Going through some recent in-school action plans, I learnt something rather remarkable. I was always aware that there was a percentage of the students who are not native English speakers, I just had no idea what that percentage was. Take my class for example, only 3 or 4 of the children (in a class of 30) are not classified as EAL (English as an Additional Language). No wonder that so many of the children are struggling with basic literacy classes.

English is not the easiest language to learn, or so I’ve been told. I am one of the lucky ones who grew up speaking it at home, so it came a little more intuitively to me. But then again, who can remember all the grammar rules and exceptions? For the majority of my class, their largest (and sometimes only) exposure to the language happens at school and many go home and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening speaking Portuguese/ Spanish/ something other than English.

I guess part of the reason this discovery was so unsettling is because when I looked at moving to the UK, being able to speak the same language as everybody else was never on my list of things to worry about. And yet, here I am in a class of children who don’t really speak English.

The next problem, another one I didn’t see coming, is that some communication relies on more than just speaking the same language. There are some words that I use, and some words that the Brits use, and those words are not necessarily the same. This makes things interesting to say the least. There have been several times when I’ve issued an instruction; “Stop throwing the eraser” or “Please pick up that yellow vest”, and I’ve just been met with blank stares. Similarly, sometimes the children ask me something (“When’s the next Mufty day?” and I have absolutely no idea what they are saying. It turns out moving to a country where they speak the same language as you (on paper) isn’t that easy, you need to manoeuvre your way through the word barriers as well.

In case you are interested, here is a short example of some words/ meanings that have led to blank stares.

Me British People
Cell phone Mobile
Civvie’s Day Mufty Day
Cheers (meaning goodbye or as a toast) Cheers (meaning thank you)
Eraser Rubber
Jersey Jumper/Cardigan
Koki Crayola/Felt tip
Prestik Blu-Tack
SMS Text
Yellow Vest (the ones car guards wear) Jacket



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