The Interpreter


More than 40 languages are spoken by the children at my school. English is (sometimes) one of them. The children quickly become immersed in their adopted culture and language and as is the case with the young; pick up a new language at rate far ahead of their parents.

Luckily, many of our 84 staff speak at least one of these community languages and are able to act as a translator for me when I need to communicate technical issues to parents with still a very cursory understanding of English.

One 6 year old was brought to me today by a rather embarrassed teacher (unrelated fact: she is from Poland). The young child was from Sri Lanka and his mother, suitably new to English so that she needed to support of my Tamil-speaking teaching assistant in order to make sure she understood everything that I needed to convey.

Her young son, for the second time in the past month had exposed himself to another child. This is not as unusual as it sounds and happens a few times a year. Usually it is a gesture used by children to gain a reaction from their peer and thankfully only rarely a reflection of distressed behaviour.

The mother sat across from me in my glass box and stared intently at me as I told the interpreter what I wanted her to relay.

“Tell her that her son exposed himself to another child.”

The interpreter looked at me rather vacant and it was obvious that she herself was struggling to understand my intent.

I needed to extrapolate and said bluntly, “He showed another child his penis.”

The interpreter quickly looked away and at the floor as the reality dawned on her.

She nodded and drew breath, seemingly summoning the strength to pass on the message.

Her few sentences in Tamil sparked an animated conversation which lasted several minutes. I listened passively to the exchange. Both seemed confused as they chattered away pointing at the young boy and gesturing to the empty spaces around them.

Eventually, silence. The interpreter turned to me and said, “Mother says there is some mistake she never sends him to school with peanuts”.

Keep the Faith,

The Head

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