Tuesday, 11 March 2008


The Daily Mail reports on a primary school where children are learning 41 languages. Pupils at Newbury Park Primary are a little more ambitious than most. Children there learn key phrases in more than 40 languages - all spoken fluently by one or more pupils at the school. By the time they leave for secondary school, they boast far more than a mere smattering of French or Cantonese. They can say something in everything from Afrikaans to Hebrew, Japanese to Norwegian.

Teachers say Newbury Park's "language of the month" programme has also helped tackle the sense of alienation felt by newcomers to the school in Redbridge, East London. In little more than a decade, the proportion of pupils at the school who do not speak English at home has doubled to 80 per cent. The biggest ethnic group are Tamils who have fled the civil war in Sri Lanka.

"You have 250 Tamil children in the school. It is just polite to greet them in their own language and recognise their culture," said teacher Joe Debono, who runs the language scheme. "And it is a way of celebrating the ethnic diversity of the school and not seeing it as a problem."

Languages covered under the programme - and spoken by at least one pupil - include Spanish, Swahili and dialects originating in India and Africa. Some of the pupils already speak more than one language. Many came to Britain via other European countries including Norway, France and Germany, adding to the diversity of the "language of the month" list.

The school is even considering adding Latin to the list since it is thought by many experts to help children master any language.

Under the scheme, a child is selected every month to present lessons in their native tongue. Seven-year-old Aneeka Bhatturai, whose family is from Nepal, is the current "language teacher". Mr Debono researches the language with the pupil's parents and films the child speaking it. This can then be used in every class in the 850-pupil school, which accepts children aged from four to 11.

Classes start by greeting each other in that month's chosen language. With help from pupils, Mr Debono also draws up a list of a dozen or so useful phrases. "It's the sort of language that would be useful if you were holidaying in the place," he said. "It gives the children a lot of self-esteem and they are quite proud they've done it."

The classes are in addition to languages studied as part of the national curriculum.

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