Should students be required to speak English in school at all times?  

Expert Answers
jdoarsinkfield eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no way to police such a policy so that policy cannot be enforced.  In the bathrooms, in crowded hallways, on the playground, lunchroom, etc.  However, the intention of such a policy is to force English Language Learners to become fluent in English  - not just in class but when you order food, when you make plans to go out, when you try to use public transportation, when you need to get a haircut.  Having attended Art School in Italy, the program first put us through a language immersion program for four weeks in Siena where most people did NOT speak english.  So, we had to learn not just verbs and nouns and greetings but we had to learn to live with the language and become fluent.

But, early english language learners, do need to be able to communicate at some point in their native language with others who speak their language in order to "get themselves going".  I was in a program with other Americans and we certainly did not speak english back at the dorm but we were all forced to talk in class and then when we were free the remainder of every day.

I do know, however, at least one person on the program who abjectly refused to learn to speak the language.  She just wanted the art program, made no Italian friends and went back home knowing very little language.  I thought that was crass, self-centered and xenophobic of her.  Additionally, becoming fluent in english for english language learners will be the difference between being working/lower class and their ability to reach higher levels of occupational and educational attainment.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You will probably get a variety of opinions on this one.  Here's mine.

I do not think students should be required to refrain from speaking their native language at school.  Students who speak English only as a second language are already under more stress at school than native speakers.  If we required them to speak English even among their friends, that would make their free time more stressful.  In addition, people who speak English relatively poorly tend to congregate together.  Making them speak English only would make it really hard for them to talk to each other.

I do think that students who speak English poorly should try for their own sake to speak English only.  It would allow them to improve their speaking skills more quickly.  However, I don't think it's feasible for them to do so.

This brings me to my last point.  In high school (the level I'm familiar with) it is extremely hard for native and non-native speakers of English to mingle socially.  Problems of communication, culture, and prejudice prevent them from hanging out together.  As long as this is true, the non-native speakers are going to hang out together and there will never be any way to force them to speak English only (because they can't really communicate with one another in a language none of them speak well).

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The concept of "all times" is probably the part of the question where I find the level of disagreement.  For students learning English as their second language, it is nearly impossible for this process to transpire without some level of reliance on their original language.  It gives them another pattern of recognition in the world, or another way to express their experience in the world.  For them to abandon it in place of English reminds me of those awful moments in assimilationist history, when those who possessed knowledge of another language felt that they had to abandon their own heritage in order to adopt an "American" one.  In the final analysis, it should be something that students are able to learn English as a second language while possessing the lively vitality of another one.  This makes it a challenge for educators who have to teach English as a Second Language, but being able to utilize a student's background, as with any teaching, will allow for greater benefits than shutting this background off from the educational aim.

msteacher203 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with many of the answers already set forth. I want to add that I teach my students the concept of code-switching. In addition to teaching high school English, I try to mature the whole being of a child by teaching socially acceptable ways to act. The concept of code-switching involves knowing how to act in various situations. You may speak slang at the lunch tables, but should switch both your language and behavior when in front of authority figures. I tell students that I won't get mad at them for not using "ma'am" and "sir" while they're walking the streets, but that they should know when that vocabulary is appropriate and expected. In relation to the question at hand, code-switching would be knowing that English should be spoken during instructional times when English is the academic language of choice for the subject. However, exceptions can be made for smal one-on-one tutoring situations within this classroom setting.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think this question would be better answered on the eNotes Discussion Board, but I'll be happy to provide an opinion here.

Needless to say, students should not be expected to speak only English in foreign language classes when the object of the course is to learn Spanish, French, German, etc. Nor should students be expected to refrain from speaking their native language during social settings at school (such as lunch time, between classes, field trips, etc.).

If your post is meant to specifically ask if speakers of a native language other than English should be made to speak English at all times, then I would still have to answer "no." Students who speak English as a second language in American schools should no doubt attempt to limit their native language in order to improve English skills, but to ban non-English languages completely is counter-productive to both free speech and good sense.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students for whom English is a second language are often anxious to learn English as fast as possible - or their families are. For a family which is relying on its young people learning the language and getting jobs quickly to help younger siblings coming up - or parents in their old age - this is a lot of pressure. Some of these impoverished but hardworking families have managed to scrape a little aside for education and the little they have must be used wisely. For these families it is important to get every bit of value from the budget and to get commitment at a high level from their young people. Sad though it is that youngsters sometimes have their carefree childhoods cut short by hard work, that's just the way it for some native speaking families - speaking English universally throughout the school day can be seen as more intensive training.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am sure that you will generate a lot of different responses. Here is my take on the whole issue. I think people should speak English during times of instruction due to practical issues. If you cannot understand, then learning will be handicapped. The other option is to have a translator, but usually this will be impractical. However, when it comes to non-instruction time, people should be allowed to speak whatever language they desire. I think one of the weaknesses of America is that their experience of life is too narrow. Consider Europe. There are tons of different languages and viewpoints. This makes for diversity and greater richness, which is usually a great thing.

I wrote a little thing on common sense, and how this differs from community to community, it might shed some new light on diversity. I will attach it as a link.

udonbutterfly | Student

I believe schools should definitely have options. I understand that English may be more useful but if a kid is not motivated to learn a language then it is practically useless. Like myself my former school only offered Spanish but with some petition Chinese and French were added and more kids were beginning to fill each classes. It's great to have options!

krishna-agrawala | Student

When the medium of teaching in a school is English, and the native language of the student is other than English, then it is in the interest of student to become proficient in speaking in English. And the best way to gain proficiency in a language is to practice speaking it.

If a school insists that the students speak English in school to gain proficiency in the language, there is definitely a lot of  merit in this approach. Particularly, a school will do well to insist that students speak only in English in the classroom where a subject is taught in English. It will be in the interest of students to encourage them to speak English at other times also. This of course does not mean that the school bans speaking of any other language in school premises at other times also. Also there will be occasion when speaking of other language is desirable, for example, to facilitate learning of other languages taught in the school.

mkcapen1 | Student
As a school teacher who has worked in an area with a large Hispanic population I am able to see the children struggling to use English. I have seen the same problems for Children who speak Chinese and Arabic in their home. When the children are enrolling in an American school their parents desire that their children receive the best education possible. Many times the parents can not speak English and count on the children to help them to learn it as well. For a student with limited English it is often as struggle to communicate wants and needs. It is easy to take this for granted when one speaks the native language. However, for a frightened child who relates better to the other children who share the same language, being able to communicate with friends in the familiar language can be comforting and helpful. I hate the opportunity to take a science class at a German University when I was in my 30’s. I was fairly fluent in German, but the class was very hard for me. Scientific terms were difficult to translate and created a difficult situation. While my professor taught in German, he took the time to help me understand things in English. The trust established between my professor and peers, who helped me to better, understand their language and allowed me to use mine, were priceless. I always encourage my students to speak to one another in English, but at the same time I have them share words that English speaking people are unfamiliar with speaking. Knowledge of different languages has become very important in our global world. Knowing one another's language can be helpful for all students. I do not believe that children should be expected to speak only English in school at all times. There are times when they will need their native language until they become more fluent in English.