Author: Gosia Bates

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