Window on the world

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Dealing with 14 different tongues is a challenge, but it can be an enriching experience for everyone, says Sudhana Moodley.


It's Monday morning, you have a new child who speaks Cantonese and after giving him your warmest smile, you wonder: is language going to be his biggest barrier to learning? Well, perhaps not.

At Foxborough Primary School in Langley, Berkshire, at least 14 languages are spoken. In a typical class you will encounter mother tongues that range from Punjabi to Polish. So how do we cope with that? Our first aim is to get the whole school involved - pupils, parents, staff, governors - and to build a community.

To remove barriers and bring parents to school, bi-annual reviews are held for every pupil with English as an additional language (EAL). These meetings provide an opportunity for parents and staff to meet and to discuss how to draw upon the culture of the child and how best to assimilate him or her into the learning culture of a British school.

This community building serves another vital purpose - it contributes to making the curriculum richer. When the school celebrated Black Ethnic Minority Month, a Polish parent baked cakes, while a governor and a learning support assistant ran a cookery class and showed pupils how to make plantain chips.

During our Refugee Week, a local doctor and singer taught children a Ugandan tribal dance and described how her royal ancestry compelled her to flee her country with nothing more than the clothes on her back, her language and her aspirations.

In key stage 1, circle time enables children to work at their own language level, using scripts and talk partners to develop speaking and listening skills.

Two specialist learning support assistants provide assistance to EAL pupils. This can range from showing them how to use a dual language dictionary confidently, to coaching their peers on greeting them in their language, to annotating the teacher's planning to personalise learning.

Translators may be provided for the school by the local authority if the language is not generally representative of the local community, as is the case with our school and its Cantonese-speaking pupils.

Sudhana Moodley teaches at Foxborough Primary School in Berkshire.

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