Should schools teach EAL children their home language?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while, after reading a comment on social media some weeks ago, claiming that the lack of attention to home languages in schools is degrading to that language. Could or should schools take more responsibility for teaching a child the language of their family? In my opinion there are arguments for and against.

The most obvious reasons against is that a child who has arrived in England and started school with no English needs help to learn English for both social and academic purposes. Without additional help with English, they are likely to fall behind their peers in the other subjects because they are unable to access them. And this additional help inevitably means they miss out on some of the other timetabled activities. If they were to have lessons in their home language on top of this, it would mean missing out on even more of the other timetabled lessons. This would probably lead to their English suffering because they weren’t practicing it in the classroom as often. Factor in the cost of finding teachers for all of the different home languages of pupils in a school, and it’s quite easy to see why schools feel that their responsibility ends with teaching the children English. After all, if their families want them to continue learning their home language, that’s up to them to sort it out, right?

On the other hand, if children are spending Monday to Friday in school and then all day Saturday having language lessons, they’re going to get tired very quickly. It’s already exhausting for them having to concentrate so hard because teaching is not taking place in their first language, and then at the weekends instead of having time to switch off, they are spending several more hours in a classroom. I have seen children struggling to stay awake because of the extra mental effort they are using. There is a definite advantage to bilingualism, and if they were given lessons in their home language during the school day, they could take full advantage of that later in life, and still only have to learn for the same number of hours as other children their age.

There is also the self-esteem issue to take into consideration. If they are not as good at English as their classmates, and are struggling to keep up in the other subjects because of the language, it could give their self-esteem a boost to spend some time during the school day doing something they are better at than their classmates.

Another thing the comment I saw bemoaned was the fact that EAL children rarely get to achieve qualifications in their home language. This is another tricky area. Of course it would be lovely if all children who could speak another language could get a qualification in it. Many schools already do their best to do this, and I often see pleas from other language teachers asking for speakers of various languages to assist with oral exams. However, there is a cost to exam boards to produce exams, and at a time when languages in general are in decline, there is little incentive for them to write and mark exams in minority languages.

What’s the solution? I’m sure I don’t know! One possibility for the qualifications would be for each country to take responsibility for its own language. So for example, English children living abroad would take an English GCSE, provided and marked by this country; Polish people living in England would take the equivalent qualification in Polish that their classmates would be sitting in Poland. It would need lots of agreements between the governments of the different countries, but in theory it should be possible. As for who should take responsibility for the teaching and, when and how they should be taught… Maybe somebody else could come up with a plan!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Endangered Languages

Update: Since publishing this post I have come across this one about the pros and cons of weekend language schools that seems to tie in well with what I have written.

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Summer Solstice

In the Northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is the name given to the longest day of the year – i.e. the day when the sun appears highest in the sky and there is more sunlight than on any other day (16 hours and 38 minutes in the UK this year).  It falls on 21st June, but celebrations relating to the solstice are held on the day itself and the days either side, depending on local traditions.

Celebrations to mark the solstice date back to ancient times, when the sun was revered as a deity in many cultures, and its movements were the subject of great interest and had many legends and stories attached to them.  The name “solstice” comes from the Latin words for sun and standing still, as it is the day the sun can be seen to reverse its course in the sky.  These days, when we think of the summer solstice we tend to think primarily of the pagan festivities that take place, as these can still be found in modern society.  As was also the case in the distant past, they are most prevalent in Scandinavian countries, where people actually experience a full 24 hours of sunlight at this time of year.  In the UK, the summer solstice is marked by a 4-day festival at Stonehenge, our most famous Neolithic site, where the alignment of the stones highlights the sunrise on midsummer day.  In past times, the most widespread practice was to light bonfires to symbolise the triumph of the sun over darkness.  Because it was seen as a time of warmth and light, when crops are in their main growing season, there were also fertility rituals at this time and it was considered an auspicious time for marriages.

Litha is the name that the Anglo Saxons gave to this much earlier festival, and that is the name by which most modern-day Pagans and Wiccans refer to the celebrations.  As well as watching the sunrise, it is a day for reflecting on “dark” and “light” aspects of your own life, looking ahead and planning for the harvest time and winter on the horizon, and also for spending time enjoying the sunshine in the outdoors with family, culminating with communal meals cooked outdoors and the lighting of traditional fires, accompanied by singing, drama and storytelling.  Generally speaking, it is one of the most light-hearted and festive of the major dates on the calendar.

As with many earlier traditions, the medieval Christian church co-opted existing festivals as days of religious observance.  In the case of the summer solstice, the midsummer celebrations became the feast days of St John the Baptist (24th June), with the bonfires lit to ward off evil spirits being a direct adoption of existing practices.

No matter what your religious beliefs, the summer solstice symbolises the arrival of summer (not that this is always apparent in the UK!).  As such, it heralds the time of year when we tend to spend more time outdoors – perhaps enjoying the sunshine on picnics or walks, or just experiencing the natural world – and when we take most of our family holidays.  And it’s interesting to think that if you are in the garden enjoying a barbecue or sitting around your fire pit with friends and family in the next few days, you will be doing the same as people the world over have been doing at this time of year for millennia.

Thank you again to my lovely husband, Ian Braisby (Blue Badge Guide), for writing this piece for me.

Related posts: Autumn Equinox, Yule

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F is for Frisian

Frisian is a minority language, with only around ½ million speakers, but I have chosen to include it in this A-Z because it is notable for being the language most closely related to English. English evolved from Old-Frisian, which was spoken by settlers living all along the East coast of England.

It is currently spoken in parts of the Netherlands and parts of Germany. There are three dialects forming Frisian: West Frisian, North Frisian and East Frisian. West Frisian has joint official status with Dutch in the Netherlands. North and East Frisian, on the other hand are not official languages, although they do have protected status in Germany.

If you fancy learning a little Frisian, you’ll find a course on FutureLearn.

Related posts: E is for English      G is for German

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Teach Like You Mean It!

I often see Facebook posts from trainee teachers and NQTs asking how to make particular subjects “exciting”, or looking for a hook to draw them in.

While I agree it’s important that children enjoy learning, I also think it’s important to remember that being exciting is not necessarily the same as being engaging. As the teacher in the classroom, we are the main ingredient in engaging the children and we are more than just the sum of the activities we choose.

I always remember one particular lesson I taught as a trainee teacher. It was Y9 French, and the topic was boring. I racked my brains trying to think of a way to spice it up, to make it more exciting. I couldn’t come up with anything and nor could my mentor. This was before Facebook was as big as it is now, so I couldn’t ask around in any of the teaching groups to get advice from hundreds of teachers around the country. I knew I was doomed. If I thought this topic was boring, there was no way I was going to convince 30 Year 9s otherwise and I was dreading the lesson. The closer it got, the more I was dreading it.

Eventually the time of the lesson arrived. With a sinking feeling in my heart I walked to the door to greet my class. Plastering a smile on my face, I uttered my first words: “Come in. Settle down quickly. I can’t wait to get started – I’ve been looking forward to today’s lesson all week.”

The change in the class was immediately visible. They picked up their heads, slumped shoulders perked up and they sat ready to listen to see what was going to be so good about this lesson. It actually turned into one of the best lessons I taught during my training year. The pupils were engaged. They worked hard and asked pertinent questions. They learnt something new and because they were so willing to commit to the learning process, we also cleared up a couple of misconceptions they already had. My mentor was delighted and I got a really good grading for that lesson. It was then I realised that it was my attitude that made all the difference.

Many years later I was given the topic of electricity to teach in science to year four. It was a topic I’d never taught before, and it was one I’d never really enjoyed learning about at school, so I really wasn’t looking forward to it. So I did what I always do in such situations. I smiled brightly and told them how much fun we were going to have learning about electricity. This became one of my (and their) favourite subjects that year. The children worked so hard and enjoyed it so much that we finished everything on the curriculum ahead of time. We were then able to explore other areas which they chose themselves: how electricity is generated and how it travels from the power station to people’s homes, how a battery works, how the ISS gets its power, and even how a Faraday cage works.

I didn’t have a snazzy title for the topic. I didn’t have a great “hook”. I didn’t even have lots of expensive and exciting resources. What I did have was the ability to fake it until it became true. My advice now to NQTs and trainee teachers is, “Don’t stress about hooks and titles and worrying about whether or not they will find it exciting. Instead, just tell them how much fun it’s going to be – and then teach like you really mean it!

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Square root in 3 seconds – math trick – YouTube

As  a maths tutor, I’m always on the look out for little tricks to help people solve calculations more quickly. I like this video on how to find the square root of a number in your head.

Square root in 3 seconds – math trick – YouTube.

Related posts: multiplying 2 digit numbers by 11     finding the square of numbers ending in 5     finding the square of 2 digit numbers

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E is for English

I couldn’t write an A to Z of languages without including my own mother tongue. It’s an unusual language in so many ways, with its quirky spelling and rich vocabulary, and I love it.

After Mandarin and Spanish it is the next most common spoken language in the world, with about 360 million native speakers, and it is the most common second language in the world. There are English speakers on every continent.

One of the most unusual things about English is that its beginnings can be dated fairly accurately. It has evolved from Proto-Germanic via Old Frisian, which was spoken by settlers who came over in the 5th century. The language was further influenced by Old Norse, when invaders arrived in the 9th and 10th centuries, and by Norman French from 1066. And of course it has been influenced by the Celtic languages spoken before any of the overseas visitors arrived.

Over the years, English has lost the case endings that German is known for, along with the different verb endings that characterise most other European languages – just the ‘s’on the he/she forms of the verb are left as a reminder.

One of the things that English is most noted for, is its unphonetic spelling. The seemingly spellings are due to the fact that the language was committed to print before the pronunciation had finished evolving, so it’s now has a spelling that reflects how it used to be pronounced!

Related posts: D is for Dead Languages     F is for Frisian

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D is for Dead Languages

Dead languages are those which are no longer spoken. Some, such as Latin, are not strictly speaking dead – they have just evolved into other Romance languages. There was never a time when Latin stopped being spoken and Italian started; the language just slowly changed over time, much like ancient Greek becoming modern Greek. Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, has had a similar journey. It is maintained as the sacred language of Hindu worship, but just like Latin, it has evolved into other languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati.

Most languages that die, rather than evolve, do so when they are not passed on to the next generation for some reason. This is what happened to Gaulish and what is still happening too many languages around the world.

Probably the most famous of the dead languages is Egyptian, the language of ancient Egypt, with its distinctive hieroglyphic writing system. This language began its decline around 7 CE with the arrival of Arabic, following the Muslim conquest of Egypt.

Linguists now recognise the importance of keeping languages alive, and many languages at risk of extinction are given protected status. Languages such as Cornish have come perilously close to extinction but they have been revived and nurtured and now have a growing number of speakers.

Related posts: C is for Chinese      E is for English

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