Sunday, April 3, 2011

Romani first, various second languages, English third

Romani is the language of the Roma people, the one they're born into, the one they speak at home and in their settlement. In school, starting from when they're four or five, they are taught Serbian (or the national language of where they are; if living in Germany, they learn German second). But not all of my students speak Serbian well or at all sometimes because they didn't pick it up in school, hardly any of my students go to school and some never did. Other times it's because their family has moved (normally been deported) around Europe so they never might know bits of other languages but Serbian isn't one of them. This is troublesome since there are a handful in each group who don't know Serbian so normally I'll ask another student to explain in Romani or we'll gesticulate until it appears the lesson understood.

However it's equally if not more fascinating when a new, non-Serbian speaking student comes because it means that he or she has just moved into the Nis settlement from some other country. In late February a 13-year old girl from Germany began coming to classes. She's a bit of a toady and often uses her German as a vehicle to score points. I have no idea what she's saying but the back of the throat, hard 'r' appears in her phrases so it sounds like German to me. Last week two brothers, age 7 and 8, came to class for the first time after being deported from Italy. They don't speak fluent Italian, but they were taught Italian in the one year of school they've had up to now and then their family was deported and they came to Serbia. I'm not sure how long it took, where they were in the meantime, if Nis is a final destination of if they're just passing through. I really wish there was a language we could communicate in to hear the answers to these and ask about the differences between the settlements or their treatment/integration into society and the new settlement, even something as simple as how the process of their deportation: how their family/settlement was found, removed, and where others went from the German/Italian settlements. Normally there aren't other teachers around during my classes, or any adults for that matter, but sometimes the guy who lives in the settlement and supervises the classroom stops by so next time he does I'll try to find out more about the students.

Last week when these two boys came into my class, initially I was trying to think of how I would catch them up on the last two and a half months and I didn't give myself any time to embrace the fact there was catching up needed to be done meaning that English learning had taken place! On a day-to-day basis it's difficult to notice the progress but this age group knows vocabulary for animals, shapes, weather, and colors, they can count up to 100 and write up to twenty, they can ask and answer questions about their name, age, city, mood, and the time. I understand they won't be fluent by the time I'm done with them but in reflecting on what they more or less know so far I'm quite proud of them!

No comments:

Post a Comment