Blog entry by Astrid Dinneen
Written by Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea, this is the first instalment in a series of blog posts focussing on the experience of parents of pupils with EAL.
Many moons ago, when I was nearly 5, my dad decided to apply for a temporary position as plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, in East Grinstead, and was luckily appointed. So, we packed our entire house, the useful and useless (silver cutlery included because one could never ever think of dining without one's own silver fork!), loaded our blue Alfetta and embarked on the three day trip that would change our lives.
It was early 80s, and a very exciting time to be at Queen Victoria Hospital with many other people from all over the world: Australians, French, Israeli, Egyptians, Irish, Italians, just to name a few. And, obviously, some Brits as well! It was also very exciting for us children, all attending the same primary school.
This is the background of my personal experience as an EAL child. I will not say that it was easy at the very beginning - name it the first month. The sense of deep isolation for not having a child to talk to and who understood me was overwhelming and my mum, who did not speak a single word of English, had to do everything in her powers to keep me entertained.
Then I started going to school in Year 1 and it was a blessing. My mum felt relieved (and we all know that a happy mum has happy children) as I picked up the language very quickly and made many friends, making her juggling skills no longer needed.
Besides taking me out of my linguistic isolation, the school gave me much more: thanks to the empiric approach of the British scholastic system, I developed strong observational skills and a genuine curiosity towards what I was being taught, which have been my main features through all my years at school and university. It taught me to challenge what I was learning to prove it right. It helped me develop a very rational approach to everything and the ability to analyse. Should it not be clear enough, I am still very grateful to the system. Also, the environment was amazing: massive playground with forts and a field at the back which had no boundaries. My classroom was big enough to host 30 children, plus a play-pretend corner, a big carpet, loads of toys and walls covered with pictures and resources to support our learning.
Unfortunately, my EAL experience came abruptly to its end after just one year because my dad's contract expired and we repacked all our house plus some other souvenirs, loaded again our Alfetta and headed south. Back to Naples, Southern Italy. I could have never imagined, at the time, that my own daughter would follow my steps.
We packed our house, with all its useful and useless clutter, shipped it to the UK - how smart! - and moved in February 2015, my daughter being nearly 6 and halfway through Year 1. Strong from my personal experience, I moved quite light-heartedly. At the end of the day, how hard could it be?? This is when I learnt that every child is different, despite genetics. It also made me understand that I had always seen the whole issue of moving from a happy child's perspective, not from a sensible adult's one. I was not prepared. Not at all.
Fortunately, school started one week after we arrived, and with a school trip to the HMS Victory on day 1. What a great start! A. was very impressed and this put her in a good disposition towards her new school. As soon as her teacher introduced her to the class, a girl came and took her to line up. An unexpected act of kindness that changed one of my most dreaded days into a lovely and very informative school trip - did you know that when Admiral Nelson died he was put in a barrel of rum to be preserved for his funeral?
But the linguistic isolation struck her quite soon, so we had the before-going-to-school tantrum and the after-school one. The "I want to go back to Italy right now" desperate cry and the unintelligible sobs that showed all her frustration at not being able to function as well as she was used to in Italy.
But I was not prepared to give up. Nor to let her do so.
To be continued… Come back soon to read the next chapter of this unique parent diary, using the tags to help you.
Visit the Hampshire EMTAS website for information and guidance on how to help settle a newly arrived pupil into school.