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On the last day of term I asked a student, who was leaving her school in London to return back to Italy, the best and worst things about moving. She said the worst thing was leaving friends and teachers and the best was going back to her old school to be with her old friends.

The importance of friendship for students in transition should not be underestimated. The role of buddies in helping students settle-in is key to the new EAL student. When watching several interviews with new-to English students, it became obvious that these newcomers really do need a friend or they can feel very isolated. Child-to-child interaction is necessary as they need someone who they feel comfortable with to express possible feelings of frustration and anxiety as well as someone that can nourish their curiosity when they ask questions.

Choosing a buddy

Ideally, a buddy should speak the newcomer's home language as it's very stressful and tiring for the new student to be in an English speaking environment all day. They need to be able to relax at play times, feel comfortable and have someone who they can ask questions to when they do not understand.

It is better to have several buddies for each new student in order to relieve the pressure and to make it a less demanding and onerous task. A buddy who has only been themselves in the school for less than a year would have a lot of empathy for the new student. They can serve as a role model for the behaviour and rules as the new student may find the new school culture alienating if faced with it alone.

Buddy role

A buddy can write any words or phrases the new student may want to know or questions they would like to ask the teacher. The buddy can also be used as a interpreter when needed. Interpretation is a high order skill and an area we will focus on more fully in the next article along with some useful resources to download. The buddy could also fill in a visual information sheet about themselves and their new friend. This forms a useful bonding exercise in the first few hours.

The buddy should be able to be comfortable in their role and have a flexible rota with other buddies for days when they are tired or just want to play with their own friends, this flexibility would make it a more pleasurable and less burdensome task as the student has some ownership over the schedule.

Transition Mentor

A Transition Mentor is a adult who provides some regular one-to-one or small group time with the new arrival. They may be the adult teaching the new-to English lessons or a mentor who delivers transition support in a school. The mentor can increase a newcomer's understanding of their new environment and support the buddies in understanding their role better.

The attached Youtube link provides a useful 'friendship soup' idea for buddies preparing for newcomers. It can be watched with the buddies who then find their own most important ingredients for friendship with particular focus on being a buddy. Access here

Friendship cards are another good way of helping buddies to clarify their role on being a good friend. 

At the beginning stages of learning English, the students need visual prompts and a lot of repetition. The importance of visuals cannot be over emphasised. When a student does not understand a language, they cling to whatever clues they can. Similarly, the EAL student needs visuals and non verbal clues (facial expression, gestures etc...) to support their understanding of the context. Having a survival language phrase tool is useful, for example a key ring or cards with key phrases and images that a buddy teaches the newcomer to use (see survival language key rings). Or perhaps the buddy can help them make their own. Perhaps this could be extended to social phrases for use at play times such as "Can I play with you?", "Can I join in?", "Would you like a play date?".

A Transition Mentor also needs to be highly aware that parents may need support too. They may have trouble setting-in to the new culture which can have repercussions on the child. A parent association could have a support system in place for buddying parents.

For your FREE buddy role handout: Click on the link below!

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