At Lübeck College, Ukrainian children forget the horrors of war by learning French

REPORT – The teachers of the establishment of the XVI. Arrondissement of Paris have rolled up their sleeves to allow Ukrainian children to continue their education course. This despite the language barrier and the bad memories.

They’ve been there for almost three weeks. About fifteen Ukrainian students arrived at College Assomption-Lübeck in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. Fleeing the Russo-Ukrainian War, the children were taken in by families who redirected them to this private institution so that they could continue their education. “We have a great habit of accepting students of different nationalitiesspecifies Mr. Legal, the principal of the college. With the particularity of having already taken in children who had fled Lebanon or Syria at the time of the explosion in 2020

In Lübeck we are used to receiving students who are traumatized by the experiences in their country. On this Tuesday morning in April, six little Ukrainians, all middle school students aged 12 to 13, meet up after morning leisure to take an hour of French class. Because this is one of the greatest challenges facing the teaching team: how to enable these students to continue their schooling when most of them do not speak a word of French?

The tiredness after smiling the first few days

No sooner had the board of directors made the decision than the teaching team rolled up their sleeves. Foreign language teachers, some of whom speak Russian, have agreed to teach French to these students. Mme Gabbai, a longtime English teacher at the facility who has a past teaching French as a foreign language in London, is one of them. “I learned Russian a long time ago, which makes it easier for me to interact with these children. Even if I can’t do it anymore today, it helps me to understand a few words of Ukrainian.” Today she teaches her students to introduce themselves. And faces a difficulty: none of the students present this morning understands English. “It’s going to be a bit tough, but we’ll make it”She smiles.

“What’s your name?”, she asks each of them. Fortunately, Hélène, one of the Ukrainian students, speaks French very well. She is wonderfully supportive of the teacher and patiently translates the questions to her classmates. The students are focused. The teacher imitates what she is teaching them with energetic gestures. All repeat in chorus: “Hi how are you?” Petro, a 3rd grade student, doesn’t do much. With his face closed and his eyes downcast, he follows the lesson in silence. Without mentioning the friendliness and joie de vivre of Gabbai who gradually manages to relax him by offering him to train with his young neighbor. “I found them very smiling when they arrived the first week. They have been more tired for a few days, some have drawn features. I think they store a lot of things. We have to give them time.”

A very busy schedule

In addition to their French lessons, which they have several times a week, and their lessons with French students, the students continue to take part in the lessons of their Ukrainian teachers via video conference. Which means a pretty busy day for her. “We always prefer the courses at their Ukrainian school. Once they have one, we take them out of class and look for a place to continue studying their country., emphasizes Mr Legal. Above all, the order is never to ask them what they saw in Ukraine. No more than asking them questions about their family situation. Discretion is required for these children, who may have been confronted with unspeakable scenes. Another point: every teacher has their own teaching technique. At the end of each French lesson, they make a dot between teachers to avoid becoming redundant. Their arrival was so hasty that they had no time to draw up an exact program.

” ALSO READ – “French Gives Access to Intellectual Freedom”: these foreigners coming to Paris to learn the language

Ekaterina P*, a German teacher with Russian citizenship, has become a French teacher for Ukrainian students. “I am as uneducated as possible with these children. For now, I got to know her by trying to calm her down.” She doesn’t ask them questions about the situation in their country and doesn’t try to know where they come from exactly, also because of their nationality. “The children know that I am Russian, but there was no problem.” During her classes she doesn’t teach them the (terrible) basics of grammar but tells them about Paris, France and its culture. “The aim of my course is above all that they can go to the baker by being able to buy their bread. I’m as playful as possible because they are children. They also need to be entertained.” Ekaternia teaches them the street names of Paris so they can orient themselves, but also those of TV stations etc.

Fun fact, some Ukrainian parents sent a request to Ekaternia: that their children have more work and that their teachers are more demanding with them. According to the Russian-speaking teacher, the education system in Ukraine is based more on excellence than in France. Which perhaps explains her very good level in mathematics… A seven-year-old Ukrainian girl has already hit one in Lübeck “Great” from university!

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