietnamese and she speaks to the student in Vietnamese when the student goes to the office.
5. Does your school offer any language classes other than English?
- The school offers Japanese, French and Italian. The student studies Japanese. Japanese is compulsory for year 8. From year 9, students can choose to study a language as an elective. They can choose from Japanese, French or Italian. As for year 11 and 12 students, students can study any of these languages if there are enough number of students to make up a class. Although three languages are offered, Japanese continues to be the most popular language taught in the school.
According to the student. this popularity could be due to Japanese being compulsory for year 8, which may have allowed students to grow interest in the language and culture. Another reason that Japanese is studied as the most desired language could be academic reasons – there are abundant texts and resources available and there is a connotation that students generally perform well in the HSC. Another possibility of the popularity could be because it is considered to be ‘easier’ than some of the other languages to learn.
6. Do you feel that your school is linguistically diverse? (or Do you hear a lot of different languages in the playground?) Why do you feel this way? (give example/s)
- The student feels the school is linguistically diverse. She hears many different languages being spoken in the playground. According to the student’s thoughts, English is not always the most spoken language in the playground as 90% of the school’s population comes from countries that speak languages other than English. The school is made up of mostly immigrant students or students whose parents have an immigrant background. The close affiliation with the Intensive English Centre (IEC) also contributes to this linguistic diversity as most of these students choose to enroll into high school after the completion of IEC course.
7. Which language other than English do you hear the most at school?
- Arabic, Vietnamese and Chinese, respectively.
8. Where do you hear other languages being spoken the most in school? (in classrooms or in playground, etc?)
- The student hears languages other than English spoken the most in the playground. Languages other than English are also spoken in classroom in certain situations. When students’ spoken English is difficult to converse with, teachers speak in languages other than English. This is not seen at a whole class level as teachers speak quietly or take students aside to talk to them.
9. Does your school openly display the presence of a translator or interpreter?
- The school openly displays and provides translating and interpreting services. The school is very supportive towards the students and parents who are recently starting their life in Australia. In the school office, there is a clearly visible sign, displaying availability of interpreters and translating services. These services are free of charge, and students can get interpreting services via phone. Also, most teachers are bilingual and are open to providing assistance when students need interpreting.
10. Do you think there is evidence of a monolingual English ideology despite the fact that many kids come from families whose first language is not English?
- Despite the rich multiculturalism present in the school, there is evidence of a monolingual English ideology. In the playground, most social groups that students belong to can negotiate positively about speaking languages other than English. However, in the public space of classroom circumstances, monolingual ideology can be seen as students tend to set expectations on other students to speak in English only. Other times, if students choose to speak a language other than English, they are expected to speak softly among themselves.
- The interviewee also feels that social exclusion or prejudice due to language background is still present in the school. Students who do not speak English fluently are treated differently to those who can speak English like a native speaker. It was interesting to find that although a lot of students were not born in Australia and have a migrant background, there are still lack of acceptance towards poor English speakers. The interviewee mentioned that these students who do not speak English as well as native speakers are somewhat looked down on and are often referred as ‘fob’ (Fresh off the boat).
- There is a pressure to speak English like a native speaker with flawless accent, correct choice of words, use of grammar, slang and expressions among the students. This shows that there are unspoken rules to the use of language in the school. Students from immigrant background tend to form a group with students from common immigrant and language background as there is a divide due to language between these students and native speakers of English. The student feels even programs and classes that are meant to be welcoming linguistic diversities can create the divide between ESL students and non-ESL students. One of this example can be ESL English classes and classes across different subject areas specified for ESL students. Despite the school’s attempt to celebrate the diverse cultures and languages, many students still feel monolingual English ideology is very much alive in this school.
11. What are your thoughts towards the students speaking different languages at school? Why do you feel that way?
- The student is very open to other students speaking different languages at school. She strongly feels students should have the freedom to speak in whatever language they choose to speak in. She feels that there should be more acceptance and tolerance of people speaking different languages. She speaks Vietnamese with her Vietnamese friends in school and she does not want to be pressured to speak in English just because of social pressures. Also, She understands that although English as second language(ESL) speakers can speak English, sometimes they can have difficulties expressing themselves in English due to cultural differences.
12. Do you have negative feelings towards hearing people speaking different languages other than English? (hearing different languages that you don’t understand)?
- The interviewee does not have negative feelings towards hearing people speak in a language she doesn’t understand. She understands that it may be easier for people to speak in their preferred language. She is also aware that it may be offensive to others using one’s own language in certain situations such as in a classroom or in a group where there is a person who does not understand the language.
13. Do you consider yourself to be Australian or a member of your host country? If you consider you belong to both ethnic identities, which side do you lean towards more?
- The student has gained Australian citizenship recently but considers herself to be Vietnamese. Although she labels herself as a Vietnamese, as she got more used to the life in Australia, she does feel she has an Australian identity in some social settings. When she is with English-speaking friends, she feels like she has some sense of Australian identity.
14. Do the school atmosphere, students and staff provide a sense of belonging despite cultural and language differences? If yes, why?
- The school atmosphere is welcoming towards different cultural backgrounds and holds events that are helpful in closing the gap between different cultures. One of the main event is ‘Harmony Day’, where multicultural flag ceremonies are held to celebrate the diversity. This also helps students to have a sense of belonging as a member of the school and build a sense of identity as Australian. Special classes exist for ESL students who have recently arrived in Australia or needs more attention and help with English across every year groups and subject areas. This allows students to have access to extra assistance for language not only in English but in maths, science, history and other subject areas. Teachers and staff also helps enhance a sense of belonging as most of staff have diverse cultural and language backgrounds so they are able to understand and empathise with students from their own experiences. Most of these staff are bilingual and being able to speak the language further creates a sense of connection and they are able to assist students when they need assistance.
15. Does your school have signs/texts that are written in different languages? Provide examples.
- The school has many signs and texts written in different languages. In the school office in both IEC and the High School, the interpreting and translating services are written in different languages including English, Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Persian, Greek, Hazaragi, Italian, Japanese, Karen and Korean. There is also a welcome sign that is written in many languages in the office. In the hallways and assembly hall, there are various artworks that contain languages other than English including Japanese and Arabic. In the language classrooms, there are displays of student works in Japanese, French and Italian.
16. Does your school offer exchange program from other countries?
- The school does offer exchange programs from other countries. The school hosts exchange programs that allows Japanese students to come to school and attend classes together with the students for a full term.
17. (If yes) While teaching English to your exchange students, did they reciprocate (do the same) by teaching parts of their language to you ? (ultimately promoting linguistic diversity). Please explain your answer. (Optional: Was there a consistent flow of language exchange between the students?)
- Yes, most of students at the school were interested to learn the Japanese culture and language and the students are welcoming and are willing to help exchange students learn English and adapt to the school environment. In return, the exchange students from Japan were happy to teach, correct and help improve the students’ Japanese. This process also happened naturally as in order to communicate and understand, students had to use both languages to get the meaning across.
18. Is there any presence of Indigenous language at school? Like what?
- There are not much presence of Indigenous language at school. There are no written signs of Aboriginal languages. However, there are a lot of artworks in school that have Aboriginal culture including dot paintings and Aboriginal signs used for art.