Bridging the language gap

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
The informal language of children at any school can be barely understandable to those over a certain age, but Glendale Primary's playground patois is a particularly rich strain.

About 60 per cent of pupils at the south Glasgow school speak a second language, and some arrive with very little English. They tend to pick it up quickly, thanks largely to interaction with peers, but this is not a one-way process: pupils whose first language is English are fascinated by the exotic sounds coming from their friends' mouths, and assimilate foreign lang-uage words into their daily speech.

Language is little impediment to children, according to Elizabeth Laird, head. "There are no barriers," she said. "They just show each other what they want to do, so that, actually, language is no barrier to friendship."

Despite the pupils' social adroitness, account has to be taken of the fact that the bulk of the 251 pupils are of Pakistani origin and speak Urdu or Punjabi, with languages such as Swahili and Slovak also represented. A bilingual teacher, Balquees ul-Hassan, takes language workshops with children new to the school, and works across all age groups.

The school is careful, however, that sessions with Mrs Hassan do not keep pupils away from their friends. "We don't want to restrict the time they spend with their peers, because sometimes that's how they learn best," said Mrs Laird.

Equally, pupils are not discouraged from using their native tongue where insistence on English could restrict learning, while assemblies can be presented in two or more languages.

Primary 7 pupils, meanwhile, have translated nursery rhymes for local libaries, and new children can have two "buddies": one who speaks their language and one who speaks English.

Jean Campbell, Glendale's former head who addressed this week's English as an Additional Language conference in Glasgow, said: "Strengthening of the first language strengthens the position of the second language, and (the children) become truly bilingual."

The school is also keen to involve parents in language learning and provides advice on how children can be helped at home. "The ethos of the school is that everyone does everything together," said Mrs Laird.

A 2005 HMIE report stated that P7 pupils had developed "a commendable understanding of racism", and the school was instrumental in developing an anti-racism curriculum pack for Glasgow primary schools.

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