While I have subbed in classes where some of the kids don’t speak or understand much English, but there have always been other bilingual kids there to help translate instructions and questions. Not so with today’s class of thirty-three 6th graders. I had one very shy Thai girl, “J”, that didn’t speak or understand English.
I asked the kids if there were any other bilingual Thai kids in class. No!
I asked if there were any other bilingual Thai kids in the school. “YES! She has a sister in another class, but she doesn’t speak English either.”
I evidentially didn’t emphasize the “BI” part of bilingual. Surprisingly, her parents didn’t send her to school with a “Thai-English” dictionary either.
“How does your teacher communicate with J.?”
“She knows the words ‘yes, no, hello, goodbye and trashcan’… For everything else the teacher uses hand signs and gestures”
With few alternative solutions, we began our day of classroom assignments. The little Thai girl could handle most of the math assignments well enough until we got to “mean, mode, median and average”. Try to explain those concepts with hand gestures.
The rest of the assignments were a total loss for her. She sat quietly watching the other girls at her table during class.
During the writing assignment, a cart of thirty-five wireless Apple laptops was wheeled in from the computer lab. These laptops are available for the kids to access the internet for informational research.
This gave me an idea. I asked one of the other girls at J’s table to do a search for an online “English to Thai dictionary”. Surprisingly, they found a pretty good one that allowed English words and phrases to be translated into
But this allowed J. to hunt and peck English words and learn the meanings. I checked and got permission from the computer lab to let her keep one of laptops for the rest of the day.
I feel like I accomplished something useful today!
“Hello. Goodbye Trashcan!”