One school, many languages: Making languages matter

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One school, many languages: Making languages matter

Author: Iva Miteva, EAL specialist

你好 Привіт  Merhaba Здравей  Buna ziua ہیلو Cześć

How often do you hear these in the school playground? And actually, not just in the playground… Do you know which language they are from? Have a guess!

(Here is the answer: Mandarin, Ukrainian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Urdu, Polish)

When you walk around your school, I bet you can hear words and phrases in different languages whispered or spoken out loud in the corridors, the lunch hall, and lessons too (if you listen really carefully!).

In a school where I worked as Head of EAL (English as an Additional Language), we were proud to have about 20 languages spoken amongst our pupils. 

However, our challenge was how to showcase this huge language diversity and to communicate that our pupils’ heritage is valued.

We cared deeply about the wellbeing and happiness of everyone in the school, especially our new arrivals who spoke little or no English. We wanted to make everyone feel safe and welcome, so we took a new whole-school approach towards home languages.

The initiative ‘Language of the Term’ was implemented and championed by the EAL department. Little did we know that our small project was to become so huge and successful; at the time we simply wanted to make languages matter and to celebrate them.

The chosen language of the term was kept an absolute secret from everyone until the very day of the dedicated assembly at the beginning of each term. I actually had all languages written on notes, put in a box and I would choose one randomly the week before the assembly for the upcoming term.

And, so the preparations would begin! 

Everyone would ask me questions – “What is it? Have you chosen it? Can you tell us?”

The build-up and anticipation for the assembly was unreal and half the fun. But I would not give in!

In the assembly, clues were gradually revealed with interesting facts about the language and the country until someone would shout their guess. 

I cannot even begin to describe the surprise, happiness and pride those native speaking pupils felt at that moment, when the ‘Language of the Term’ was announced (as they did not know either). Their faces just lit up. We would give them badges to wear for the whole term which could be created and designed online. Ours said ‘I speak the Language of the Term’.

Those pupils enjoyed recording videos with words and phrases to teach us all; we made displays and posters and the whole school was buzzing. Parents also got involved with themed lunches and sharing traditional recipes with the lunch ladies (who were excited and happy to cook them!).

However, the most important thing was that teachers were stimulated with ways to intertwine the language of the term within their lessons at their own pace. Some started by merely highlighting it, others took the extra step to celebrate it, and the bravest teachers threw themselves wholeheartedly into the project, thinking of creative ways to start using pupils’ home languages in their lessons. 

We found Learning Village to be a great way to create our own flashcards and scaffolded worksheets, which were ready to print. Teachers could include translations to encourage the use of home languages, so this was easy and enjoyable to do within class.

‘Language of the Term’ was an innovative way for our school to integrate home languages. It was a huge success for us, and proved to be a great whole-school approach to valuing pupils’ home languages. Try it…it is so rewarding!

Across Cultures

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