Learning to fit into a new class, in a new community, in a new town, in a new country, must be a very scary experience. Add learning a new language to the mix and the whole concept of ‘fitting in’ can turn into a living nightmare for many newly arrived children.
What can schools do to help pupils do more than just survive the school day?
A good place to start is by following the five simple strategies in our Blog: Teachers: 5 practical ways to welcome you newly arrived pupils.
Then you can think about how to communicate effectively with your new pupil.
1) Bilingual or multilingual?
First, find out what language or languages your pupils speak. It’s surprising how many of us don’t know what our students speak at home, or what their strongest or preferred language is. It’s important to find out.
2) Tracking down a translator
Armed with this knowledge, you can then ask, “Is there anyone available to translate?” You might be lucky and have access to bilingual support in school. Or your local authority may have some bilingual assistants you can use for a short period (while funds last to pay for them of course!).
Using other parents or community members to translate for a family is okay but think about what you are asking to be translated. Day to day routines and general school business is fine. However, choose your language support carefully. Sensitive issues around pupil behaviour or potential safeguarding need equally sensitive handling. People who share the same language or the same country of origin are not homogeneous. Coming from the same place as someone else does not make you an expert in that person’s life story or mean that you will be sympathetic to their plight.
3) Buddy up
This is true of Buddying which is a great system of choosing a child, or group of children, to support a new arrival. Sometimes pupils who share the same language get on like a house on fire; on other occasions they don’t – be aware of the dynamics between the buddies you chose and be prepared to make changes if squabbles develop between them.
4) Talking their language
Don’t be afraid if children naturally gravitate towards others who speak the same language. As a teacher you might worry that pupils who talk in their home languages are not going to learn English. Or are blatantly refusing to learn English. Even worse, they might be swearing behind your back or to your face and you’re none the wiser. Experience shows that children don’t generally do this and, if they do, teachers usually get the drift pretty quickly.
It’s only natural that children want to speak their home language. Let them. If you travelled abroad to, let’s say, Hungary but didn’t know more than a few rudimentary greetings in the language, who would you sit next to in a meeting? At a table with Hungarian speakers or beside a group of English speakers? Honestly. We’d all gravitate toward the language we know, just so that we could feel safe in an unknown environment.
Talking to English speakers would allow us to make sense of what was happening around us, especially if some of our colleagues also understood basic Hungarian. And who knows, after sitting and chatting to our fellow English-speakers, we might understand the content of the meeting better and pick up a few key words in Hungarian into the bargain.
5) Language Interventions
To start pupils off on the road to basic English, which they will pick up gradually as they move through your class, you can always give them a boost with an intervention like our Guided Language Activities. Although children will learn individual words and phrases that they hear regularly, a more structured approach to language learning provides them with more than just language.
Working in a small group gives pupils confidence to speak in a safe space where the adult leading the session has more time to wait for them to respond. They can hear language being modelled more clearly than in a classroom with its background distractions and noise. The repetition of keywords and language structures helps pupils learn language rules that can then be applied to other areas of the curriculum. And the very visual nature of the programme keeps the content embedded in an understandable context, which is very important for EAL learners.
Including newly arrived pupils isn’t easy for the pupils themselves or their teachers. But staff who achieve this the best are the ones who not only care but are able to show that they do. Communication and empathy are key to helping new arrivals do more than just survive.