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.

from TESOL Blog


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