I am often asked about the type of input kids receive at a bilingual school. I understand that the type of input they receive is extremely important and how we model the language is crucial when it comes to the little ones building their grammar. More often than not, teachers and school programs are focused on the pedagogy of doing things while the language part is neglected or erroneously believed to develop on its own. I am a firm believer that our Brazilian teachers are amazing teachers and they do not have to be native speakers to model the language for our children; nevertheless, they should receive guidance from the school coordinator as to how their input can be profitably enhanced during classroom time and interaction.
Next, we will see what we can do to make this environment even more effective and real.
When a community (such as ourselves – we are an English speaking community at the school) comes together, they are bound to create language references and jokes that are “internal” to the community, in the sense that only the people involved fully understand what is going on. When this happens, the main body of the language at hand is open to adjustments or expressions that come up as a result of the interaction of the participants in a given context/situation. In linguistics we may explain that in terms of an idiolect, as defined below:
Idiolect – a term used in linguistics to refer to the linguistic system of an individual speaker – one’s personal dialect. A dialect can be seen as an abstraction deriving from the analysis of a large number of idiolects. Some linguists give the term a more restricted definition, referring to the speech habits of a person as displayed in a particular variety at a given time.
(Crystal, D. (1997) A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Blackwell. p. 189)
Applied to our reality: the individual characteristics that everybody brings to the English we speak at the school can significantly affect the general characteristics of the English language AS it is used at the school, and by extension, the type of English we expose our kids to.
To set up an example, I bring into focus a few discourse markers that I have constantly seen teachers using:
Ai ai ai
I understand that this use of L1 at school is kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, I invite you to consider the acquisitional impact this may have on your kids developing English as an L2. The language above qualifies as language markers, which are linguistic units used to keep the conversation going and demarcate sentences and their relations to one another or interjections, which are meant to be “natural” reactions to something that happens or is said to us, and are thus emotive.
The use of these devices in your everyday production is increasing and ends up spreading to some teachers who didn’t use it before. It is only a matter of time until our kids start producing these (some may even be at the brink of sprouting).
I urge you to understand that by using this language consistently you are sending our kids the incorrect message that this is part of the English language. They are learning it and there is no way for them to know whether this is appropriate language use or not. It is up to us to make that clear by using the appropriate English equivalent.
The negative effects that this may have on their language development in the long run are beyond present analysis. It is not common knowledge to you what language data you are depriving your students of by not using the English equivalent. For instance, by constantly using “né?” you are most certainly depriving them of the exposure to question tags and what this represents in terms of structure.
“Né?” in English, in the form of a tag comprehends the manifestation of grammatical elements that are expressed in Portuguese in a completely different fashion. In English, the verb combines with the past morpheme “-ed” to form the past. If you wish to make a question in English you have to disconnect the “-ed” from the verb and move it to the beginning of the sentence, landing before the subject. In Portuguese, you simply change the intonation. So the question for “você andou” is “você andou?”. We do not move the disconnected “-ou” to the beginning of the sentence, producing the incorrect Portuguese question form “-ou você and-?”
Notice that this is exactly what we do in English:
( you walk -ed + move “-ed” to the beginning of the sentence to make a question)
( -ed you walk? + turn “-ed” into “did” ), resulting in:
“Did you walk?”
In other words, by using “né?” you are choosing not to expose your students to this IMPORTANT algorithm in the development of the English language. This is surely going to affect the quality of our students grammar substantially. Since we do not know how many other structures this algorithm governs, we have no idea to what extent we are damaging the structures that depend on their fully understanding this “simple” rule of question formation.
I could go on and on about the effects of the other elements cited above, but I believe you got the point. I invite you to NOT use those words anymore. I understand that it may be hard at first, but we need to start kicking that habit. Meanwhile, I would invite you to think of English equivalents for:
Ai ai ai
Some may just have to be totally replaced with something else. Think first, what does “ai ai ai” mean?
That’s the food for thought for today. Roll up the sleeves and let’s monitor!!