Living in London and teacher training in schools within London has made me realise how many children have English as a second language (EAL). Now, as an adult having the ability to speak more than one language is really looked at as an advantage.
We look at those with the ability to speak more than one language as more knowledgeable and quite intelligent. I look at those with the ability to speak another language competently in awe. When I say competently, I do not mean being able to say hello and what is your name in another language I mean having the ability to hold down a full blown conversation in another language about any given topic.
When I worked in retail, I often looked at the job requirements for new roles and it was often required that you could speak another language of which I could not do. I mean of course I could of listened a bit more during my Spanish lessons in school but lets face it, those lessons were never going to actually teach me enough to know how to speak fluently in Spanish (even if I did not piss around and make the teacher cry).
But actually now, I am working in school settings with most children coming in with English as a second language I can really notice the difficulties the children, parents and the teachers are facing even though when they are older they will reap the benefits of speaking more than one language if both languages are nurtured correctly. I really wished I had listened more and I would be able to communicate with the children a whole of a lot easier.
First of all, actually applying for your child to attend a school when you hardly speak any English let alone not being able to read and write in English is a mammoth task in itself.
Then when you do actually get accepted into the school, building a rapport with teachers of whom do not speak the same language as you can become difficult. Of course some schools have interpreters but for every language in the school? I mean the schooling system is already cutting their budgets as it is. It would be ideal but how practical is this?
The lack of communication can surely become problematic for each child’s progress, nodding of a head really is not going to cut how each child is developing in school. So much research suggests children really thrive in their school environment if the relationship between the teachers and parents is heightened because children see their education as a continuum as opposed to two separate worlds (school and then home). How can this occur if the language barrier is there?
They may be a few children in each cohort who speak the same language but that does not mean that they will naturally become friends. Of course they have common grounds in terms of speaking the same language but does that mean they have to be friends? I think not. However, during the initial settling in periods of children starting school it may be suggested that the children of whom speak the same languages can console one and other during the times that their miss their attachment figure in hope that they can verbally soothe the distressed child.
There is a few problems with this and that is that actually the people who speak the same language may not actually get on as friends and secondly, will this reaffirm that they do not need to try to learn the common ground language of the school (in this case English as I am speaking about the UK). Why should they try to learn english when the peers who can speak the same language as them and that is the language they speak at home?
I am in no way saying that teachers are at fault in doing this, I understand that when a child is finding it difficult to settle into a class it is a natural process to try to mimic what they have at home and language would be the biggest factor in this case. I am just merely stating the difficulties we are facing in the UK at the moment, and actually it is really sad.
They have a hard task. They try to understand and make the children feel as settled as possible in their environment. They attempt to put songs on in various languages within the setting, they say basic words such as: hello, good morning, and thank you in various languages to make everyone feel included which is so important and really can boost a child’s sense of belonging. They are working their upmost to make all children feel wanted and involved. It is hard, so so hard. They nod when a child constantly speaks another language at them and expects them to know. They are trying to work out whether the silence of the child is due to the ability to speak English or whether they actually need to be referred to speak and language. Or whether they speak absolutely fine to their parents but quite frankly teachers can not have that conversation easily with the parents because they cant speak English either. And then if the teachers asked an interpreter in to ask would the parents then they may feel defensive because its way more official than just a casual chat between parents and a teacher.
Assessing their academic ability against the National Curriculum/ EYFS could be slightly difficult but that does not mean that these kids are not super intelligent. Just because they cant explain what we want them to does not mean they are not capable. They should not be underestimated at all and they should not be placed in the bottom groups of everything just because of their English skills.
I know, I know, it is way easier to say than actually doing and I am new at this. Who am I to start saying all of this? I am new eyes, I am a parent and I have got the kids best interests at heart and I think that validates all of which I am saying. It is a really tricky battle but it is not going to go away if we ignore it.
How can this be helped?
There are a few things ideally I would love to see in schools, I have listed them below.
- Free English lessons for all parents that need it
- Free lessons for popular languages within a school community for the teaching staff. AT ALL LEVELS!
- To have an assessor in the language of spoken of each family to assess the child so they will not immediately put into bottom sets.
Is there anything else you can think of, Id love to hear?