First Hand Accounts
These are stories from people about their experiences in school with AAL and other languages besides standardized English. Some of the experiences are positive, some of them are negative, but all of them emphasize the need to have AAL and other languages besides standardized English recognized, respected, and represented in the classroom.
This YouTube video is of a TED Talk called "3 ways to speak English" by Jamila Lyiscott. It is a spoken-word essay about the three distinctly different languages that she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents, her history and identity each of the languages represents, and what it means to be "articulate."
"In English, I am comfortable talking to anyone because it is the language I have the most education and training in...I learned English in pre-school in Venezuela by being tossed into a class where the teachers only allowed students to speak English. My home language was valued, but it was important for me to learn English so that was the only thing that was allowed in school. Spanish was utilized in the curriculum only to teach us new words as we grew as English speakers...After pre-school, we moved to the USA and Spanish was never again a part of my education at school. Until I chose to take a Spanish class to get credits, I did not have a class that utilized or placed high value on my home language."
"I moved here [the United States] when I was eleven. I started fifth grade, and I did not make many friends. In our small town outside Indianapolis, it was quite rural. Many teachers and students didn’t extend beyond being welcoming to cross our language barrier which left me feeling displaced because I was treated with little communication interactions. It wasn’t until late high school and college were I found my nook. I found people who embraced my bilingualism, but little did they know my language dwindled greatly from what it use to be. And now at forty-six, it hurts to realize my language died with my grandparents."
"Coming to Charleston was a big adjustment. No one spoke Spanish and I only did when I was at home. Teachers wouldn’t take the time to pronounce my full name so it was easier to shorten it to Betty. At least for me, it wasn’t so bad because I grew up in the US and wanted to go by Betty, but for kids who grew up outside of the US, this is so much more meaningful...When a child goes to school and their name is mispronounced or changed, it can negate the thought, care and significance of the name, and thus the identity of the child."
"People who spoke ‘good English’ were chosen more in class, given more opportunities to speak and read aloud, more time for sharing time in front of the class, they were never corrected...The ESOL teacher and Special Education teacher often picked up students together or within a few minutes of each other. Kids made fun of me saying I was Special Ed and didn’t know English. I think the part that hurt most was that to me, my first language was English. So HOW could I have possibly been placed in ESOL? And HOW could they have possibly said that I wasn’t ready to test out until high school when I’ve had all As and Bs all my life; and ALWAYS As in English. They wiped any language, accent, dialect that I had away. The Spanish I knew, is mostly gone. I can understand when people speak Spanish but I don’t speak it at all. The Patois that I know, is still here but is hidden away in the places I feel most at home. I learned Standardized English because I had to; not because it was a valued language. It didn’t feel like home. It felt stiff and weird, as if I was forcing myself to be something I’m not...I don’t find it difficult to communicate anywhere. Because I had to take ESOL, any accent or dialect I had was basically erased. I feel like because of that I don’t spend time trying to think and translate but instead, I code switch without even thinking about it. I find it easy to speak in Standardized English, AAL, and Patois, just when to use it is the real question."
"In elementary school it was hard speaking a different language. I was 6 years old and didn’t speak the language that everyone else did. The only word I knew was bathroom and I would cry every day after school. I didn’t understand why I would have to go into a different class that made me speak a different language (ESL class) but, I worked really hard and learned English and am now grateful for being Bilingual because it was beneficial in learning other languages and understanding other cultures."
"I guess I learned 'better Spanish' first as a kid, but once I got to school I spoke more English. I learned how to read and write in English. People always ask me which one I'm better at. By far , English. That's the one I think in... Spanish never really came up [in school]...No one explained to us the value of knowing another language when we were in elementary or middle school."
"As an elementary, middle and high school student, Daniela used and learned Romanian. At that time her language was valued. After moving to the United States, Daniela realized that 'a students home language is not valued in the classroom setting.' In the United States, the only time she sees her language is in some books and in online news...As a teacher, she has noticed that languages other than English seem to be depreciated, generalized, and stereotyped. 'Kids should not be judged by how they look because there is so much to their heritage and culture...I try to use books in my classroom that see cultures in a positive light. I think we have to be considerate about cultural aspects...If we fill the classroom with books about apples, students who have never seen an apple can not relate.'"
"I went to a Jewish Day school and I felt the most comfortable talking there because my language was prioritized and used constantly instead of just being stored away until it was time to use it again."
"My teachers never incorporated Spanish into their instruction. They never taught about languages or appreciation of languages. There was a point where one teacher would pair me with another student who knew Spanish or give me a Spanish Version of the book. That helped me a lot. But they never actually taught about Spanish, which I think made it harder for me to make friends. Maybe if people knew something about me, they wouldn’t have been scared to talk to me. They looked at me like I was an alien sometimes...I had a really hard time connecting to my math and science teachers. They didn’t know a lot about it. I didn’t relate to them. It made it harder for me. I didn’t feel comfortable asking them questions. I was still learning. Sometimes I would say things in not the right way. Sometimes they were not able to sympathize and then I would feel like oh she didn’t understand so I’m not going to ask a question. Sometimes you express things and they don’t translate the way you want and I sometimes I would ask and I think that she didn’t understand my question and it really hurt my feelings or made me feel like I wasn’t smart...My English as a Second Language teacher was like a mentor to me. She knew Spanish. A lot of times, I would go ask her things and she would help me. I was the most close to her. She cared. She was the teacher that helped me in my other classes. Because of that, they would translate or talk to the math teacher about the questions I had. But, that made it harder for me to get closer to the math teacher because she didn’t understand why I didn’t go to her and why I had to go to someone else. So that made things even more difficult...I wish that schools had encouraged me to speak Spanish more. Instead, I always had to figure out what I was trying to say in English. Or I had to find someone to navigate for me."