My Week: Talking turkey when not chasing chickens: Mary Cousins tries to scale the language barrier with a house full of students who don't speak English

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The Independent Online
MONDAY: My Nepalese teenager turns up wearing a stars and stripes cotton square tied around his head, giving him the appearance of a crack dealer. We are in the main college's special support unit for English and maths. He has missed his GCSEs through being returned to Nepal at the age of 15 because of some unspecified 'naughty behaviour'.

At lunchtime, I return to my usual part of the college, a Victorian house used for teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. There is a group of people waiting for me. Hussein is trying to tell me something about 'house' and 'water'. A visitor attempts to interpret into Arabic, which is not Hussein's language. But he scores some success: 'He has a man coming to look at the bomb in the water tank.'

TUESDAY: I see three people chasing a cockerel around our back yard. When questioned, they look shifty and claim to be 'rescuing' him. I send them packing and am left with a poultry problem. The students call him Murgha.

WEDNESDAY: At lunchtime, staff say there are mutterings about another Eid holiday. We would like all world religions to co-ordinate their observances so that we could avoid ending Ramadan with two Eids, celebrating two Easters (Coptic and Western) and, similarly, two Christmases.

THURSDAY: Group 1 - two hours of non-stop pantomime with the absolute beginners. I ham it up to get points across. They are a 5wonderful audience. We have to remind ourselves that the two new Somali students are making progress. Like many of our beginners, they have had no education and are not literate in their own language. The concept of pen and paper, chalk and talk is fairly alien to nomadic farmers who followed the sheep and camels. Back in the computer class, I find Omar has wiped another student's file off. The 'student' is a teacher sitting in on the class. The file was next week's test. A Freudian slip?

FRIDAY: Video with Group 2. They are keeping track of characters and completing worksheets. Arguments rage, two Arabic speakers are yelling at each other in English. At breaktime, I fear the row has continued, but no, they have reverted to Arabic and are now at their usual conversational decibel level.

At lunchtime, three funeral directors from next door, a Somali student and myself attempt to catch Murgha, who hops over walls and on to the bikeshed before being rugby tackled by one of the funeral men.

After lunch, Omar, who is fee paying, broaches the subject of money. Can he pay on a daily basis? Absolutely not. Like a lamb, he produces large amounts of cash and pays up in advance. This is the first time I've won in any kind of haggling. 'I'm only here for the speak,' he says. It should be our motto.

I drive home with Murgha sulking in the boot of the car. A kind neighbour agrees to take him, but Murgha zooms out and hides under the tractor. When finally caught, he is put in an unused hen house to cool off.

SATURDAY: Ride past Murgha's new home. He is standing on a pallet, a bantam is on the gate opposite, and they are engaged in a crowing competition.

SUNDAY: Bryn is distraught. He has mowed down and killed a hen pheasant. We put her single chick in a shoebox with some bedding and Murgha's corn.

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