Blog entry by Astrid Dinneen
Written by Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea, this is the second instalment in a series of blog posts focussing on the experience of parents of pupils with EAL. Read Chapter 1 before enjoying this new post.
I needed a strategy. And a pretty good one, too. I needed to make my daughter Alice’s life in the UK enjoyable, cure her homesickness and support her learning. Any of these tasks on their own would have been hard enough, but all together I was not sure I could make it. So, I rolled up my sleeves and started working on our new environment.
An enjoyable life in the UK
The first thing I had to do was to make Alice comfortable
in her new house. So, we made a lovely and cosy room for her, with some of her
toys from Italy, many books in Italian and some in English (now we have loads of
both and we do not know where to put them…). Since she was in the “pink
period”, we chose some of the furniture accordingly, and some decorations as
well. We showed her where everything was in the house, so she could quite
independently have access to what she needed. We taught her how Sky worked, so
she could watch TV whenever she wanted. At the beginning, we allowed her to
watch much more TV than we normally would, but we believed that TV would offer
a good model of English, so she had free access to it for quite a while. In the
first days, she would just watch “Tom & Jerry” or the Warner Bros. cartoons,
as she could follow the story even if she did not speak a word of English. Then
she gradually moved to other programmes without our suggestion, and soon
started to watch feature films, even if with a bit of a struggle.
Then we moved to explore the surrounding area. We went to the adventurous discovery of the neighbourhood and then of our small town. We took her to the playgrounds and to the cinema, to the local museum for a play day on dinosaurs, shopping for her school uniform and for food, encouraging her to try new flavours. We took her for a full English breakfast and to eat out. In general, unless it was raining cats and dogs, we took her out every week-end, even if it was just for a walk into town. But the best thing we did was to enrol her to the dance school at the local leisure centre. Since she was very little, she had asked me to go to a dance school, so now she was in for a treat. It turned out to be a great decision because Alice had the chance to meet with other children and make different friends from the ones she had at school. Also, since she had already practised sports in Italy, she knew she had to imitate the teacher, so she could join in quite easily. Her dance teachers were lovely and this helped a lot. She still dances three times a week with the same eagerness of the first days.
To overcome homesickness was definitely a harder task. Alice missed her grandparents, her friends, her teachers, and the entire little universe she was used to live in. We tried to recreate the life she had in Italy: we did not change habits, but stuck to the usual routines. Doing everyday exactly the same things that she was used to in Italy made Alice feel safe and secure. She knew what was coming next, and these little certainties helped her find her way through the bigger changes our lives were going through.
The other thing that was very helpful was that I did not work at that time. We had decided, with my husband, that I would have not looked for a job until September 2015, because I wanted to make sure that Alice had settled in nicely and everything was going well. My husband had moved to the UK in 2013, so Alice and I had been on our own for quite a long time. At that time, I used to work from Monday to Friday from 4.30 to 8 pm. This meant that Alice had to stay with the grandparents, who would alternate in the babysitting during the week. She was looking forward to an intense one-to-one time with mummy, which was served to her on a silver tray when we moved to the UK. She really made the most of it: she would ask for girls’ night in, to go to the cinema, to go shopping. Basically, she really enjoyed being part of a team of two. Yahoo!!
Technology also played an essential role in defeating homesickness. Daily video-calls with the grandparents made distances smaller, and Alice would happily take the tablet to her room and talk to them about her day or play games with them on Skype. We often spoke to our closest friends via Skype, so the children also kept in touch. This also created great excitement the first times we went back to Italy, because they would not feel like strangers when they met after a long period.
So far so good, but now how was I going to help her with her learning since I am an EAL person myself? And with a strong Italian accent too (they say)? Find out in the next chapter of my Diary of an EAL Mum! In the meantime, why not browse the 'For Parents' tab on the Hampshire EMTAS website?