In 2008, Eugene Garcia states, if “part of the context of how I approach everything, begins with me” then I need to be well versed in the cultures of my students in order for them, to be not only successful with their studies, but also with new language acquisition.
Ji Sung was a wee four year old that I had the privilege of teaching many years ago. Her name became Jennifer and her Korean parents quit speaking Korean in the home when Jennifer started school, in order to help her acquire English proficiently. I was heartbroken for her. I felt that they were acting as best as they knew how, but also felt that she was completely lost in this foreign atmosphere. I never met her mother as all of my dealings were with Jennifer’s father, who was a gracious and cooperative man and only wanted what was best for his daughter. I was still at the stage in my teaching career where I thought, “Who am I to say?”
The day Jennifer arrived, I noticed her cheerless little eyes peering everywhere, hoping to discover something familiar with which to grab onto. That day, I chose to read a Mem Fox story to the KinderKids entitled, Hattie and the Fox. I used to have a different voice for all of the animal characters in the story; and each animal character has the same words it repeats throughout. Many students have loved that this simple and predictable patterned book was one that they could imitate and take to their art and drama centres.
Jennifer sat with the other students silently. She laughed when they laughed and continued to look around to take cues from them. When I gathered them for the second story time that day, again I read Hattie and the Fox and again Jennifer laughed when the other students laughed and she smiled at me lots. When I gathered the students for the third story time that day, I again read Mem Fox’s book. Following the story, Jennifer vocalized the cow’s speech perfectly with what words the cow utters, and she and I laughed and had a very warm moment.
If the child is young and is in the Silent/Receptive or Preproduction Stage of language acquisition, then I believe that if that child is engaged in age appropriate activities with respect and support for who the child is in that moment, the child will then find her comfort level with when she is ready to vocalize. I think that new language learners need to have lots of visual and tactile support resources for the spoken word and for young learners, song and story is a wonderful combination with which they can envelop in order to find their voice.
I am not sure why this story has remained with me all of these years. Maybe it is because I have taught very few children that have not come from the same culture as I, or maybe it is because I love how the account is a defensive narrative for reading and rereading good books. However, I think that maybe it is mostly about my multicultural educational journey and how I came to embrace other cultures in order to facilitate positive learning environments for all students.