Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Words of Comfort

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Words of Comfort

Article excerpt

"Do you need any help, Miss?" I was trying to write my name in Arabic and Ibrahim could see I was struggling. As he helped me form the unfamiliar letters, I could see how happy he looked. It's not often that Ibrahim gets to help anyone with reading or writing.

We don't normally spend our mental maths slot writing in Arabic but this was a special occasion. Today was the start of languages week: a celebration of the fact that more than 30 languages are spoken in our school, not including English.

With the aid of some fabulous websites (and some equally fabulous parents), we put together a packed programme. After just a few days we had learned how to count in Urdu, write our names in Arabic and sing in Turkish. We listened to stories in Mandarin, ordered food in French, researched the etymology of English words and even tried sign language.

The children's response was fantastic. We didn't quite take to the streets speaking in tongues but we did find out that number five in Urdu sounds the same in Persian, and two girls who speak Farsi and Dari were delighted to discover they could understand each other. Like British backpackers discovering Heinz baked beans in a far-flung food shop, children all around the room fizzed into happiness at the sound and sight of their home language.

EAL (English as an additional language) children are amazing. They spend five days a week speaking a tongue that is not their own. They are given instructions packed with vocabulary they do not understand. …

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