They say a little white lie never hurt nobody, well in this case it's true. Don't start by getting offended and giving me the speech about how lying is bad, blah, blah, blah. I know, but…every rule has an exception.
I'm a bilingual auxiliar, born and raised in Puerto Rico who learned English almost at the same time as I learned Spanish. I've always told my students that I don't speak any Spanish. So basically, I lie. I'm going to tell you exactly why I think you should lie about your Spanish level too.
Let's start by creating the scenario. It’s the first day of school, you arrive to the class and start presenting yourself to the students. Ines, always sits in the front never in the back, is very attentive, but quite annoying, always questioning the teacher and what we are learning. She acts adultly and respectfully, but is never afraid to raise her hand (or not raise it) and ask a question that can cause a little bit of controversy.
“Can you speak Spanish?,” she asks. What do you answer? This is the moment.
Yes, I do speak Spanish, you respond, to which the students eyes gleam with joy and proceed to say “Speak Spanish!”, “Say something in Spanish”. After this, you say one or two words, the students are content with you and have already labeled you as their favorite auxiliar, “the one that speaks Spanish”.
Through the weeks you starts noticing that the students are speaking to you in Spanish. They make no effort to speak to you in English even though you were clear and told them you weren't going to speak any Spanish and that they should only speak to you in English. Weeks turn into months and you are caught in a sticky situation where the students talk to you in Spanish and you reply to them in English. Is this really helping them achieve their best? At least they're understanding everything I´m saying you say to yourself.
This is a common problem in schools, and it was the first advice I was given by another auxiliar.
DON’T LET THE STUDENTS SPEAK TO YOU IN SPANISH.
I chose to answer NO.
Working in my school I have noticed the difference in how some students speak to me as to how they speak to their teachers. It's inevitable. They know the teachers speak Spanish. Sometimes, teachers don't notice that they let the students speak to them in Spanish even though they know how to say the exact same sentence in English.
WE AS LANGUAGE ASSISTANTS ARE HERE TO HELP THE KIDS IMPROVE THEIR ENGLISH LEVEL THROUGH CONVERSATION.
Why would students speak to us in English, if they knew we speak Spanish? This is a mistake that teachers and language assistants in bilingual schools make. It eliminates the purpose of the program.
Thanks to the advice given to me by the auxiliar, when the students asked me if I spoke Spanish, I said no. I will admit, at times it is hard to act like I don't and constantly say: what? English! This is my famous WHAT. I say this all the time and it's as simple as, responding WHAT. It makes them think “hmmm how do I say this in English”. In some cases students have gone running to go and find a friend that knows how to say the word or have even made drawings. Sometimes, if I see they put in the work and can’t find the word, I might say it to them.
Little by little change starts happening and after a semester I have seen clear improvement in some students. They say more words and they understand more. My student’s progress in school only shows that I am doing the right thing. Seeing improvement and how they start to gain more vocabulary, knowledge and confidence, now that…That is something worth lying for! Don't you think?