Yesterday, at our Parent Group, the school counsellor generously gave of her time to visit and explain what her role is in our school. She brought her ‘Story Cards’ with her. These cards contained words that expressed feelings and emotions. Our counsellor asked the parents to choose a card that they could talk about, explaining that this is an activity that she does with the children to get to know them and to gain an insight into what they are thinking and feeling.
In the few years that I have been meeting with these mums we have shared stories, laughed and cried together and have come to know each other quite well; but I have never gained the insights that were revealed by using these cards.
Their choices included words like; ‘relaxing’, ‘the best’, ‘talking’, ‘confused’, ‘love’ and the two already mentioned – ‘scared’ and ‘happy’.
My ‘scared’ but ‘happy’ parent speaks a language that not many others speak at our school. Whilst her English is adequate to say hello and participate in day to day activities, she feels as though she is being left behind by her children. They ask her so many questions in English, “Why is the sky blue? Why is the rainbow only seven colours? Where do babies come from?” Valiantly she attempts to answer these beautifully inquisitive questions in her mother tongue because she does not have the English words. Sadly, her children are becoming more proficient in English than in their parents’ language and do not understand what she is trying to say to them. She is ‘scared’ because she is feeling alone, lonely and frightened and her children are taking off into another world with a different culture and language leaving her further and further behind. But, in spite of this, she is ‘happy’. Happy because Australia is a peaceful country and she is an unselfish mum who is looking forward to a bright and promising future for them.
A similar concern was expressed by my ‘confused’ friend. Her children are struggling with their school work and she doesn’t have enough English to help them. It is a dilemma for her that our education system is so different from the traditional but disrupted one that she experienced. She said that she felt ‘confused’ by; the questions from her children, by what she was meant to do for school, what her children were expected to do by the school and by the fact that the communication gap between herself and her children was growing wider because they were becoming more proficient in English than the language of their parents.
My parent who chose ‘the best’ as her story card simply said that this is what she wants for her children. No more was forthcoming because she said that she was ‘shy’. I asked her if she was shy with people who spoke her language. She said, ‘No, just English’. All three agreed that they were only ‘shy’ in English but that even though they had been to English classes they found it so hard to learn.
It was a little painful for them to reveal what was so close to their hearts. All three wanted the best for their children and expressed their frustration at not being able to keep up with their children’s English language acquisition. More than anything they wanted to be able to express themselves, their feelings, thoughts and ideas to their children and this was becoming harder and harder. The parents had the basics of the English language and the children had the basics of their parents’ languages but as the children began to move from conversational to academic English, a chasm was forming.
Unless these caring and sensitive mothers can find an occupation in an English speaking environment where they are practising English regularly, the language difference may just grow wider and wider. They would love to find part-time work and they have tried but it is very hard. What can they do? What will we do?