Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome...
You don't have to be fluent in a language to use it to say words of welcome and support to another human being. You just need a sense of fun, a willingness to have a go, and a concern for others' welfare.
Learning a few words in an unfamiliar language is a fun challenge for any age group. Choosing what to learn based on what would be useful to a refugee in your area demonstrates how simple acts can make a big difference to someone else. At the same time, students will begin to appreciate the realities of life for some of the UK's refugees and become aware of some of the systems that help them.
- Choose a language, or more than one. Involve students in the decision. Agree a language relevant to them, and to the community they live in. Focus on languages spoken by recent or past migrants to the area. Or choose on the basis of students' interests or experience.
- Working together, agree a list of words or phrases to learn to say.
- Don't emphasise what students would like to be able to say. Instead ask them to imagine what someone newly arrived in the area would like to hear. Say that the refugee is the same age as the students, and has had a hard and possibly dangerous journey here.
- Your agreed list might include emotional, practical and fun elements. Phrases could be related to basic needs, entertainment and leisure, goods and services, or social opportunities. They could include questions, but also statements – of welcome, support, friendliness, concern, expressing interest, giving information and offering invitation. They could cover a range of situations – from someone almost destitute to someone whose main problem is social isolation. Try to end up with a mini phrase book of useful and relevant material.
- Steer away from intrusion. People who have had a difficult time don't readily wish to burden strangers, even friendly ones, with their experiences. Reliving their recent past is likely to be traumatic, not helpful. Better to find out what football team they support.
- Find a way to learn the chosen words and phrases. There are many sources, books, CDs, online resources and local contacts, including school students. Select a method that suits students and that perhaps makes links with local people.
- Use what students have learnt by talking directly with refugees. Make contact with some local groups or set up a familiarisation visit to a project or facility. Advise students beforehand not to have too great expectations of their language skills. Local accents and stress variations can get in the way. So don't take it too seriously and always emphasise the humour. Language is fun. Remember too that a lot of communication is non-verbal. Smiles and friendly gestures are well worth it, even if the words aren't comprehended exactly as hoped.
- Put your list of words and phrases online for anyone to see. Send us the link so we can circulate it to others. Go a step further by animating it as a training video – with students saying the words and holding up captions, perhaps.
- Find out how many languages are spoken in your area. The local council or police service probably have a good idea. Ask how they respond. What access to translation or interpreting services do they have? What stories can they tell?
- This activity was inspired by the one of the simple acts ideas on the Refugee Week website. The site is a very useful starting point. It provides plenty of ready-made handy phrases in Somali, Arabic and Mandarin, as well as how to say hello in 44 different languages. When you have completed the activity, add your contribution to the simple-acts tally.
This resource was written by PJ White and produced in June 2010.