Teacher and peer behavioural response to English usage

The questionnaires also examined how the students perceived their teachers' behaviour towards their English usage. To prevent possible bias questions did not include labels such as 'native', 'native-like' and 'non-native' English or 'variety of English', and used the phrase 'kind of English' instead. The questionnaires also allowed students freedom to refer to teachers' linguistic or overall teaching behaviour. In their answers 53.3% of students (168) did not claim that the teachers' behaviour towards them depended on the kind of English they use, whereas 46.7% (147) observed some change, suggesting that students' perception of UWC teacher's behaviour was as varied as the body of students themselves. A minor group of respondents (3) observed 'some form of discrimination towards students with stronger english skills.' Ten respondents, which is also a relatively small group, reported some form of discrimination of NNSs by teachers; in several instances they used rather strong expressive language, with comments including words such as 'more childish', 'ignore', 'bullied', 'demeaning', 'mentally retarded', 'opinion is discarded' or 'aggressive teachers' when describing how some teachers approach students 'when their level of English is poor'; some students made the same point but in less expressive terms: 'there is obviously no bias, but students are better able to articulate themselves because of having an advantage in English get appraised by teachers', or 'some teachers tend to listen to students with good grammar than those who don't.' Since the body of responses to this question was very diversified, it was hard to detect major tendencies; the highest number of respondents (17%) agreed that UWC teachers behave so as to create a very linguistically fair and supportive environment. UWC students mention a 'patient', 'equal', 'helpful' approach. For example, '75% of the teachers have tutorials and they are VERY patient' or '[teachers offer] extra classes after the school'. 'Fair' treatment especially towards NNS students is also stressed, as shown by comments such as 'students [remarked that they] aren't favoured if they know English and the teachers do their best to be fair,' or 'Teachers treat all their students equally.'

Moreover, we inferred a high level of accommodative skills shown by UWC teachers from students' written descriptions, such as '[they/some teachers] avoid difficult vocabulary', 'simplify', 'try to be more clear', 'alter their language by using less complicated words and adjusting their speed to make sure everybody follows the lesson' and 'adapt to their levels' when interacting with their students. This seems to be characteristic of both native and nonnative teachers working at UWCs. All the above strategies correspond with the implied language policy at UWCs discussed above and reflect the linguistically sensitive attitudes of UWC students and teachers (see below).

On-site classroom observation showed that the teachers' overall linguistic approach, such as talking slowly and focussing on clear and careful pronunciation towards the class rather than individual students, was stable throughout the lessons. This teaching style can be described as consistent accommodation.

During the observed lessons the attitudes of the classmates were friendly and helpful - a finding which correlates with students' written responses. For example, during one observed class (biology) students were divided into smaller groups to carry out experiments; this forced the students to cooperate and even the less-skilled non-native speakers of English were motivated to communicate with others. During this activity some of the ELF-specific features and strategies could be observed, namely the use of politeness phenomena, backchanneling supported with laughter, task-orientedness and focus on message, the let- it-pass principle, and the presence of long pauses within and between turns.

In sum, a linguistically friendly and stimulating environment is enhanced by the help and support provided by teachers and peers: 'People here understand that not everyone is a fluent English speaker and are extremely open and helpful to one another. Of course, sometimes a teacher may be demanding in the use, but that would be only to help the student in question learn faster'; or '[...] I encourage communication even using non-verbal methods is necessary (visual help). I think it is helpful in learning process to all, to those with stronger English too.' The aspect of help can also be seen in a marked ability of UWC teachers to accommodate to students with different language proficiencies.

 
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