I have a new pupil who speaks Arabic but almost no English. What's the best way to integrate him into the class?

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Children in this position face many difficulties, of which language is only one. Find out the situation within his family. Some pupils have English-speaking parents, others may be the family interpreter and translator. If there is no formal language help, try to find a local Arabic speaker, maybe a relative of the boy, a student, or someone who has worked abroad.

In cities where multicultural communities and numerous mother tongues are common, the situation you describe is more familiar. Elsewhere, a single non-English speaking child is a novelty, so there is often little help available. Whatever the situation, it is always worth engaging fellow pupils.

Ask children to act as mentors and show him around, making sure they do not become overloaded and distracted from their own studies. Give them advice about being patient, using signs, gestures and drawings and trying to imagine what it is like to be a stranger. Encourage them to teach the child everyday words and phrases and explain how to do this.

It can be fun to ask the Arabic speaker to teach the class some words from his language. If he is old enough he can write words on the board. This gives him better status than if he is regarded merely as the unknowing child.

Don't ignore cultural issues. Some children may believe all Arabic speakers are terrorists and be hostile initially. Explain the remarkable contribution of Arabic culture to mathematics, science and beliefs, and relate it to children's study of the Middle East.

You say

Be patient

I was in the same situation when I started learning English, but here I am doing a PGCE. It is important not to exclude him. You always have to be welcoming. Do not get mad; and avoid making him feel he is a loser because he cannot understand. It is not his fault. It takes time but gradually he will be able to understand more.

Maybe introduce a few activities in the class which he knows and enjoys. It is important to find out more about him, such as what he is good at, to gain his confidence.

Maki Akiya, Greenwich

Give him a buddy

Try to partner him with someone in the class, ideally of the same sex, who is well behaved, outgoing and good at their work. The friend can then explain class routines, reinforce what the teacher says if it is too quickly spoken or inaudible, and be an automatic choice for pair or group work.

It is great if this friendship is carried on outside school and the new pupil becomes more involved in the wider community.

After-school clubs and youth clubs will extend their language practice.

This can be advantageous if the pupil is good at football or computers, as they are popular, and language is less vital.

Emphasising his differences by focusing on his country, food, or religion in class topics could make him feel uncomfortable and might be better left until he is better integrated.

Joanne Glasgow, Belfast

Encourage respect

Ask him to teach you all a few Arabic words such as simple greetings. This shows respect for his language and makes everyone aware how formidable a task learning a new language can be.

If you have a classroom support assistant and the chance for some one-to-one work, use it to help him get to grips with basic vocabulary.

This will increase his confidence.

Remind the rest of the children to speak to him slowly and clearly at first. Apart from this, encourage them to treat him as they would any other class member.

Discuss with the children ways of making sure a new arrival is welcomed and supported, as well as talking about the many benefits of having people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures in your school. You will probably be pleased and surprised, as I often have been, at the speed with which your new class member settles in and acquires English.

Stella Baker, Leeds

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