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Hilal starts to speak

by Ursula Felber

Hilal, a Turkish girl, came to me in first grade. She had barely spoken at kindergarten. Her parents, living in Switzerland for some time already, told me that Hilal could express herself very well in her mother tongue and communicated normally with them and her two brothers.
Hilal is a small, petite girl who works very accurately and reliably. Except, she didn‘t want to talk. You could tell from her eyes and all her expression that she was interested and highly attentive. Within half a year she learned all the letters and how to read. After a few months at school she made friends with Emire, a girl from Bosnia. The two also arranged to meet outside school. Emire didn‘t speak Turkish, so they inevitably had to talk in German. A few words were enough for them to communicate. Much was clarified by hand signals and non-verbally.
In some meetings with the parents I tried to find out the reason why Hilal was so reserved. Her older brother translated the conversations. Hilal was already known everywhere as the girl who does not speak. At the teacher’s request to take part in the lessons, she remained silent. Only in the one-two-one situation did she sometimes hesitantly say a few words. She was often taken by surprise by her loud, fast, pushing classmates. I often wondered how she spent the breaks. But she never stood apart.
After a year I had to consider how to go on with Hilal. If she did not start to speak, she would not be able to keep up and develop her linguistic abilities.
Again, I invited the parents for a talk. This time, the mother came with a Turkish translator. She was very surprised at what I told her about her daughter’ level of school achievements. She was not aware of the difficulties and their consequences for the future in school. It turned out that the older brother had not translated correctly out of consideration for his little sister. The mother told me that Hilal could be very stubborn at home and could produce temper tantrums if her wishes were not fulfilled. I encouraged the mother to demand of her daughter to stop her fervour and to express her needs and desires like everyone else. She also had to accept what her mother demanded of her.
In the conversation with her mother it became clear that Hilal’s restraint at school had to do with her being very ambitious,that she did not want to make mistakes and be the best. With this hypothesis it was possible to demand more from Hilal at school. After only a few weeks the wall of silence was broken and Hilal spoke as a matter of course. Not quietly and hesitantly. No, as it fit  her temperament, lively and loudly. Even if Hilal’s vocabulary was still small and she made mistakes in the sentence structures, one always understood what she meant. So she could develop her language skills. If I had adhered to the picture of the petite, small, shy Hilal, she might perhaps not yet speak today. Perhaps she would have been given the status of a student with special needs. We can only guess at how much this would have affected her school career and her development at all.
This example shows how much every child wants to participate in the community and fill his or her place from an equal footing. With the acquisition of the German language an important element in the integration into our society is gained.     •
(Translation Current Concerns)