How teachers can use linguistic diversity to everyone’s advantage
Workshops in St Mary’s Primary School - Reflecting on Language Explorers
By Soraya Sobrevía
I work in the education programmes team in Mother Tongues and we recently finished a successful series of Language Explorers workshops in a primary school in inner city Dublin. Language Explorers activities are designed to raise awareness of linguistic diversity in the classroom and in the community and to promote an interest in language learning.
One of my tasks after the school visits is to measure the impact our work has in schools for both teachers and students. This is a key element in any project since it is not only the content and the quality of a workshop that is important, but also the demonstrable contribution and added value it brings to the participants involved.
No report or feedback form will include some of the powerful scenes I witnessed
When we analyse the measurable impact of a workshop we look at things such as: from 0 to 10 how would you rate your level of confidence on this, that or the other. It is reasonably easy and accessible to conduct a survey pre and post visits to gather feedback from teachers and students that way.
However, today I am struggling with this task. I cannot make peace with the fact that the three weeks we were in St Mary’s Primary school were filled with lots of little meaningful moments that will not appear on any of the feedback forms provided to teachers and students. It does not seem right to me that an activity report will not include some of the powerful scenes I witnessed during our time in St Mary’s.
And so the list goes
- The look of admiration, awe and amazement of one of the black Irish students while working with the Language Explorers facilitator, who is also black. I wonder if it is the first time she has seen someone who looks like her in front of a classroom full of children having fun.
- How the students in some of the younger classes bombarded another Language Explorers facilitator with questions of why they had long hair, nail polish and a tattoo. The students may have never seen a visibly LGBTQI+ person as a teacher figure. There were giggles and lots of questions at a stream of consciousness speed! The facilitator was smiling at all the curious faces, while posing the question back to them: why do you think that may be? Just as they eventually managed to answer themselves by agreeing that some people just like having long hair, nail polish or tattoos. Simple as.
- The quiet little girl in first class who doesn’t understand or speak English very well yet but is full of chats and insights once she learns I also speak Spanish, her mother tongue. She thanks me effusively after each session for having sat down beside her and translated a bit of what was being said so she could contribute. I see the frustration in her body language when she tells me she wishes she could speak to the other children. She also tells me people say she will pick up English very quickly but that she still hasn’t. She is young enough not to be able to tell me how long she has been living in Ireland. She asks me if I will be back the following week.
And so the list goes.
Teachers are using cultural and linguistic diversity to everyone’s advantage
Over the past year, St Mary’s and other schools with which we have worked have shown me, not only how culturally and linguistically diverse some of our schools across the country are, but also how creatively teachers are using that to everyone’s advantage by not only acknowledging, but also making room in the classroom for all the languages spoken in the school. It was both humbling and refreshing to see how aware and supportive St Mary’s students are of each others’ home cultural and linguistic circumstances, mirroring teachers’ attitudes.
We must utilise the power of collaborations between culturally diverse schools and artists, scientists, not to forget about the parents!
Now, I will go back to the survey forms and data collection but with an even stronger sense that we must utilise the power of collaborations between culturally diverse schools and artists, scientists, not to forget about the parents since including their voices and experiences can only have a positive outcome for the whole school community. That‘s why Mother Tongues exists: to support parents and teachers in making the most of the linguistic and cultural diversity that is already present in our children’s lives.
Education Projects Coordinator and Language Advocate
Soraya is a linguist, she holds an Honours degree in English Philology by Universidad de Zaragoza, an MA in Translation Studies from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Certificate in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in University College Dublin. Soraya loves language, and the relationship between language and identity is a passionate subject that has guided much of what she has done in her professional life. She has previously worked in diversity and inclusion through grassroots advocacy, community outreach, and education. Soraya oversees the education programmes and family activities in Mother Tongues. She has two daughters who are being raised multilingually.