New network to bring together the growing number of heritage language schools in Sheffield

Pupils from the Sheffield Star Mandarin School
Pupils from the Sheffield Star Mandarin School
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A new network has been launched to bring together the heritage language schools which teach hundreds of children in Sheffield.

There are around 20 schools run by different black and ethnic minority groups across the city, teaching more than 16 languages.

Pupils from the Dar Arabic School

Pupils from the Dar Arabic School

The schools had been supported by Languages Sheffield, which helped them come together and promote their achievements, but the charity was forced to close at the end of 2017 due to a lack of funding.

A new website has now been set up promoting all the Sheffield Complementary Heritage Language Schools and giving them a platform to share their achievements.

Following the closure of Languages Sheffield, the charity's project manager Naomi Cohen, has been supporting the schools to set up the network and website.

She said: "There are young people at the schools for a variety of reasons - some will have come over to this country recently and want to maintain their own language and culture.

"Others have parents, or one parent, who may have come from that country and speak the language.

"Being able to communicate in their heritage language means that young people can maintain their connection with their community and their roots, enabling them to keep in touch with older family members and those living back home.

"There are well over a thousand youngsters studying in these schools in the city.

" They organise events and reward their young people. Many will reward their students by issuing certificates, prizes and awards.

"Often the impetus for starting a school just comes from a bunch of parents. They often start off quite small and expand over the years.

"Some hire mainstream school premises in which to run their classes; others are held in community centres, mosques or churches."

There are around 20 schools operating. They include two Chinese schools, teaching Mandarin and Cantonese, a Japanese school, six Arabic schools - one of which also teaches Urdu and Bengali - at least six different European schools, speaking languages such as Czech, French, Greek, Polish, Russian, Slovak and Spanish as well as a Kurdish and Eritrean school.

Naomi added: "In the UK we under value people's heritage language/mother tongue.

"There is a myth that if you focus on this then it will affect your learning of English negatively.

"However research shows that there are multiple benefits of learning another language, including improving youngsters overall capacity to learn languages, improve communication skills and attain different transferable skills.

"In fact there is evidence that developing strong first language reading skills means that young people learn more to read more quickly in the second language.

"Scientists have also shown that learning a second language benefits cognitive abilities like intelligence and memory, while lowering risks of brain aging, dementia and Alzheimer's.

"Maintaining mother tongue language is also important as a means of helping young people to retain a strong sense of cultural identity and self-confidence."

Languages Sheffield also helped link the schools up with training and information from the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education, which is the overarching national organisation which supports these schools across the country. LS was also able to offer the schools support and training on a variety of areas including organisational development, UK law, fundraising and teaching methodology and techniques.

Languages Sheffield has worked to enable these schools to share their achievements of their young people which often go unnoticed.

Staff from both Sheffield universities have agreed to support the Network in organising a celebratory event in February next year to mark International Mother Tongue Day on February 21st.

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