INTRODUCING SCHOOL 4
School 4, which is located in a suburb in the Inner West of Sydney was designated as a language high school in 1990. 93% of its students are from language backgrounds other than English. The designation of the school symbolically promotes a secure multilingual environment for a diverse student population where tolerance and understanding of the cultural groups the school serves are priorities.
School 4 provides multiple language subjects such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, and French, which are included in a mandatory component of the year 7 to 10 curriculum to promote students’ strong cultural and linguistic achievement. Some classrooms are decorated with various visual materials that represent the multiculturalism and multilingualism, which was impressive to me.
Furthermore, the school also provides an English subject designated for international students learning English as a Second Language (ESL), and a Fundamental English subject is included in a preliminary course for those students who are willing to be supported in academic English language at school. In addition, the school presents the annual celebration called ‘Harmony Day’ to advocate school’s multiculturalism, which embrace diverse linguistic and ethnic backgrounds of students.
When I was researching this school, the school seems to provide students with various opportunities to express their cultural and multilingual values. For instance, there are lots of students’ artworks on the school wall that show the presence of diverse culture and languages.
In front of the language faculty office rooms, there are photos and precise information about overseas exchange programs, how international students from sister schools overseas visited School 4 to share languages and cultures with the students from School 4.
I chose School 4 because as it can be seen School 4 actively supports and provides students with a range of opportunities that facilitate students’ cultural and linguistic values, and promote multiculturalism. So we have decided to conduct an interview with one of the students from School 4 to explore more detailed patterns and functions of various languages in this school, and the perceptions and attitudes of students and teachers towards the idea of linguistic diversity and the language domain.
We have interviewed a year 12 student from School 4. Her linguistic background is Japanese and she has been living in Australia for 10 years. While interviewing her, she had a positive attitude towards linguistic diversity as she is opened to hearing languages other than English at school and likes sharing diverse cultures and languages with peers from different language backgrounds. According to the interviewee, School 4 advocates comfortable atmosphere that engages a sense of belonging despite the cultural and linguistic differences within students, through providing range of subjects for majority languages, overseas exchange programs, and multicultural events called ‘Harmony Day’, and supporting international students through operating ESL class and Fundamental English classes. However, some of her responses show there is a slight presence of monolingual English ideology within the school, where there are some restrictions in students speaking languages other than English in the classroom, and most teachers communicate with students using only English. In terms of Indigenous language, there is no presence of Indigenous students; however, there is Indigenous studies incorporated in the school curriculum across the subject areas.
- Are you freely allowed to speak languages other than English in the classroom?
- Some teachers don’t care if we speak languages other than English in the classroom, but most teachers strictly ask us to speak only English in the classroom because it could distract the class.
- What is your cultural (ethnicity) background?
- My cultural background is Japanese.
- Do you speak language other than English (at school or at home)?
- I speak Japanese at home with my family, and with some of friends at school as well as outside the home and school.
- Do teachers communicate with students using language other than English?
- My Japanese and Korean teachers communicate with us using the subject languages, but my other subject teachers only communicate with us using English.
- Does your school offer any language classes other than English?
- My school offers language classes such as Korean Background and Heritage Studies, Chinese Continuers and Background Studies, Japanese Beginners, Continuers and Extension Studies, French Beginners and Continuers Studies, and Italian Continuers Studies.
- 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)
- I hear a lot of other students speaking their own languages other than English outside the classrooms. So I think my school is very diverse in languages, and because most of my friends have different language backgrounds other than English, although we communicate with each other mainly in English, we also share a lot of different linguistic and cultural knowledge within our social circle.
- Which language other than English do you hear the most at school?
- I think I hear Chinese the most at school if I have to choose one language other than English.
- Where do you hear other languages being spoken the most in school? (in classrooms or in playground, etc?)
- I mostly hear these languages being spoken in the playground than in classrooms.
- Does your school openly display the presence of a translator or interpreter?
- I’m not sure if the school openly displays the presence of a translator or interpreter, but sometimes if people who need an interpreter on the day of parents and teachers interview, and if the languages are taught from our school (like Korean, Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese, etc.), language teachers often help those people in interpreting and translating.
- 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?
- I think this assumption that our common language in school is English and the rule that we have to speak English in the classrooms to learn the subject and communicate with each other, makes the ideology of monolingual English at school in Australia.
- What are your thoughts towards the students speaking different languages at school? Why do you feel that way?
- As I’m also from a different linguistic background and I speak in Japanese with my friends at school, I agree with how people want to speak in languages they are confident in and so I’m positive towards the way of students communicating with each other in different languages other than English.
- Do you have negative feelings towards hearing people speaking different languages other than English? (hearing different languages that you don’t understand)?
- I think that depends on the situation I was put on. But I just mostly feel curious when I’m hearing other people speaking different languages other than English, I wonder what they would be talking about but I’m never get upset or any kind of negative feelings towards hearing languages that I don’t understand.
- 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?
- Although I’ve been living in Australia for more than half of my life, I consider my ethnic identity as Japanese and I feel more confident in speaking Japanese and I’m more adapted to Japanese culture and traditions, and being with the people from same ethnic background.
- Do the school atmosphere, students and staff provide a sense of belonging despite cultural and language differences? If yes, why?
- Our school annually celebrates cultural events such as ‘Harmony Day’ or ‘International Students Day’ to actively invite diverse cultures to share and communicate among students and teachers. So I think this gives us a sense of unity despite cultural and language differences.
- Does your school have signs/texts that are written in different languages? Provide examples.
- I think I saw the big sign board of different languages saying ‘welcome’ in front of the office gate. Some classrooms have presentation boards that the information is written in different languages because those classrooms are usually for language subjects.
- Does your school offer exchange program from other countries?
- Yes my school offers exchange program from Japan, so every year students from our sister school in Japan visit Australia and our school for about 1 month and students from our school become a host family to provide accommodation and assistance.
- (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, both exchange students and host students can teach their own language to each other through the communication, but I have never hosted exchange students from other countries so I’m not sure if there is a consistent flow of language exchange between the students.
- Is there any presence of Indigenous language at school? Like what?
- In my ESL class we watch Indigenous Australian movies to study Indigenous people’s perspectives for one of our topics. But there is no presence of Indigenous language around school because it is a minority language in our school.