Their Stories

Their Stories

The following are true stories which describe the experiences of young immigrant children who went to a new school in a new culture and in a new country.  All these stories show the need for better communication and the importance of community interpreters and translators.

crying boy

The Boy Who Cried – Under a Classroom Trailer

Oh, there are so many ways to communicate in this world! Yet communication is complicated by different languages, cultures and interpretations. The following story, about a young Arabic-speaking boy, shows some of the challenges of young immigrant children as they begin a new school year at a new school.

A young immigrant family came to the United States – a mother and her three children. Each child was a different age. The older two children were lucky because they already spoke some English having gone to an American school overseas. However, the youngest was faced with a completely new language and culture. He was very afraid of the new school and he even began to hate it before he stepped into the building.

The young boy refused to go to school unless his teacher spoke Arabic. Though the young mother kept encouraging her young son, he still refused to go to school. Finally the mother managed to get her young son into the front door of his kindergarten class. However, as soon as his mother turned around, he bolted out of the classroom. He ran across the school yard and under the classroom trailer. There he crouched while his mother, the teacher and the security guard begged him to come out. Although it was a hot day, he sat there all day long.

Finally, the school bell rang and the boy, assured that he would not have to go into the classroom that day, crawled out from under the classroom trailer. The worried mother asked her son why he crawled under the trailer and sat there throughout the day. He replied that he would rather stay under the trailer on a hot day without food and water than walk into a classroom where he did not understand anything.

As the days passed, the boy slowly started to go to school with the encouragement of his mother, his brother and sister and the teacher. Graduation arrived and the young boy proudly stood on the auditorium stage to get his diploma. The principal asked the boy to say something about himself. He said, “When I started school Arabic was easy and English was difficult. However, now English is easy and Arabic is difficult.” The boy persevered and continued to talk about his experience on the first day of school in the United States.

How many young children suffer in silence as they change languages and cultures? How many children receive encouragement and support as they slowly adapt to their new surroundings?

homework boy

Me No Speak English

An immigrant parent has many jobs to do in raising children and helping them adjust to a new culture, language and school. Another part of their responsibilities is to communicate and interact with their children’s schools and teachers.

 As many parents know the first few weeks of school every year are always quite difficult. Not just for the child but for the parents as well! When the school year begins the parents are deluged with paper work. Some papers they are supposed to sign and return while others they must keep. Some papers are trivial; some are important. So what happens when a parent does not understand any of these forms? The pressure of wanting to do what is right for the child forces the parent not to say anything and to complete the forms as required. That is when the lack of understanding English starts to frustrate immigrant parents. Here is another story of new immigrant parents and their children.

Unlike in American, where children use scissors, in Egypt they use miniature versions of box cutters with a dull blade. So naturally, a young boy who had just come from Egypt thought that it was okay to take this familiar tool to school. The pair that he brought to school did not have any blade in it. All that was left was a plastic shell. The boy’s mother allowed the child to take this object to school because she did not think that it was harmful.

During lunch the shell of the old box cutter fell out of the boy’s pocket. Another classmate found it and took it to the teacher.   Then, the immigrant child was reprimanded and suspended because the school handbook said that anything in the shape of a weapon was not allowed in the classroom. However, the boy’s mother did not have enough English to read and understand the handbook. She wasn’t even able to tell the teacher that there was no blade in the simple box cutter. Every time, the teacher or the principal asked the mother a question, her only response was “Me speak no English”. The principal didn’t even check to see if there had been a blade in the box cutter. As a result of this poor communication, a young boy was embarrassed and suspended and his mother felt helpless and discouraged over not being able to explain her situation.

When there is a problem with a child and the parent does not speak English, it is important to have an interpreter, in the appropriate language to explain the parent’s point of view as well as the school’s point of view. In this way both sides will learn from the situation and develop understanding and respect.


At the Nurse’s Office

One hot summer day a mother and child stood in the park waiting to be picked up by the father. The mother sat in the shade and told her children to get out of the sun as well. However, the children ignored her and continued to run around and play in the sun.

Later that night, the mother noticed a rash developing on the youngest son because of a sunburn. However, the child’s doctor was not available because it was Sunday. So the young mother tried a home remedy by applying a paste of corn flour to the sunburn. Unfortunately, the boy had an allergic reaction to the corn flour and his skin began to peel. On Monday, the teacher noticed the boy’s sunburn and his peeling skin. She sent the boy to the school nurse who immediately suspected some kind of child abuse. She called the mother and the Division of Children and Families. Unfortunately, the mother did not know enough English to explain what had happened and how the rash developed. As a result, the Division of Children and Families separated the mother and the child for a few days until they could find an Arabic-speaking interpreter. This misunderstanding caused heartache and embarrassment to all parties.

It could have been avoided if an interpreter had been called immediately.


How the Child’s Handwriting Saved Him

Many immigrant children are taught basic English in their native country. Instead of learning how to read and write in cursive, they learn English from the printed word. The behavior of immigrant children sometimes changes when they first move to the United States either because of anger in losing their childhood friends or because they want to fit into the situation. Unfortunately, they may end up imitating inappropriate behavior when they do not immediately understand the appropriate behavior required in their new situation. Also, sometimes the other children make fun of the newcomers because they may speak more slowly and write differently.

This is a story about a young immigrant child named Adam who was accused of cheating on a test by his teacher during the class. The child was not accustomed to questioning the authority of the teacher so he did not say anything. However, Adam went home and told his mother what the teacher had said in the class.

The next day, the mother went to the teacher to ask her how her son cheated. The teacher said he had a paper with the answers under his desk. The mother then asked to see the paper. She noticed that it was written in cursive. She knew that Adam had not been taught cursive in English at school in Egypt because usually cursive is taught in the upper levels. So the mother told the teacher to compare the notes on the “cheat sheet” with Adam’s daily class notes. The teacher realized that he could not have prepared the “cheat sheet” because he did not know how to write in English in cursive. She apologized to the mother and the child for the false accusation and she realized that writing in cursive was a skill that should be taught to young immigrant children such as Adam.


A Child is Not an Interpreter

There was a non-English speaking immigrant girl who was constantly bullied and abused in the classroom. The abusers were very careful to frustrate and pick on her while the teacher wasn’t looking. When the child protested the bullying, the teacher turned to the bullies who then pretended to be innocent.   As a result, the bullies were not discovered and the girl was reprimanded in class for her bad attitude and for disturbing the class. The young girl could not explain what happened because she could not speak English and she was afraid to question the authority of the teacher.

So the teacher asked to speak with her parent who also could not speak English well. When the teacher realized that the parents could not understand her she asked another Arabic-speaking student from the class to interpret for the parents and for herself. Unfortunately, this student was not a trained interpreter and she did not interpret the situation correctly.   Instead, she spread rumors about what had happened in the class which embarrassed the poor victim very much. In the end, the bullies continued their bullying and the young girl suffered until she could finally leave that classroom.

It is very important not to use students who are untrained and who are not professional interpreters.