The power of creative multilingualism: inspiring pupils with poetry
EMBS is Oxford’s ‘alternative provision’ centre for Sixth Form. It takes in students who aren’t able to attend mainstream school or college because of personal or family issues or because they have very recently arrived in the country. It is housed in an office block in Cowley Centre, has a warm, informal atmosphere, and very hopeful stairs!
I worked every Tuesday with the Level 2 English as a Second Language Group, with students from Afghanistan, Brazil, Peru, East Timor, Sudan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, helping them to read and write poems. As so often, I found the key to engagement and creativity was through memory and language, especially when we focused on particular words, as shown in this lovely poem by Norjhun.
Word That I Miss
I have a lot of filipino words that I miss.
I miss the word paalam. It means goodbye.
Goodbye to all the people that I love.
I miss magkikita ulit tayo which means
We will meet again, we will meet again on my return.
I miss musica. It means music.
Music that reminds me
of all the good things in my life.
I miss the word pagpalain. It means god.
God who created us and gave me life
and a family. A family that raises me to be good.
We had several speakers of different sorts of Spanish, and a constant buzz of comparing and looking up words. Alejandro, from Peru, was particularly vocal on the inferiority of English, and the paucity of rhyme.
When I started to learn English
my teacher put forty Spanish words
for so on the board.
In England I hear so
at the end of a sentence
when people stop talking
So is multi-coloured
So is a fast food.
So means everything.
So I am in England.
So I must learn English.
So, so, so.
Google translate and phone dictionaries were also a constant, creative feature. A long prose poem by Mariano, also from Peru, was triumphantly translated in collaboration with Alejandro, Norjhun, and the dictionary.
Todo se detuvo por unos segundos
Everything stopped for a few seconds
ya no sentía nada, ni el ruido de los autos, ni las personas a mi alrededor, ni siquiera lo que me decía la chica que estaba conmigo…solo esa horrible sensación de derrumbe que invadía todo mi cuerpo, las pocas esperanzas que tenia habían desaparecido y yo hubiese preferido haber desaparecido con ellas.
I no longer felt anything, not the noise of the cars, or the people around me, not even what the girl who was with me told me ... just that horrible feeling of collapse that invaded my whole body, the few hopes I had had disappeared and I would have preferred to have disappeared with them.
Students were fascinated and encouraged by the instant publishing qualities of my now 17k twitter account: the comments were particularly helpful for Dung, who was probably the most committed poet of the group.
At the end of term we published an anthology, The Book of Overwhelming Stuff.
The students shared and read the book at their parents/carers afternoon with a great deal of care and attention. Staff were extremely pleased. I’m confident that with this start and the power of creative multilingualism I can move on next term to produce more accomplished poems and translations.
Kate Clanchy is a teacher and writer. In 2018 she published England Poems from a School, a collection of her migrant students' poems and was made MBE. Her most recent book is Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, described by Sir Phillip Pullman as the 'best book about writing and teaching and children I have ever read.'
Kate has produced a series of short films demonstrating some of the poetry activities she uses with pupils – visit our resources section to watch the films.