Speak English!

6 Feb

Lots of our students have noticed a rise of racism and xenophobia in recent times. Streatham in south London is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse parts of the city – at one time boasting more languages than anywhere in the UK.

Where better to discuss multi-lingual London? Our students in one of our Streatham classes were discussing languages in the community. One student told a story of a friend somewhere out of London who was in the supermarket, speaking Polish to her daughter, when someone came up to her and told her to “speak English”.

The following week we discussed the issue in greater depth using a technique called “problem-posing from a code”, which originates from Paulo Freire, one of our inspirations at EFA. Here is the code, which is a picture of the story from the week before:

speak english.jpg

The problem-posing process is:

1 – Describe the picture

2 – Define the problem

3 – Personalise the problem eg. has this happened to you or to people you know

4 – Discuss the causes and consequences of the problem

5 – Discuss alternatives and possible action

Our students were clear that the problem was racism. Half the class shared a personal story of this kind of discrimination. People had experienced it at work, in their neighbourhoods and above all on the bus. One woman said almost every day someone tells her to “speak English” -when she is talking on the phone on the bus. This is an outrage.

The class then turned these stories into mini-plays. Three of the four groups chose to set their stories on the bus. They developed characters and dialogue. Two of the groups performed their plays in front of the class.

Next week the other two groups will perform and then we will do forum theatre with one of the plays. This is when the audience can intervene to suggest an alternative reaction to attempt a better resolution to the story. The plays show a protagonist or hero, who is told to “speak English” or experiences some similar instance of abuse. An audience member replaces the protagonist and the play is repeated. The audience member then tries something new eg. she stands on the chair and shouts “I will speak whatever language I want!” at the top of her voice.

We will report on how this goes and what ideas the students generate to stand up to their rights. London is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural city. We will not tolerate racism or xenophobia.

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