I have been working with Maggie since day one of her getting to know EMASUK and our services and I must say she has always been a joy to work with. She knows her children, knows the curriculum and wants the best for all of the children.
When Maggie first used EMASUK I asked what she wanted to make better for the students, staff and parents and where she felt she needed support when teaching EAL pupils, as well as giving me a little background information about her situation, as it is not dissimilar to many schools in the UK particularly in cities I thought it would be a great story to share as I am sure many of you will empathise with their school. They are not unique in wanting the best for their children, but can feel isolated as all teachers do when alone in the classroom. What do you do when you are the only resource for the children? More importantly what do you do when you do not speak their language but still have to deliver the curriculum. Here are some of Maggie’s ideas that she is more than happy to share.
We have approximately 22 languages spoken in the school at present, ranging from Indian sub-continent languages such as Bengali and Punjabi to African languages such as Shona or Twi and then a range of Eastern European languages, the foremost being Polish, Lithuanian and Russian/Latvian and some Caribbean languages too.
We use Google translator and other websites to help us translate, either on PCs/laptops or on Iphones. Where we can we also use other parents or people who work with us to help us with translation. I speak several languages and will have a go at most but can only say a few phrases/words in each language. We did use the Ethnic Minority and Traveller Service to help us at one time but that service has now been disbanded by our local authority. We run a Bengali and a Polish club after school and some parents there will help us. I run an English class for Polish parents too and learn from them as they practise their English with me.
Talking is a little easier but our problem has been texts, notes, messages, emails and letters home as well as parent evening consultations(especially in the languages which are not well represented in the school e.g. Serbian or Twi.
My colleagues have difficulty often on a regular basis as they do not have the time and maybe do not have the language skills to try to communicate with parents. We often do not get told which languages families speak when a child is first sent to our school and then have to try to work out how best to help, on the spot! I always perform a welcome interview and tour of the school and help parents to complete forms but that is not always easy, depending on the language.
We have a CD which can help with translation but the letters on it are not exactly what we would like to say. We would like to produce our prospectus and welcome info and letters in a range of languages.
We have used the EMAS tool so far to translate a text to parents re the Polish Club (in Polish) We also translated a letter into Polish and Lithuanian about the recent closure of the school.
Often parents and carers in reception class need help as they bring their child to school and that is when we can use the TwoCanTalk resource.
After using it for over a year and having a change of academic year, change of needs, change of students and experiences as well as a depletion of LA support staff this is now their focus. It is also interesting to see that as it gets embedded and is used more not only do the children progress in their English but other students progress in their awareness of other languages. Once it is used as a tool academic instruction and learning can become more of a focus rather than superficial communication to get the basic over.
This is where the school are now in their second year of membership and third academic year.
We no longer have the Bengali Club(although it has run for 5 years until recently) but I do have a Lithuanian Club. We no longer need to have specific English sessions for Polish parents but we do work very closely with them. I use TwocanTalk quite a bit in class with some of the new-to-English children, especially Polish and it has worked well. The other children enjoy hearing the Polish and learning a bit. We now use the EMAS tool more at Reception Office when new parents arrive and especially when I am not around.
Staff are also using the EMAS resources like the books and posters and Xmas cards and the language/country share info.
I have made books with the children in our new to English groups and they loved the activity. We have also used the EMAS tool to translate letters and texts and this has worked well after some initial problems. A case of getting used to it and using correct English in the sentences. Everyone new made the same mistakes, but we all learnt together.
Also colleagues in other schools have been impressed when I have shown them what it can do for our children.
I love that Maggie has been honest about the initial problems of using the technologies. To get the best out of it you have to use proper English. For example Where do you live? Or How are you? is not in context but, change it to What is your address? and How do you feel? You get better responses.
NB do not use text words like lol. We have had some teachers who were initially confused and some that said it didn’t work, but after contacting us were relieved when they realised it needed English sentences as they could not speak in text language either!
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