Hello to everyone

27th January 2006 at 00:00
Carolyn O'Grady visits a primary school which takes advantage of having speakers of 40 languages among its pupils

This month is Mandarin Chinese month at Newbury Park Primary School in Ilford. Children throughout the school will be greeting their teacher with "Zao sh...ng hao" (Good morning) and answering the register in Chinese.

Their fruit for the day will be received with a "Xi Xi " (Thank you). In maths they will be reciting Chinese numbers. In geography they will look at China's place in the world.

The children are getting used to this diversity of languages and cultures: in September the language was Tamil, and before that they had practised Punjabi, Urdu and Albanian among others. Languages soon to come include Norwegian, Hindi, Thai and Roma.

Each of these languages is the first tongue of some of the children in a school where 40 languages are spoken, and the pupils are taking part in a scheme which integrates them naturally into school life. Called the language of the month scheme it recently won a European award for language.

Headteacher Colin Whitehead says: "About three years ago we had a review. An important strand was developing pupils' use of the English language, but we also wanted to show respect to the other languages they had and to encourage children to be more open to language learning generally. We wanted to go beyond the token gesture of having words in different languages dotted round the school."

The key element is a pack put together by Joe Debono, minority education support teacher, with pupils and parents who speak the target language. It goes to every teacher in the school and is now available through the school's website to schools everywhere. As well as placing posters, maps and words throughout the school, the scheme makes full use of ICT: teachers use whiteboards to introduce the words and are encouraged to search the web for information about the language and country. There are also hundreds of activities and pamphlets for children to take home to their parents, explaining the scheme and listing the month's words and phrases.

Joe says: "Everyone in the school took to it immediately. The biggest worry of teachers was getting the pronunciation wrong, but it's better to say a word wrong than say nothing at all. It's good for children to see that teachers are learners too."

To help with pronunciation, the pack included video and audio clips of a child and a parent saying the words and phrases in the target language.

Children who speak the language become experts in the class sharing their ability. Year 2 teacher Julia Diamond says: "It makes them proud. It mixes everyone socially, and creates a real have-a-go atmosphere."

Savithra (aged 10), a Sri Lankan Tamil speaker, says: "It makes me feel as though I can help people, including the teacher, who can't pronounce some of the words. My parents think it's a really good idea; they always read the language of the month leaflet and have a go at some of the words, whatever language it is."

Colin has detected a more general benefit: "It's developing children's listening skills. They are constantly listening to very unfamiliar sounds and over a time children are becoming much more able to tune into new sounds, whether in English or another language.

lTo download language of the month resources free go to: www.newburypark.redbridge.sch.uk

Lesson ideas

* Introduce only a few words at a time.

* Don't be afraid of being a learner yourself and getting it wrong.

* Use the children who speak the target language as teachers.

* Introduce the language into everyday situations - the register, number work.

* Be flexible - if an opportunity presents itself to introduce the language, even one word, use it.

* Use a whiteboard and then you can introduce words or phrases when it seems appropriate.

* Have a display area which is always devoted to language resources, so that when one lot comes down another can just go straight into that space.

Who said hello?

A child is chosen to sit on a chair with their back to the class.

The teacher points to another child who says "hello" or "good morning", for example Bonjour, Ahmed, in the target language to the child sitting on the chair.

The child on the chair then has to identify the one who spoke the greeting.

Find the doll

Display and rehearse the numbers 1 to 12 (1 to 6 for younger children). One child leaves the room and another child hides a small doll in the classroom.

The first child comes back and has to find the doll, while the class chants the number 1 to 12 in the target language. They get louder when the child is nearer the doll and quieter when he or she moves away. The game ends when the doll is found.

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