Linguicism Simulation Classroom Activity

As my previous blog discussed, linguicism, or linguistic discrimination, happens more often than many are aware—in society as a whole, in local communities, and even in school classrooms.  Because it is often overlooked, there is a need for increased awareness. In today’s blog, I share one activity I have used in my teacher education classroom to raise awareness and initiate discussions about language discrimination and its consequences. This activity described is one I have implemented in a World Englishes course in a graduate school of TESOL program in South Korea with adults who were English language teachers pursuing their master’s degree.

Preparatory Brainstorming

Prior to the language discrimination simulation, learners were asked to individually brainstorm how people discriminate or are discriminated against in terms of language.


The core of the class is a discussion on various forms of language discrimination (discriminatory language practices in media, education, workplaces, personal experiences), introducing and discussing key studies in the field (see recommended resources below), and reflecting on local English education and language policies.

At the start of the class, however, learners were randomly divided and half were told the language variety they were using was “ideal” and would be privileged, while the other half was marked with a large red sticker and told the language they were using was “less acceptable.” The class proceeded with the intended discussion and activities while I intentionally acted out the discriminatory practices students had brainstormed, clearly privileging members of one group and their linguistic forms while marginalizing others.

Class continued and learners remained in their assigned groups for half of the activity’s allotted time, in this case 40 minutes, before the two groups alternated, signaling a repositioning in their levels of privilege.

Debriefing Session

Recognizing that it is essential to allow time for learners to reflect on and share thoughts about the experience, a short reflective debriefing session immediately followed the activity. Learners were given time to reflect individually on their responses and then the class discussed the experience based on the following guiding questions:

  • How did you feel when you were in each of the groups?
  • What other implications, possibly classroom related, can you draw from this simulation in addition to linguistic discrimination?
  • Do you think it is important to talk about discrimination-related issues in the classroom?
  • To what extent does linguicism exist in the world? Local area? Your classroom?

After class, all students were asked to continue to reflect and share their personal comments or reactions to the activity on the course’s private blog.

Postactivity Reflections

Learners have often identified this discrimination simulation as one of the most memorable activities in the course.  Many learners describe the experience as being more powerful than they had anticipated, and that even though they knew it was a simulation, they still felt the experience was “more real than expected.” After participating, many recalled instances when they had unintentionally treated a student or community member in a discriminatory manner, without realizing how it may have been discriminatory.

Safety Measures

It is important to note this type of simulation is not something that should be implemented lightly or without adequate time for everyone (learners and instructors) to prepare, debrief, and reflect on the experience. Based on the multilayered experiences learners have shared after participating in the simulation, I should emphasize the importance of applying appropriate safety measures to the activity, including developing sufficient classroom rapport prior to implementation, being prepared to facilitate a discussion that acknowledges and accepts learners’ thoughts and reactions to the experience, and having time and space for opportunities to share and reflect. These safety measures can help prevent an oversimplified perception of linguicism and the unintentional promotion of linguicist stereotypes, which would further marginalize those suffering from linguicist practices.

Recommended Resources

  • Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the Road: Race, Diversity, and Social Justice in Teacher Education. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.
  • Hammond, K. (2006). More than a game: A critical discourse analysis of a racial inequality exercise in Japan, TESOL Quarterly 40(3), 545–571.
  • Lippi-Greene, R. (1997). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination  in the United States. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Mahboob, A. & Barratt, L. (2014). Englishes in Multilingual Contexts: Language Variation and Education. London, UK: Springer.
  • Matsuda, A. (forthcoming 2017). Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Phillipson, R. (2013). Linguistic Imperialism, Continued. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, T. & Phillipson, R. (1994). Linguistic Human Rights: Overcoming Linguistic Discrimination. Berlin, GE: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Tanghe, S. (2016). Promoting critical racial awareness in teacher education in Korea: Reflections on a racial discrimination simulation activity,  Asia Pacific Education Review 17(2), 203–215.

About Shannon Tanghe

Shannon Tanghe
Shannon Tanghe is the program director of the Master's in ESL program at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. She has taught in South Korea for more than 16 years, and has also taught in Egypt, Guyana, and the United States. Shannon was selected as the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year. Shannon holds a PhD in TESOL & Composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Shannon’s research interests are teacher collaboration, World Englishes, and teacher development.
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2 Responses to Linguicism Simulation Classroom Activity

  1. This sounds like a very interesting activity. It also seems to me that this is one which could be adapted quite easily to other languages. Since I teach French as well as English literacy, this could prove extremely useful to me and my students.

    Another bright spot is that it would give my senior high school students (ages 14 – 17) chances to play-act, in a sense. For some, this would prove a welcome relief. For others, I am hopeful that this activity will clearly demonstrate some of the reasons for my insistence on drills using correct grammar, pronunciation and appropriate vocabulary.

    When I taught ELL students in Colorado (middle school students between 11 and 14 years), we used a variant of this play-acting which proved fairly illuminating to most of the older students. Unfortunately, others were not (I now believe) sufficiently socially, emotionally, or educationally developed so as to be able to drive the full benefit from these lessons.

    Our basic activity consisted of conversations between 3 people. Two people were friends or acquaintances, one of whom spoke proficient English (US English), while the other spoke proficient English with a pronounced accent. (Since most of my ELL students were then Hispanic, almost all of the accents my students exaggerated were Hispanic-American ones.) The other part of the trio (usually played by a student) was some kind of “official”. This category included people in roles ranging from restaurant hostesses, government clerks, doctors, dentists, dental hygienists, telephone repairmen, apartment managers, cable installation specialists, teachers (public and Sunday School teachers), and policemen. The fact that so many “officials” were portrayed was extremely useful in that the variety in our “officials” made it easier to portray and play out a greater range of scenarios than would have been possible (or believable) with fewer kinds of “officials”.

    The idea of these scenarios was to see – and view – the differences in the officials’ treatment of the proficient English speaker with standard US (or Colorado) pronunciation vs. that accorded equally proficient (in terms of vocabulary and grammatical knowledge) English speakers with pronounced Hispanic-American accents. Not surprisingly, all students concluded that the speakers of US accented English almost always received better treatment than did those with Hispanic-American accents. Most of the students chosen to play the roles of the “officials” portrayed this different levels of treatment – quite well, in fact.

    Unfortunately, I did not think of this myself. A former colleague (another French teacher) told me of it. She said that she regularly used it in French classes in Montreal (her home city where there are large numbers of non-French speaking residents), and in the US. When she used this technique, she instructed even her upper level French students to deliberately make grammatical errors as well as to use substandard pronunciation in order to portray cultural and linguistic “foreigners” appropriately. According to my former colleague, these scenarios were very effective for most of her more mature and educationally developed students. This educator told me that these older students clearly perceived the direct relevance of this play-acting to their personal lives – and especially to their futures. Particularly since she taught French for many years in Canada and the US, this teacher was highly experienced in determining the success levels of different instructional formats and techniques.

  2. Susie says:

    This would be a wonderful activity to use in professional development for teachers. Not every teacher will be trained to work with EL students, but most every teacher will be interacting with EL students in their classroom. We need to understand what kind of discrimination these children face each and every day, down to the unintentional. I believe that if teachers knew about this and were able to share appropriate parts with their other students. The more aware we all are the more able we are to make things more comfortable and welcoming for EL students.

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