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Literacy Centers – You Should Not Mispronounce A Student’s Name

Are you aware that if you mispronounce a student’s name, you are negating the student’s identity? Mispronouncing a student’s name may well be leading to resentment and anxiety which may lead to less academic progress. So in all Literacy Centers – you should not mispronounce a student’s name. Pronouncing the name of a student correctly will help build a positive school culture and is only respectful to students and their families.

Over the last decades, we’ve seen a national increase regarding students’ overall graduation rates in the U.S., but the dropout rate for immigrant or foreign-born students remains above the 30% mark,  well over three times the dropout rate for white, U.S.-born students.

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We know that for many English Language Learners (ELL’s), the mispronunciation of their name is all too often the first of many setbacks they are experiencing in the classroom, while they are already very unlikely to work with a curriculum that respects or reflects their specific culture, or meet teachers who are speaking their native language.

All these factors may hinder their academic progress. In San Jose, California, a junior at Rock Charter High School, a downtown San Jose College Prep Alum Program, is named Michelle-Thuy Ngoc, and her name is pronounced ‘knock twee’.

She is part of a group of students who are backing a national campaign, called ‘My Name, My Identity’ that is focusing on, and placing a premium on, correctly pronouncing a student’s name, and respecting cultural diversity.

The campaign is rolled out across the nation, and is cooperation between the local Santa Clara Co. Office of Education, the California Association for Bilingual Education, and the U.S. National Association for Bilingual Education.

The campaign is focusing on the important fact that ‘a name’ is far more than ‘just a name’. It is among the first things children are recognizing, among the first words that they will say, and it is by which they are identified by the world.

For particularly immigrants’ children, or ELL’s (English-language learners), are teachers who know how to pronounce their names correctly signaling respect, and it is marking a crucial step to help them adjust to their schools.

One day in Portland, Oregon, a student who had a traditional Chinese name, had her Chinese name garbled by a principal at an honors ceremony. The principal, while stupidly laughing at his own mistake, was set to present an award to the student, was drawing chuckles from the crowd.

The student, though, to avoid embarrassment, slumped in her seat, and refused to stand up to receive the highly prestigious award. The student later skipped her graduation.

This mispronunciation was not an isolated event for the student. Because she had to endure many years of setbacks, the student was feeling the urge to become less visible (or totally invisible) long before the school’s principal’s stupid laughter was marking the tipping point. The student continues her studies to become a teacher, and she has since altered her first name into ‘Mary.’

If you get into high school, or whatever other school, and someone is mispronouncing your name for the first time, you may very well correct them in a polite way, and this happens very often to people who have immigrated to the U.S., but if mispronouncing has been going on throughout your school life, what is it that you can do? If you want to contribute to ‘My Name, My Identity’ please send your name stories to the hashtag #mynamemyid and become part of this great social media campaign.