Arlene is on the SCENE

Language Differences in the Classroom

Posted on: March 13, 2013

Wow this article on “language prejudice” was really interesting. It comes from that great organization, Teaching Tolerance, which offers amazing educational resources for creating classrooms that fully appreciate and embrace diversity.

Dialect-MapIn both Arlene On the Scene and Arlene, the Rebel Queenwe poke fun at the accent that can often be heard in my home state of Rhode Island. Even in my author bio I say that Marybeth “fixed” my speech!

But according to this article, there really is no one way to speak, or accent, the English language. In fact, by acknowledging the rich dialects that exist in our country, we begin to connect language to culture. When we do that, we again demonstrate to students how to embrace differences, rather than “fix” them.

Teaching Tolerance offers some suggestions to incorporate language diversity into the classroom. First, we can expose students to language differences. We do try to recreate the Rhode Island dialect in the dialogue of our books, although it’s tough to do phonetically. Maybe it’ll help when the audio version comes out…:)

Second, we can address language assumptions as they happen. I have a distinct memory from my childhood being told by my New Yorker cousins that I “talk weird.” I also remember shrugging and saying, “No. YOU talk weird. What’s with all those RRRR’s??” But in our classrooms, when these kinds of comments are made, we can educate students about dialects, what they are, where they come from, and we can make the connection to cultural and geographic differences.

Finally, we can include language when we teach generally about cultural differences, particularly within our own country. When we learn about our own history or study different regions of the U.S., we can investigate the language as well, along with other customs and traditions.

Teaching about language differences is another way to model and guide students toward a perspective which allows for celebration of difference rather than one which focuses on defining the norm.

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