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Bilingual pupils

I went to see a performance recently of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London. (So what? I hear you ask.) Well, this production was performed by Indian and Sri Lankan performers using a medley of languages: Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Sinhalese and English.

I am a monolingual ethnic minority achievement (EMA) assistant at an inner-London primary and am studying to become a teacher. The production showed just how vital some of the recommended teaching strategies for effective teaching in a bilingual classroom actually are.

First, knowing the story in your first language gives you a huge advantage.

Second, the production was exciting and visual, which held my attention when the dialogue left me high and dry. If it had been a radio play I would have turned off almost immediately. It emphasised the need for as many visuals as possible and stories in many languages in the bilingual classroom.

I realised how tired I felt afterwards. I had to concentrate hard to follow the story, and this led me to empathise with my bilingual pupils. For them, it is even harder: their concentration span is small, their English not very secure and most lessons are not as exciting as a live show, so these pupils often work harder than their peers to achieve less, leaving them feeling fed up and demoralised.

If you work with pupils who are learning two languages, I strongly urge you to watch a theatre production or film in a different language.

Sarah Maloney London

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