Spanish, but she can do Welsh

12th May 2006 at 01:00
You cannot ignore Gina. She has a big personality. She is loud and expansive. She is also Spanish.

It has been remarkable to see how quickly she has picked up the language.

Three years ago, she could barely communicate. Now she cannot shut up. Her fluency is remarkable and her grasp of colloquial English is tremendously impressive. She is a proper Welsh girl. Which means that she is frequently in trouble, usually for something she has said.

Gina absorbed the language by repeating the words she heard around her without always understanding their full weight. Or so she claims. And there were always going to be issues when those words she first mastered are regarded as inappropriate in polite company, though not of course in the company she keeps.

When she arrived Gina quickly gravitated towards her own kind. She began as a follower, soaking up the words and the environment. Soon she was a leader, just as she had been back home. She sounds like a Mediterranean summer. Her gestures, her elegance, her Latin temperament bring bright sunlight into our damp grey world.

Her parents are keen for her to succeed in school and are undeniably proud of the standard of her English. In fact, she is the filter through which they have learned much of their own.

This is not altogether helpful. It is not normal to hear a parent describe a member of the teaching staff as a "minger". But we have to make allowances.

However, she does try your patience and last week the head lost his. There had been a series of problems - smoking (again), sick after a night on the town (again).

Gina was no longer accepting school as a proper place. It had become merely a place to meet her friends. She came to school once more with no books, pen or bag. So the head sent her home.

"Don't come back Gina until you have got a bag!"

The head's exasperation had an effect. Gina went straight to town and returned to school in the afternoon. She arrived at my office.

"I go to town. I havva bagga now. Ver' nice, yes?"

Gina did a twirl, showing me a shiny handbag hanging from her shoulder.

"Gucci. Fromma da market. An da shoes. You likka da shoes?"

She hitched up her trousers and stuck out her leg.

"They match. Ver' cheap. You like?"

Ian Roe is a teacher in north Wales

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