Developing 'Young Interpreters'

Our school population has become increasingly diverse and exciting over the last few years with children arriving from many different countries and from many different cultures and as the author Jacqueline Woodson says, “Diversity is about all of us, and about having us having to figure out how to walk through this world together”

We currently categorise our children from other countries and with other languages in three ways as international new arrivals (INA), English as an additional language (EAL) where they have been exposed to the English language in their home country and as completely new to English (N2E) never heard it or seen it and never have been in a school/education setting. Each of these groups also has their own unique needs in addition to those created by the language barrier.

The staff and children in the school have had to learn to be adept at meeting this newer, wider variety of need and ‘walking through it together’.

We have had to develop and introduce new assessment procedures so we can institute the right level of support and intervention for each child at a personal level. Within two weeks of arrival in school a child will have been put through a suite of assessments including phonics checks, writing, reading and maths. These will determine the pathway for the child through our school system. They will have been placed in supportive groups, immersed in the English language, supported through the school ‘system’ of experiencing playtime and the dining hall, been attached to a ‘friendship’ group and most recently supported by a young interpreter.

In our early days of supporting children with language barriers we would rely heavily on technology and things like google translator (which we still do). We would also often and wherever possible ‘buy in’ support from an adult (where we could find one) who spoke the child’s home language. However, with the increasing pressures on budgets and also a growing understanding of the challenges of non-native speakers and the wider collection of nationalities moving into the school we realised that this may not be the best solution. And therefore started to research alternatives.

As a school we had also been outward facing and seekers of support and research and development. We attended a conference in Sheffield about their approach to EAL, we attended an EAL conference in Middlesbrough and became involved in groups such as Making Middlesbrough a reading town which had an EAL element to it due to the increasing need in the town.

Around this time we also became aware of a scheme called the Young Interpreters Scheme developed and run by Hampshire County Council. This involves training children to act as mentors for their peers who are learning English as an additional language.

Details of the scheme can be found here:

The scheme recognises that pupils at any age within the school community can support other learners to feel settled, safe and valued. The interpreters undergo specific training for their role. The support they offer is invaluable and in our school they have often assisted communication with parents as well as with children, offering reassurance for everyone.

Whilst we have bought into the scheme from Hampshire LA delivered via Moodle which is an exclusive and interactive virtual platform with advice and materials provided we have also begun to develop some of our own ‘in school’ approaches which work for our own very diverse population. In the following photographs you can see some of our groups at work on their training and running groups with their friend’

As outlined by the Hampshire LA the Young Interpreters Scheme is available to both bilingual and monolingual learners and is powerful in developing empathy amongst English speakers towards some of the challenges and difficulties that pupils new to English may be facing.

The scheme can be used in a variety of settings where there are a number of children who speak the same language or there are isolated languages spoken. The young interpreters learn a variety of skills which enables them to help new arrivals settle in. They learn to clarify, explain and ‘interpret’ the wide range of school activities, systems and procedures to new entrants.

Young interpreters do not replace the need for professional adult interpreters but can provided a ‘safety net’ of reassurance for the young people in the school setting and also an initial communication link to reassure parents. The young interpreters are trained and guided by a designated member of the school staff who ensures safeguarding procedures are followed.

The children are very proud to be ‘chosen’ to be part of the scheme and very quickly gain confidence both in the school setting and being able to communicate at a variety of levels. We have seen children arrive at the school without a word of English and never having been in school very quickly make friends, learn key words and before we know it having the confidence to stand up and act in the school play at the end of term.

To see the children begin to smile and communicate in a combination of their home language and English is a real pleasure. The make a really valuable contribution to the school, to their fellow pupils and to parents. They have quickly become a fantastic resource within the school environment and teachers are happy to utilise their skills in the support of teaching and learning.

Utilising the Young Interpreter Scheme and further adapting it to meet our unique school clientele and requirements has seen significant impact. EAL/N2E children and parents arriving at the school have confidence in the needs of their children being met, understand the school requirements and expectations well (and they can be constantly reiterated) and are able to communicate effectively to support their child’s education. The EAL/N2E children quickly settle, feel safe and calm, learn English quickly due to the immersive approach, make strong friendships and gain confidence.

The children have also been able to rework some of the school generated information and translate into other languages and also support development of some other information leaflets. We would deem our Young Interpreters a substantial success and look forward to the continuation and further development of the programme.

As you can see from the attached photographs the children are happy supporting and developing practice for themselves and others and play a full and valuable part in school life.

Mr Hall - Phase 2 lead/Vulnerable Learner Champion (March 2018)