INTRODUCING SCHOOL 3
The school that I chose to research is an academically selective high school for boys, located on the Upper North Shore of Sydney. The school only accepts 120 students in Year 7; however, through direct application, some students may be accepted into Years 8 to 11. This high school offers a range of extra-curricular activities for students to choose from including a debating society, chess club, a stage band, a concert band, a stage band, a vocal ensemble, a jazz ensemble as well as a string ensemble. Years 7 and 8 are required to take a language subject in either French or Japanese; however, if students wish to study a language in the senior years, open high school is available which mostly takes place online. In Years 9 and 10, French and Japanese is offered as an elective for students. In 2016, 745 students were enrolled and 87% of these students had a language background other than English.
I chose this school because I wanted to find out if my initial thoughts about this school’s linguistic diversity was accurate or not. As we may know, selective schools have a criteria that must be met before students are allowed to enrol into the school which in this case is academics. With students requiring a certain level of academic skills in English, Mathematics and General Ability, it seems that many international and immigrant students are unable to enter due to lower levels of English proficiency. Under these circumstances, I would presume that the school may have had fewer opportunities to engage in linguistic diversity despite a large percentage of students coming from language backgrounds other than English.
A short interview was conducted with a Year 12 Australian-born Chinese student from School 3. It is revealed through his interview that he feels most comfortable speaking English at school as it is his dominant language while Chinese is only spoken at home to his parents. He comments on the lack of linguistic diversity in School 3 due to being an academically selective school where language is not viewed as a priority. The scarce amount of international and immigrant students also means that School 3 has no need to provide additional language assistance in school and it is usually these students who bring the most linguistic diversity into Australian schools. Although School 3 has a high 87% of students having a language background other than English, most of the students are Australian-born making English the most comfortable language to speak in. The knowledge of different languages is extremely useful in our current society; however, the students of School 3 mostly view language as a compulsory subject for Years 7 to 8. I believe this is the result of how language is portrayed in School 3 which appears to circulate around more of a monolingual English ideology, this is further supported by the lack of linguistically diverse signs, messages and written text apart from on the doors of the language department. I feel this is common with a lot of selective schools as they base their entry off of the selective school exam which only focuses on English, Mathematics and General Knowledge. The interviewee also comments on how the teachers of School 3 are predominantly Western therefore they are expected to speak only English during class. Further details are explored in the following interview transcript.
1. Are you freely allowed to speak languages other than English in the classroom?
- Yes, if you are referring to speaking to each other quietly or during language classes; however, most of the time we are expected to speak English only.
2. What is your cultural (ethnicity) background?
3. Do you speak a language other than English (at school or at home)?
- Yes I do. Usually at home with my parents.
4. Do teachers communicate with students using a language other than English?
- No, teachers just speak English to students as they are predominantly Western.
5. Does your school offer any language classes other than English?
- Yes, we offer French and Japanese but that is only compulsory until Year 8. Students can choose to study French or Japanese in Year 9 or 10 as an elective. For the High School Certificate (HSC), students are free to do a language through open high school but no language subjects are offered in the school.
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)
- No. Although we sometimes speak Chinese when explaining cultural matters such as food or traditions to each other, we usually use English because it is the language we are most comfortable speaking with others outside of family. Our school is also selective so most/all of the students are dominant in English and choose to speak it in the classroom and in the playground. We have had students with English as a second language but many had changed schools due to not being able to cope with the level of English that is required at our school. ESL and Standard English is not offered so all students are required to do either Advanced English or Extensive English.
7. Which language other than English do you hear the most at school?
- Chinese but even then, we do not hear it a lot. It is mostly English.
8. Where do you hear other languages being spoken the most in school? (in classrooms or in playground etc?)
- Playground, only English is spoken in the classroom.
9. Does your school openly display the presence of a translator or interpreter?
* Author’s side note: Although the school does not openly display the presence of a translator or interpreter to students, School 3’s website includes information on external interpreters and translators that can call up the school and communicate in a 3-way conversation if they are needed by parents.
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?
- As our school mostly consists of dominant English speakers, there is no need to speak in a different language so I guess there is some evidence of a monolingual English ideology as only English is seen as an academic priority compared to all the other languages. I think a lot of schools hold this view as well, particularly selective. Sometimes to purposely exclude someone, we speak in a different language which is not a good thing but it serves that purpose. Our society embraces multiculturalism which in turn influences us as students to appreciate other cultures and their languages even if it is not spoken in school.
11. What are your thoughts towards the students speaking different languages at school? Why do you feel that way?
- If they are speaking different languages among their group then I am indifferent to this practice. If I am in the group and they are speaking a language I cannot understand then I feel excluded and annoyed.
12. Do you have negative feelings towards hearing people speaking different languages other than English? (hearing different languages that you don’t understand)?
- It is only when i am excluded from not being able to understand the language that I have negative feelings.
13. Do you consider yourself to be Australian or a member of your host country (ethnicity)? If you consider you belong to both ethnic identities, which side do you lean towards more?
- I consider myself to belong to both Chinese and Australian groups but leaning more towards Australian as I have been raised in Australia and English is my dominant language. I only speak Chinese with my parents at home.
14. Does your school atmosphere, students and staff provide a sense of belonging despite cultural and language differences? If yes, why/how?
- Yes, we are very inclusive in all activities and do not discriminate based on cultural and language differences. On Harmony Day, we say ‘harmony’ in different languages during assembly but I think our school could include more cultural and language activities.
15. Does your school have signs/texts that are written in different languages? Provide examples.
- Not really, mostly everything is in English. We have some paper signs on the doors of the language faculty rooms that are in a different language but it is extremely basic.
16. Does your school offer exchange program from other countries?
17. (If yes) While teaching English to your exchange students, did they reciprocate (do the same) by teaching parts of their language to you? Please explain your answer.
18. Is there any presence of Indigenous language at school? Like what?
- All we do is acknowledge the Guringai people during assembly but apart from that, there is nothing.
*Author’s side note: Actually on School 3’s website, I found a picture of a sign that openly expresses the school’s acknowledge of the Guringai people and included a few sentences of an Indigenous language with the translation at the bottom. I asked and showed two students that attended School 3 about this sign; however, they had never seen or even heard about this sign before. I think although School 3 makes a good attempt to include Indigenous acknowledgement in the school, it should be more openly expressed and shown to all students for it to be more effective otherwise no one would know of its existence.
From my finding, it seems apparent that the importance of language is not really represented in School 3. The functions of language in School 3 is mostly to learn a compulsory subject in order to pass exams, to communicate foreign terms and expressions and as a form of exclusion. The knowledge of different languages is not that useful for School 3 as all teachers and students mostly learn, teach and speak in English. Code-switching is rarely used by students in school as English is what everyone chooses to speak in. Only occasionally will students use another language to describe a word for cultural matters and discussions. Language is only seen as a problem if students purposely use it to exclude others; however, this is not common. The student I interviewed believes School 3 has no negative attitudes towards linguistic diversity but rather as School 3 is mostly focused on academics and has majority of Western teachers, there have been no opportunities to openly incorporate more linguistically diverse activities especially as students are used to speaking only English in class and in the playground. Introducing an exchange program between a foreign school would greatly allow students to become more aware of the benefits of language in areas such as communication. I think being an academically selective school definitely impedes the use of other languages as students are so heavily focused on doing well in compulsory English subjects for the HSC.