If you fancy changing your name and identity, you can do this in many ways. You could do it by deed poll and pretend to be your identical twin sibling who happened to grow up in Canada; you will have to do the accent to make it convincing, though. However, might I suggest you join the French Foreign Legion, instead? Take the ferry to Calais and let the authorities know your intentions. You could start calling yourself Vauquelin in no time at all, and after a few years, you might get a French passport. Oui, je n’en crois pas mes yeux!
If you delve into the history of the French Foreign Legion, you quickly understand that the institution was, and probably still is, central to each legionnaire’s identity. They may have been German by birth but they were legionnaires first.
This may be a crude comparison but summer school would be much better if we garnered some of these ideas and qualities to help learners embrace the experience more, in order to find a shared identity as short-term residents from diverse backgrounds but brought together as learners of English.
Adopting a fake identity is not something new either. Back in the 1970s, Bulgarian psychotherapist, Georgi Lozanov developed a teaching method called Suggestopedia, which suggests the teacher should create false identities for each learner during class time to ‘help them detach themselves from their past learning experiences’ (Richards and Rogers 1986: p.149). This to me sounds like a novel and fun idea which could well be employed to help our learners buy into the summer school experience a little more.
But do we need to go to the trouble of doing this? I think we do. I suspect that prior to their arrival, most of our students see themselves as internationalists, global citizens whose identities and thinking transcends the shackles of social and linguistic constructs. However, on arrival at summer school, they quickly find being in an immersive experience quite daunting and seek comfort from that which is familiar. Without being too blunt, many learners end up speaking exclusively in their L1, pining over the mundane, and investing a lot of their energy into complaining about fairly trivial matters often as a comparison with what they have/experience back home. Without sounding too bleak, by the time this cultural atrophy has set in, it’s too late.
To get the best out of summer school, both inside and outside the classroom, learners need to be willing to start from a neutral standpoint and try to leave some of their cultural baggage behind. They need to invest in their experience and we, as teachers and activity leaders, need to support this to make it a reality.
Curiously, learners who come as individual students, i.e. not with a group, transcend these norms. They are less likely to behave in such a predictable manner, less likely to hermetically seal themselves within their own linguistic grouping and more willing to form bonds beyond fairly surface level interaction with other learners from different countries.
My instincts seem to suggest that when you work in monolithic and unwieldy summer schools, as I do, the potential to make institutional changes is marginalised by the sheer volume of learners as well as the complexity and variety of demands that are presented on a daily basis. If however, you work in a small to medium capacity summer school, the following ideas could potentially facilitate the process of encouraging learner integration:
Outside the classroom
- Foster a sense of inclusion by accommodating learners who are of a similar age group but who don’t share a mother tongue. If put together, many children will find commonality with their peers and form a bond. Of course, this should be carefully monitored via a guardian system to see if it’s working as some learners, who are more reticent, may need the support of someone who does speak their L1 to bolster their integration.
- During meal times, construct a seating arrangement which mirrors the rooming lists i.e. learners eat with those they share their accommodation.
- During trips and activities, try and group learners by the difference of nationality or language group to explore and experience together. Providing simple tasks which require a degree of collaboration may help prevent learners from drifting back into their own L1 groups.
Inside the classroom
- Make sure learners work with a variety of people from different countries or language groups.
- For lower level groups, set up class routines and provide classroom and task language to scaffold communication.
- Work towards real world task which will benefit your learners outside the classroom. Everyone needs to be able to communicate with the canteen staff and this is not as straightforward as you might think. In fact, what do you need to do when talking to the serving staff? Possibly this:
- Initiating the exchange; turn taking; adjacency pairs:
- Hello – hello.
- How are you? – I’m fine, thank you.
- What would you like? – Can I have…
- Would you like anything else? – No, that’s everything.
- Polite requests:
- Please, can I have…
- Making bespoke requests:
- Do you have… any lactose free milk?
- Responding to questions:
- Yes, please!
- That’d be great!
- I’ll have chips, please!
- No, thank you!
- Asking for clarification:
- Sorry, can you repeat that?
- Sorry I don’t understand.
- Do you mean…
- Can I just check, is this the vegetarian option?
- Using intonation and word stress to show appreciation.
- Backchannelling to show the interlocutor you are listening.
- Exiting the conversation:
- Have a good day!
- See you at dinner time!
- Initiating the exchange; turn taking; adjacency pairs:
This list could go on much further…
- As mentioned before, do as the French Foreign Legion do and create false identities for your learners during class time!
- While on the subject of false identities, Lozanov, who developed Suggestopedia, believed ‘most learning takes place in a relaxed but focused state’ (Richards and Rogers 1986: p.143). This also resonates with Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis that suggests language learning is aided if ‘affective variables play a facilitative, but non-casual role [e.g.] motivation, self-confidence and anxiety’ (Schütz 2005). Try and make your classroom and the environment conducive to help learners relax and feel comfortable. This is not just simply achieved by playing classical music or having pleasant décor (Richards and Rogers 1986: p.145-146), it’s how you get to know your students, how you spark their interest, and ultimately how you help them feel comfortable so they get to know each other better and, that learning can start to take place.
The final and rather curious point is to briefly turn the mirror on ourselves, the staff, and look at the relationships and interaction patterns we have with each other. Like our student body, we as a group are not homogeneous by any stretch of the imagination:
- We come from different countries.
- Our home cultures are not the same.
- Some of us speak English as our mother tongue but many of us have a different first language.
- We all use English as the language of communication in the working environment.
- Those of us with complicated and hard to pronounce names often shorten or anglicise them to make it easier for everyone.
- We all live around each other.
- We all eat our meals at the same table.
- We naturally, without conscious effort, promote the shared values of inclusion, cooperation and reciprocity, helping to create an agreeable working environment, which, in the case of summer school, is one we also live in. In doing so, we find commonality and identify as being members of a specific group.
Do any of these ideas resonate? Essentially, we are displaying behaviours which make our lives function well and to the mutual benefit of our friends and colleagues, so why shouldn’t our learners follow our lead? Of course, the logistics of implementing changes may not always be feasible based on the logistics of your summer centre but as professionals working in the industry, we should be looking to strategize how each individual learner can be afforded a better experience in a supportive and language rich environment. We should, if we can, start moving away from the omnipresent clan like mentality of groups who cling together and create a distance between themselves and everyone else. Humm… having thought about it, I think we really do have something in common with the French Foreign Legion…
Richards. Jack. C. & Rodgers. Theodore. S. 1986. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. CUP. Cambridge. 1986.
Schütz. R. 2005. Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition. Accessed 15/08/2018: https://apps.esc1.net/ProfessionalDevelopment/uploads/WKDocs/58121/2.%20Stephen%20Krashen.pdf