Author: Gosia Bates

Symbolism in the film – “1917”

I am not big on war films, but went to see “1917” and I LOVED it. For me it is just a story told in beautifully-filmed images. I said “just a story”, but it is all but “just”. It is a riveting story, told in a poetic, picturesque way.  From the opening scene, I knew that the relationship between the two main characters was special. There was not a moment in the film where my interest would waver. I knew something was going to happen, but what?

Sam Mendes is a pictorial master. An abandoned doll, hacked cherry blossom, a ruined town in yellowish-amber light. Single images and symbols showing the cruelty of war. Why kill the cherry trees? Senselessness of war shown in one image, much more powerful than the graphic scenes of injuries. It reminded me of the poem “Song of porcelain” by the Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz. “Rose-colored cup and saucer…you lie beside the river where an armored column passes…Of all things broken and lost, porcelain troubles me most”. (see below)

Special effects in the film are impressive – some are straight from the James Bond movie. Historical accuracy was not always adhered to. I was not hooked by explosions or the types of bayonets used in World War One. I followed the story in still images.

The scene where Will has to leave the only female (apart from the baby) character behind, does not bode well. We know there are drunk German soldiers nearby, but Schofield has a duty to do…

Another poignant scene was when William put the photo of Tom’s family on his body. It shows the importance of mothers – many of the soldiers were so young, they did not have girlfriends, hence it was the mother who they had in their hearts.

Music is mesmerising. Another picture, when soldiers are listening to a song, which though not a rousing piece, but a gentle and melancholic one, “wakes” the  men up to a battle.  It wakes the shell-shocked Will to action. This scene is universal. Polish classic literature has at least two famous “songs” when the lulled, tired and apathetic people are encouraged to fight for their independence (“Wesele”, “Konrad Wallenrod”).

It’s so good that films like this are made. Teachers will have so many opportunities to use it for teaching symbolism, inference and poetry.



by Czesław Miłosz

Rose-colored cup and saucer,
Flowery demitasses:
You lie beside the river
Where an armored column passes.
Winds from across the meadow
Sprinkle the banks with down;
A torn apple tree’s shadow
Falls on the muddy path;
The ground everywhere is strewn
With bits of brittle froth–
Of all things broken and lost
Porcelain troubles me most.

Before the first red tones
Begin to warm the sky
The earth wakes up, and moans.
It is the small sad cry
Of cups and saucers cracking,
The masters’ precious dream
Of roses, of mowers raking,
And shepherds on the lawn.
The black underground stream
Swallows the frozen swan.
This morning, as I walked past,
The porcelain troubled me most.

The blackened plain spreads out
To where the horizon blurs
In a litter of handle and spout,
A lively pulp that stirs
And crunches under my feet.
Pretty useless foam:
Your stained colors are sweet,
Splattered in dirty waves
Flecking the fresh black loam
In the mounds of these new graves.
In sorrow and pain and cost,
Sir, porcelain troubles me most.

translated by Czesław Miłosz and Robert Pinsky

Source: Antiwar Films

“Pushkin is better than Harry Potter”

We have just admitted a new student from Ukraine. Apart from Ukrainian, she also speaks Russian. She told me her favourite book is “Eugene Onegin.” She spotted a couple of Harry Potter books in Russian in our library, but she politely declined borrowing them as she had already read them. When asked what she thought of them, she simply stated: “Pushkin is better.”

This really resonated with me and reminded me of two articles I have recently read on fantastic EAL-related blogs. One about the “EAL label: A Blessing or a Curse” by Jane Scott commented:

“The EAL label highlights immediately what these students can’t do. The label flags the students as being deficient in some way and this is sadly what people see first, with some unintentionally not investing to find out what else the student is besides having low English language skills.”

The other article referring to English Language Learners (ELL) “What our emerging ELLs want to hear from us” by Megha Radhakrishnan who asked her young niece (who has moved to France) what she could do to support them, “as they go through those early days of displacement, loss, frustration and finding their sense of self, as they grapple with navigating academics in a foreign language.”

The girl said: “Tell them they are smart every day.”

“Simple words from a 9-year old. And so powerful. Because that’s what our emerging ELLs need to hear from us – that we see them for who they are, that they’re more than the boundaries of a language they’re trying to acquire and live in, and that the extent of their capacity in their new language is not the only thing that defines them. That they’re still smart. Every. Single. Day.”

I work with students who speak English as an Additional Language in an English secondary school in the East of England. I gather background information about our newly arrived students, which is sent out to their Houses, form tutors and subject teachers. The report is put on the shared drive for all school staff to access it.

I have learnt a lot from talking to parents, asking the students to write in their first language and reading their end-of-year school reports from the countries they have arrived from. A parent brought a translated “character-reference” document from her daughter’s teacher, which said:

“She conscientiously fulfils her student’s obligations, only accumulating very good grades. A special interest in maths, foreign languages, dance, reading and sports…She displays fairness and honesty in relationships with colleagues and teachers.”

There are occasions when I ring the schools in Poland to ask for clarifications. If I don’t speak my New Arrivals’ language, I ask my friends and colleagues to translate (anonymised) documents for me. It really is important to have an idea of children’s abilities in their first language as it helps us plan interesting, pertinent and cognitively-challenging tasks for them and aids the responsive adaptation of lessons to maintain student interest and engagement.

Over the years, we have had an accomplished piano player, gifted footballers, artists, photographers and mathematicians, book-devourers, designers and history and language(s) lovers. Our students loved performing (in any language). They wrote beautiful poetry. Back in their countries of origin they got medals for sports prowess, were editors of the school’s newsletter and took part (and received top places) in their country’s Subject Olympiads at regional or national level. They want to be vets, journalists, architects, lawyers, actors. And yet it is hard to hear when a talented newly arrived student tells me that:

“Sometimes I cry at home because I remember how successful my reputation was in my old school and how I was learning, it was awesome and now I need to accept the truth.”

This year we are particularly impressed with our EAL learners’ interests and talents. Our Principal commented recently in our weekly staff newsletter:

“These beautiful painted stones were inspired by the study of Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and were produced by one of our EAL students…. for me, it is a beautiful encapsulation of the enduring ability of language to inspire creative responses and bring us together.”

A wonderful way of boosting EAL students’ confidence and helping to recognise their passions is by entering them for various competitions. There are some fantastic competitions that are worth encouraging your EAL learners to enter.

Here is a short list of competitions, however, keep an eye on the deadlines for entry. Please look out for other competitions and do let me know if you think they are suitable for young people who speak English as an Additional Language.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition

Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a national project, led by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, with a poetry competition for 11-18 year old Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) and English as an Additional Languages (EAL) students.

For the Mother Tongue part  pupils whose first language is not English are encouraged to submit a poem or song in their first language.  It can be an original piece, or a ‘remembered’ piece.  It can be written in any language.  The entry is judged on a short paragraph (written in English) that explains the piece and its significance to the pupil. Students whose pieces for awards are shortlisted, have their poems published in the competition’s anthology.  Parents are invited to attend the award ceremony. Their pride at their children being “published authors” is second to none. Our students submitted beautiful poems in many languages, wrote and translated their own poems and wrote movingly about them.

The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation

Translate a poem (up to 60 lines) from any language, ancient or modern, into English together with a commentary of no more than 300 words. There are three categories in the main prize: Open (adult), 18-and-under and 14-and-under.

The Stephen Spender Polish Spotlight 2019 competition for entrants aged 18-and-under. There are plans to add extra strands to the competition in future.

The Polish Spotlight is a new strand of the Stephen Spender Prize. You do not have to be fluent in Polish to enter the prize: it is open to all those interested in trying their hand at translation. Last year our students chose and translated the lyrics of a Polish rock song and poems of the late 19th century Polish Romantic poet. They also submitted their own personal commentaries on the challenges of the translation. They enjoyed choosing their poems and polishing their translations.

Babel Competition for schools from Creative Multilingualism programme

Pupils from Year 5 to Year 13 can choose between three tasks. This competition closes on 15 May 2019.

A) Magical Translation

Create a modern version of Cinderella in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.

B) Fabulous Translation

Create a fable – an animal story with a moral – in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.

C) Futuristic Translation

Create a warning about a nuclear waste site – in a language and/or medium that will communicate effectively with people in the year 10,000.

Juvenes Translatores Contest – for 17 year- olds only. Registration for this competition has now closed.

The European Union’s “Young Translators” contest. Participants have two hours to translate a text into any EU language. The competition is held in all 28 European Union countries simultaneously. More than 70 schools in the UK took part this year. Our students translated the text from English – Polish and from Polish-English.

Institute of Mathematics regular Puzzle and Poster competitions for Yr7-13

One of our students won an exclusive IMA water bottle and some bonus sweets; two others won commendations and honourable mentions for their posters.

This year’s poster theme is Hidden Maths. Students are asked to make a poster showing people some of the hidden maths in our world.

Annual EDL (the European Day of Languages) T-shirt contest

Our Y11 EAL student submitted his design for the official 2019 T- shirt. The winner will receive up to ten t-shirts to give to his/her classmates!

You must come for dinner – reporting to EAL parents

“You must come for dinner”. I doubt this phrase will be used during the parents’ evening, but let’s face it – it is not a real invitation, it’s just being polite.


Much has been said in papers and online about the British and their use of language and euphemisms. It is quite funny, as it also suggests what other people understand.

When it comes to understanding, we all know there are some differences between people/cultures/ languages.

“I want to see the director now!”

People from other countries may sometimes sound blunt, rude or aggressive. They may not use “please” or “thank you” as much as it is used in the UK. A Polish father came to our school saying very directly :”I want to see the director now”. He was not irate or impolite, he has just not mastered the whole “I know he is busy, but would it be at all possible to see the Principal now, please”.

Language barrier is one of the most common problems faced by Central and East European parents  as identified by the “Consultation Work with Families from the A8 Accession Nations (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) living in Cambridgeshire – final report”.

Also, one of their key findings is the problem of reporting to parents:

“Some parents are initially misled by the way schools deliver information on their children’s progress. Where there is an emphasis on communicating positive achievements of students (even if minor) instead of focusing on shortages in knowledge and areas that require improvement and failures (which would be an approach parents were more used to in their home countries), they get the impression that their children are doing very well at school and do not need any additional support. They are subsequently often blind to emerging problems with the performance of their children, and they do not motivate their children to study more or react on time when the first symptoms of problems occur.”

I have so many Polish parents asking me:

“Please can you tell me the truth about how my child is doing  in school. They say s/he is doing fine, but I do not think so.”

So, next time you speak to an EAL parent, choose your words carefully, please, or you might get a parent at your doorstep expecting a full dinner!


Consultation Work with Families from the A8 Accession Nations (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) living in
Cambridgeshire – final report

48 Things British People Say And What They Actually Mean

48 Things British People Say And What They Actually Mean Published 24/02/2014 by angmohdan

Kacper still does not talk to us

"Kacper still does not talk to us", a worried nursery worker said to me. "Could you talk to him in Polish, maybe he will feel better then".
I took  pictures of  some well-known Polish bedtime cartoons. When Kacper saw the little black mole, his eyes lit up. "Krecik, krecik" (mole, mole), he pointed excitedly to the picture. Things took off rapidly. Kacper pointed to the animals, named them in Polish and his key worker gave him the English words for them.
Just a simple example of how a familiar context can alleviate anxiety.
Cartoon bedtime stories were on Polish national TV Channel One  till 2013. Every evening, for around10-20 minutes, depending on the day of the week, generations of Polish children watched the adventures of Bolek i Lolek, Maja the little bee, Teddy Floppy- Ear, Reksio the dog and many others. Cartoons were also from Russia, France, Germany or the Czech Republic.
Now Polish children watch Bob the Builder, Peppa Pig or Fireman Sam on Polish TV. But some of their parents might show them the old bedtime cartoons on other media.
Krtek, the Czech mole cartoon character, is known to generations of Central and East European children
Still from "Bolek and Lolek", photo: Studio Filmów Rysunkowych Bielsko-Biała - SFR

Useful Resources:

An Introduction to Polish Cartoon Characters

Time-Honoured Polish Bedtime Cartoons

Can visual notes be an aid to EAL Learners?

I cannot draw. My spaceship looks like a fish. This can be a hindrance if you work with the EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners. But, I am a big supporter of presenting information in a visual way, as it allows children to understand and process new information. It also allows them to express their knowledge without having to use words.  I have met many talented children with EAL, who quickly drew me some beautiful and very clear pictures whilst trying to explain the process of osmosis, that they have already learnt in their Polish school.
So I recently attended a workshop  on Visual Notes by Anne-Marie Miller of CarbonOrange at the CamCreative Meetup in the Eagle Labs Incubator, Barclays Bank, Cambridge.
She gave various examples how to capture ideas using text, images and graphic elements. And  Anne-Marie showed us how you can draw things using just 12 basic shapes.

It was an engaging evening, I have learnt a lot and people even recognized what I drew! Now my spaceship looks more like a spaceship than the fish!
I will have a look at the resources Anne-Marie recommended and further explore how “visual notes” can be used with EAL learners. If you have any ideas please email me or tweet me @lingosia
Resources to further explore visual notes:

Utilising the culture of EAL learners in the classroom

So many teachers are interested in their EAL learners’ cultural background. Most  Polish children, who attended a Polish school, will know the legend of the Wawel dragon (Legenda o Smoku Wawelskim) or the Locomotive poem full of  wonderful huffing, puffing, whistling and whizzing onomatopoeic sounds (Lokomotywa).

Many Polish books have been awarded literary prizes, the best ones receiving the Order of the Smile, granted by children themselves. Polish author of “The book of Bees” Piotr Socha, was awarded the prize for best scientific book in the ‘children’s book’ category at Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres 2017 in Vienna.One of my favourite Polish books for children is Mr Blott’s Academy (Akademia pana Kleksa) by Jan Brzechwa. Mr. Blott is a teacher-magician. He is absent-minded  and gives out freckles as prizes because “freckles are good for your brain”.  His Academy is only for boys whose names start with a letter A as Mr. Blott does not want to clutter up his head with all the letters of the alphabet. At the Academy he teaches blottery, letter-spinning and globe games. He changes the size of objects with an enlarging pump.Here is an example of how he prepares food :

Mr. Blott began to make the roast. To do this, he put one candle flame into a big roasting tin, and then put a tiny piece of meat on to the flame. He threw in   two pieces of glass: one red and one white and sprinkled it all with the grey powder. When the meat was ready and the glasses got soft, he put the magnifying pump to the bottom of the tin and   pressed it repeatedly.  The roasting tin immediately filled itself to the brim with   an appetizing roast beef, covered with beetroot and mashed potatoes. To finish it off, Mr. Kleks painted green dill on the potatoes”.

I have taught a lesson about Mr. Blott  in Y6. After the lesson a quiet Russian pupil came to me and asked: “Miss, is there a Russian translation of this book?” The best recommendation ever!!

A useful resource: Polish Books for Kids in Translation

Cover and illustrations by Avi Katz in Kaytek the Wizard, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, 2012, photo: Penlight Publications
English cover of The Book of Bees from the shop window of Mable’s Fables in Toronto, Canada, photo: courtesy of Abram’s Books

How does your Polish change when you are an immigrant?

I have always remembered a Polish actress, who, after having spent a short time in America, appeared on the national Polish television. She spoke with a very prominent American accent, could not find Polish words, was hesitant and used a lot of pauses and non-lexical  fillers like hmmm, ah, eh. Ok, she was an actress, so maybe she was acting? Or has she really forgotten her Polish?

So when I heard of the “How does your Polish change when you are an immigrant” project, which is looking at  what is happening to your first language when you use your additional language intensively and at what happens in your brain when you “forget” your mother tongue, I eagerly volunteered to participate.

I have lived in the UK for 24 years, I use both English and Polish at work and at home. I regularly visit Poland, I read literature in Polish and in English,  and I think I have a good command of both languages.

The testing of my brain took place in Edinburgh (an extra bonus as I had chosen to go there during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was fabulous). Agata, a member of the project team, made me feel very welcome and at ease. She explained every task in advance, answered all my questions and even offered me a choice of the colour of the very fetching EEG head gear with attached electrodes for tracking my brain’s electric activity. My eye movement was also measured when I named objects in both languages, read sentences in Polish and assessed their grammatical correctness, listened to the recorded sentences and pointed to the mentioned objects. My phonological awareness was also assessed.

Two visits are required with the first one straight  after my short holiday in Poland – it will be interesting to know if this immersion in Polish had any impact on my results.  The second visit will need to be at least two months after staying in the UK and not being “contaminated” by living in the Polish-speaking environment.

The project is led by Dr. Zofia Wodniecka-Chlipalska of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland with the assistance of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences University of Edinburgh.

I am really looking forward to my second visit later in the year.

More information in English or in Polish