Starting School

“I cried every morning because I didn’t want to do to school”: How it feels to start school when you don’t share the same language and you can’t communicate…

Starting a new school is often nerve-wrecking for most children. Sometimes feelings of nervousness are paired with feelings of excitement. But imagine how it would feel to start a new school without be able to communicate with anyone else. One might imagine that those feelings of nervousness would be compounded ten-fold. At least if you speak the local language you can ask where the toilet is, or how to get to your next class. Children who start school without sharing the language don’t have this comfort.

In a previous project about child language brokering in school one young man (then 15 years old) told us:

First day of school my mum said ‘I’ll call your aunt, she’s coming to take you to school’, I said ‘no, I’m going to school by myself. I have to do it myself or I can’t do it, if someone wants to always be with me then I can never do it myself in this country’, so from first day I started school I went by myself, yeah. And when I was going to school my body was like shaking, I think what is going to be here, first day, everything, everything they ask me I was hello, I’m all right, how are you, yeah, that was everything I know, yeah” (see here for more details of that study).

In this project we have been getting to know some young people from different schools who are taking part in our study. We have been finding out how they felt starting a new school and without being able to communicate. This has been a great opportunity for us to be able to get to know each other and find a comfortable space to talk about languages. We asked them, in groups, to write down key words for how they felt when they couldn’t share a language and how they might help another pupil who felt the same. While some did express some of the positive feelings such being ‘excited’ and ‘happy’ this word cloud, gathered from the key words on their charts, describes this daunting time. As one groups wrote:

“I felt so sad because I didn’t speak English. I didn’t have any friends, I cried every morning because I didn’t want to do to school and people were rude to me” 

starting 1

Ostarting 2n the other hand, the depth of understanding and empathy for other pupils amazed us. They have developed an instinctive attention to the role of embodiment, through the use of gestures and a smile, that can help. They are deeply aware that spoken word is not the only form of communication.

However, this level of understanding can only come about by explicitly talking about the social and emotional well-being of news pupils and the vital role that other, experienced pupils, can play in helping new arrivals to settle in.

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