With the majority of my students, this happens. If I see them before class begins, I would ask one of my students ‘How are you?’. Total silence. They look at me with a mixture of expressions. First, their face turns into a sort of bewilderment. It’s sort of like they don’t understand the question. I have asked this many times when class starts, and they are happy to reply. ‘Im fine thank you, and you?’ But once they are out of the classroom, they literally freeze up.
Second, they actually look afraid of me. It’s as if I am testing them on their English and if they say it correctly. To them, it’s speak English in class. Speak Chinese outside of class.
With one girl, I asked her ‘How are you?’. She’s 6 years old. I get that scared sort of expression and I hear ‘mmmm….uuhhhhh’. I repeated. Again, I hear ‘uuuhhhh’. I said ‘Are you hungry?’ Nothing. ‘Are you thirsty?’. Nada. ‘Are you happy?’…. I hear a small ‘yes, I’m happy.’ I decide to let her escape from this traumatic experience.
Yet once she’s in the classroom, she’s fine. She actually replies back to me! Its pretty annoying when the parents interrogate the students on what they learn after class. If they don’t want to speak English to me outside of class, how on earth are they going to speak English to their parents or grandparents?
I met another student outside one day. She was sitting with her mother eating food. I cycle past and I hear ‘AISLING!’ I turn around and I see her. I cycle back to her and ask her ‘Oh are you hungry?’ Then THAT look appeared. What did she say? My Mum is here and she will hear me speaking to the teacher. Should I speak in English to her? I don’t want to speak English. I’ll just be quiet. … Which she did.
So after I asked her two more times with no reply, I gave up, along with a little of my pride. The Mum most likely thinking ‘My daughter doesn’t know any English at all.’
But miraculously, in class I asked ‘How are you?’ and she said ‘I’M EXCITED!’ Theres no hope outside the class.
Although this isn’t always the case. Some students are more than willing to talk to you which is great. Not so great when they come half an hour early and they want to talk to you with very broken English. I like to relax and kind of be by myself before my classes.
I suppose it depends on the students and how confident they are at speaking English. It is amazing though to see the levels of each students. Two students the same age could have a completely different level of English.
I had a 6 year old and her English was amazing. Very very good for a 6 year old. Because she was so advanced she was moved to a higher class and onto a different book aimed for 7-9 year olds. Her mother spoke fluent English so this was a major reason.
And I suppose, If I was that age and someone started talking French to me I would most likely have done the same as my students. Say nothing to the scary lady.