`No child should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home represent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.’
This statement from the Bullock Report, A Language for Life, in 1975 seems to indicate a place for the mother tongue (whatever language this might be) in our schools. A closer look at what is actually happening reveals an amazingly complicated and diverse scene. There are children starting school who speak no English, and parents who speak no English with children who are rapidly forgetting their mother tongue. Provision for mother tongue teaching is varied and patchy. In urban areas (like London, Bradford and Coventry) with large minority populations some teaching happens in schools; elsewhere classes outside school hours are organised by local community and religious groups. In Bradford in 1975 there were self-help groups running classes in Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Polish, Ukrainian, Gujarati, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. There is difficulty everywhere in getting trained teachers; there is little or no money for such schemes and a shortage of good learning materials.
Bodley Head’s Dual-language Picture Books are an attempt by a major publisher to do something about this. The project started in Australia as a way to help Greek and Italian speaking ‘New Australians’ learn to speak English. Parent and child could enjoy the story together and each could help the other towards the new language. In this country so far four titles are available in Greek/English and Italian/English and the scheme has expanded to include two titles in Gujarati/English and Turkish/English.
We gave these books for testing to teachers of Greek and Gujarati who hold mother tongue classes out of school. For both these groups it is not so much a case of learning English as preserving a minority language. Both teachers commented on the excellence of the language and commended it for not being a literal translation from the English. ‘It is as if the story had been originally written in this language,’ said one.
The acute shortage of any material of this kind meant that the books were welcome, but there was some criticism of the layout of the two languages – sometimes one first, sometimes the other. This, as Bodley Head explained, depends entirely on the space available in the originals. It’s this factor also which limits the number of books suitable for dual-language texts. The choice of Peter’s Chair and The Snowy Day for Gujarati versions was the cause of some comment: children would not immediately identify with Peter, some parents might be put off because Peter is a Black American child. The appeal of the Chihiro Iwasaki illustrations for Momoko’s Birthday and Momoko and the Pretty Bird was definitely a plus factor for older children who were being obliged to learn Greek by determined parents. The Greek equivalent of ‘Janet and John’ with which they usually learn is pretty uninspiring.
None of the books so far available from Bodley Head are directly culturally relevant to the groups they are intended for. ‘If mother tongue is to survive, it must be translated into a British context. We can’t go on pretending our Asian kids live in an Indian village,’ said Mike Feeley, Coventry’s adviser for multi-cultural education (Times Educational Supplement, 2nd February).
A promising move in this direction may be coming from Methuen Educational. The Terraced House Books by Peter Heaslip with their urban, multi-cultural settings are a great breakthrough in early reading material. The most recent eight titles are small masterpieces both in the construction of the simple repetitive text and in the composition of Anne Griffiths’ coloured photographs. The illustrations are full of information, opportunities for extended talking, and varied backgrounds and experiences. So strong has been the response to these little books that Methuen have brought out a set of four posters from photographs in the series. Even more exciting is the news that they are considering doing sheets of translations – just text – which can be cut up and stuck above or below the original text. Do-it-yourself dual-language texts.
Unfortunately for school bookshops The Terraced House Books and the posters are non-net so you will have to ask your supplier what he will charge you for them. (If you’re puzzled by the terms ‘net’ arid ‘non-net’, watch out for an explanation from the expert who explained it to us, in Books for Keeps soon.)
Creating a genuinely multi-cultural society is not easy. It involves much more than everyone speaking English and being tolerant. If ethnic minorities are to preserve their cultures, they must also preserve their languages for it is in language that our cultures largely exist.
Bodley Head Dual-language Picture Books
The Rain Puddle, Adelaide Holl, £3.25
Greek/English, 0 370 30243 5; Italian/English, 0 370 30244 3
Momoko and the Pretty Bird, Chihiro Iwasaki, £2.95
Greek/English, 0 370 30113 7; Italian/English, 0 370 30112 9
Momoko’s Birthday, Chihiro Iwasaki. £2.95
Greek/English, 0 370 30114 5; Italian/English, 0 370 30117 X
Hi, Cat!, Ezra Jack Keats, £2.95
Greek/English, 0 370 301 15 3; Italian/English, 0 370 30116 1
Peter’s Chair, Ezra Jack Keats, £3.50
Gujarati/English, 0 370 30239 7; Turkish/ English, 0 370 30240 0
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats, £3.50
Gujarati/ English, 0 370 30241 9; Turkish/English, 0 370 30242 7
Methuen Educational Terraced House Books
Set A: Me; My Mum; My Dad; School, 0 423 50470 3
Set B: My Home; School Dinners; The Launderette; The Supermarket, 0 423 50480 0
Set C: Jobs; Birthdays; Our House; A Hole in the Road, 0 423 90070 6
Set D: My Aunty; The Clinic; The Market; Our New Baby, 0 423 90080 3
Each set £2.30 non-net
Terraced House Posters, set of four, 0 423 90170 2, £4.00 non-net
Another useful early reading dual-language text:
Raja and Shabnam Visit the Nursery School
In English/Gujarati/Hindi/ Urdu and English/Italian/ Punjabi/Bengali. Illustrated with children’s drawings and photographs. From Bedfordshire Education Service, English Language and Resources Centre, Acacia Road, Bedford MK42 OHU, at 45p.