Forced Integration

I found a news website in English about Denmark. In it there is an article about “forced integration” and my eyebrows were raised.

In Copenhagen, apparently, kids are assigned to schools based on their Danish competency. Leading to kids not being very competent in Danish, one would assume. Also, a lot of black children in one place, I cannot imagine that would go done very well here.

In Aarhus, apparently, kids are “integrated” as in all children are assigned schools so as not to have ghettos. Apparently, again, children do quite well (Danish and udlander) in this environment so CPH want to copy.

Calling this system “forced integration” is the opposite of calling something horrible a nice name (eg. oh I dunno, extraordinary rendition sounds a bit like a show tune at a talent contest)

The thing you need to know about me is that I do not, by any means, have the answers.

In the UK, we do not “integrate” so much as bung everyone together. Of course there is a lot of choice in the school system, so white middle class people get wind that black foreign children are going to the local school, they pretty much dub it “bad” and pull their kids away to whiter schools.

I have taught in bad schools with no EAL kids (English as an Additional Language). I have taught in two schools with a fair chunk of EAL kids.

First school of this type was in N. London. The EAL children were 2nd gen for the most part and as far as I could tell, got no support beyond their regular English lessons in terms of literacy. Imagine having an intellectual age of 15+, an English reading age of 8 (home language reading age around chronological age) and being confronted with the GCSE science syllabus.
Imagine having to teach such children. I am allowing myself a small shudder as I type.

Second school was in S. London. The EAL kids were very very 1st gen. They even had an acronym FOB (Fresh off the boat) I yelled “ABUUKAR!” in surprise when a cheeky one of mine used it. He smiled and said “I know, I know, I used to be one! It’s okay. I know! It is terrible…” and shrugged a “what can you do?” shrug. I miss Abuukar.

They had lessons with me from day one but they also had EAL lessons, I think during English time and maybe French time? So, they seemed to be happier in my lessons. Or maybe I was just a better teacher? I certainly leveled up after my TEFL. A lot of vocab drilling before teaching after that little insight. Pronunciation, meaning, form.

Here, the kids are siphoned off into groups to be taught Danish before going to the mainstream. Some don’t appear to leave. I don’t know how good they have to be at Danish to leave. Some come to the international groups for tuition in English, science and maths in English.
The lessons sound pretty good from having overheard one when I had to cover for a class.

Funny story, I spoke to a woman in class about teaching her daughter but I had to do it in Danish because she only speaks Danish and Portuguese and she was all like “YOU are teaching my kid Danish” and looking really distressed and how do you explain the cover lesson with limited Danish anyway.

I liked the idea of Danish for beginners classes for new immigrants after seeing the wide terrified eyes of my new students. Arriving at random, without warning and I would have to change my plans BAM, these children need extra help and I do not know how much.

Now I am not so sure. I want them to be friends with the Danish kids, I want them to be part of the school and not an annex but it is fucking liberals like me that made all those kids in the first school so resentful and frustrated in my lessons.

I do not know the answers, I already said.

For my part, I have decided that my teacher is terrible. She does so many teaching crimes that it is hard to keep it in perspective.

She gave us a reading exercise and of course we all freaked. It was the hardest of the hard.

The hardest thing to get a language learner to do is CLOZE (fill in the gaps), the most very new vocab you should dare introduce is around 7 (plus or minus 2) after that people’s memory gets a bit sketchy, “comprehension” questions that can be answered just by looking for place names are pointless, following up an activity about crime in the news with one about letter writing is a bit odd.

She gave us a CLOZE with 26 new (to me) words. Of those, six were repeated. We struggled with our dictionaries, giving each other shy little looks, not one of us shared a common language, we struggled to build up a rapport.
We struggled for ten minutes while she was out of the room, translating words like
estimate, quantity, robbery, rise and other very specialised vocab.

She came back and asked us if it was too hard. Even her tone of voice when she asks is enough to set me off. We agreed it was was too hard. She told us ex. 2 was easier.

Indeed it was. There was more unfamiliar vocab, I understood nothing but I could answer it correctly because it was a case of finding the placename. I could do it in Martian and run a mile.

The third was a stats exercise. Again, let’s get the dictionary out because I need to know stuff from the stats set and from the violent crimes set.
This was a piece taken directly from the National Statistics Bureau. Absolutely no concession to our collective beginner status.

She got us to read. I think, perhaps, she should have done this first and then perhaps, she would have known we could not understand it. Every other fucking word she corrected. Every other FUCKING word.
I read it fast and evenly so she had no way of correcting my pronunciation. CAN SHE NOT HEAR IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE? She says the word again and the people do not repeat it properly, because as a strategy it is doomed to failure. Even with babies, they hear the word enough from Mum and Dad and they say it right. Correcting them does not make them say it right.
As soon as I hear “modesty attacks” in my day to day life, I will be able to say it.

After I read, her question was not “so, what happened?” it was not “who was affected?” it was not “was anyone killed?” it was “you didn’t understand any of that did you?”

And my answer was “not one thing” and she said “do you know what — means?” and I said “I don’t know what — means, I don’t know what — means” and I hunted for more words I didn’t know but I realised what a slippery slope I was on so I just repeated I didn’t know ONE word. So, she had a go at explaining it to me and kept asking the class if they had read about this in the news, seen it on the tv?

Why would I read the news when I cannot understand one word? Surely, surely, she should be doing something about that? Instead of just assuming I have picked it up by fricking osmosis, testing me on it and then asking “you didn’t understand?”
The explanation coming second is the wrong way round for beginners.

Elicit, teach, test. It is all cock a hoop at my sprog skole.

We went through the answers and then the next activity was about “how did so and so sign off his letter?” (He said “VH Lars”)

Talk about a change of gears. CRUNCH, ooh did you feel that?

It got to be break time so I whispered to the girl sat next to me “I am so angry, I have to leave” and she smiled at me, a little encouraging smile and I loved her for it even though I do not know her at all.

Apparently, stats are on the exam. I suppose being able to have a nice conversation at work about riding my bike is NOT on the fucking exam which is why I can still only do it in English. Thanks, ministry of integration, you really have helped me fit in here.

I suppose I will ask the people at the sprog skole if I can be moved down and hope that there is a beginners group. I thought I *was* in the beginners group.

Or, maybe find someone to teach me but I am in the sticks somewhat. It would be a different story in CPH I think. Even in Odense or Aarhus. But a little town? Someone must have a cousin who knows someone who would teach me. I think it would be a bad idea to get a colleague to teach me, even though I bet a lot of my friends would kick ass at it.

If I had known all this last year, I wonder… I bet I would have still come because I am so happy here it is ridiculous. I love my job, I love this way of life, I love how I am finding out new things about myself, I love the travel possibilities, I love the new community, I love being 10mins by foot away from work, I love it here. But if I had known how hard THIS language would be to acquire and why, I wonder if I would have tried to get lessons before I left?

I do not, by any means, have the answers.