Peering Inside a Non-Native Speaker’s Mind

Imagine yourself in a room where everyone is conversing but you. It’s not that you don’t want to, but you just can’t seem to communicate with others. You’re dumbfounded and shocked that everything that you have ever learned fails you at this very moment. My first classroom experience is similar to this and I’m not the only one. I began kindergarten nervous, flustered and anxious, as it would be the first time I communicated with anyone in English. With Spanish as my native tongue, I was frustrated when I interacted with my classmates. I was repeatedly taunted and even told by my kindergarten teacher that I would never amount to anything.

Interestingly, I am not a first generation immigrant nor a 1.5 immigrant but a second generation immigrant, illustrating a wider spectrum of non native speakers in our nation’s schools. Additionally, this also demonstrates a departure from the traditional notion of that a majority of United State citizens have a notion that immigrant students are the one who make up all the non-native speakers in our school institutions.

Putting aside all the technicalities- testing, academic scores, state and federal standards- no child should ever have to go through this. The idea of going to school is to enlighten and to teach, and what I went through was the very opposite. I’m not saying that this situation will be true for all non-native speakers, but the possibilities are daunting. We should hold our schools responsible for providing a safe and warm environment so learning can occur. Indeed, in Cristina Igoa’s study, articulated in The Inner World of the Immigrant Child, she finds various stages that a non native speaker can fall into if there are not given an overall positive learning environment.  They are: culture shock, a silent period, and shyness, which ultimately translates to vulnerability. However, despite all these stages of resistance, all students, regardless of their knowledge of (a) language(s), have the ability to learn and become contributing members of society. Furthermore, she proposes that teachers should have prior knowledge of their student’s cultural background and allow their students to feel valued and accepted in order to produce successful academic results. This isn’t anything new; in fact it seems more like common knowledge. A tense environment won’t allow learning to come easy; however, if we rethink how we structure classroom dynamics we are sure to have better students and thus better and more prepared members of society.

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