By Contacto reporter
Portuguese children in Luxembourg are being punished and separated from the group if they speak Portuguese in some kindergartens and "maison relais", according to a Portuguese worker from a public institution of this kind in Esch-sur-Alzette.
Maria, who asked to remain anonymous, told CONTACTO that the management of a "maison relais" which includes a kindergarten, in Esch, bans the personnel from speaking with the children in their mother-tongue, a prohibition which also extends to the conversations between the children, almost all of Portuguese origin.
"We were told that we couldn't speak Portuguese with the kids and that they weren't allowed to speak Portuguese between them either, it's a rule of the house", said the Portuguese worker.
The languages authorised in this "maison relais", where children spend between four to six hours per day after school are limited to the official languages in Luxembourg: French, Luxembourgish and German.
The ban from speaking other languages applies to all the children in the "maison relais", which has infants from three months to 12 year olds, assures Maria.
“In the ‘garderie’ [kindergarten], the teachers are a bit more flexible, but the ban still stands", said Maria. “They are less restrictive and they don't mind if the children speak French [instead of Luxembourgish], at least in the beginning of the year", she explains. Though Luxembourgish is one of the official languages in Luxembourg and one of the three authorised in the institution, "there is a requirement that Luxembourgish is spoken first", the worker specifies.
To make sure the ban is enforced, the "maison relais" has a system of punishments which range from separating the children to isolation.
“There's the punishment of separating them, sitting one child at one table and the other at another, to make sure they can't speak Portuguese between themselves, or isolation at a table in front of the office”, explained Maria.
Outside the "maison relais” punishment may go as far as forcing the children to stand still. “If we are going to the park or the school, there's the punishment of sitting for five minutes. The child [who spoke Portuguese] has to sit down or remain quiet for five minutes", she tells.
In this “maison relais” in Esch-sur-Alzette, there are only two Luxembourgish children: everyone else, around 50 children, are Portuguese or Cap Verdian, and the punishments are applied "daily", assured the worker.
The personnel working for the "maison relais" also have instructions to survey the group and organise the class in such a way as to prevent Portuguese being spoken.
“We verify the layout of the room, especially in the first month, when the children first arrive, and we change their place or move them to another table so that they cannot speak Portuguese amongst themselves", said Maria.
The worker said that she "understands" the ban, because she believes it may help children "to speak Luxembourgish better", but she admits that there are some instances when she speaks Portuguese “secretly”.
“I sometimes speak Portuguese with the children, but a bit secretly, because sometimes it's easier for them to communicate and because they need affection, and it's easier to convey that affection in the language they understand”, admits Maria. “They come to me and ask: 'May I tell you something in Portuguese, because I don't know how to say it in Luxembourgish?', and I say yes, ‘but speak quietly’”.
Ban enforced in other kindergartens
This isn't the only place where this ban stands.
“I know a little girl who attends another 'maison relais'" in Esch-sur-Alzette [also a state-run kindergarten], "and she complained that they don't let them speak [Portuguese] either", says Maria.
In Rodange, the ban is also applied in kindertgarten and elementary school, said Manuel Santos, who has a seven-year-old son.
Last month, his child was punished with extra homework for speaking Portuguese with a classmate, during a trip of the second year of the elementary school to see a classical music concert in Luxembourg city.
"He spoke [Portuguese] in the street, not in the classroom", the father complained. "I thought it was unfair in a class where almost every child is Portuguese, it is perfectly normal that they speak the language of their parents, and the only reason I didn't complain was that I was certain that my child would suffer", says Manuel Santos.
But the ban from speaking Portuguese started in kindergarten, assures the Portuguese immigrant, who has been living in Luxembourg for almost 12 years. "In kindergarten the situation was the same, we weren't even allowed to speak Portuguese with the personnel, who are Portuguese, and neither could the children".
On Monday, the secretary of state for the Portuguese communities, José Cesário, questioned the minister of Education of Luxembourg about the alleged ban from speaking Portuguese in schools and kindergardens. According to Portuguese press agency LUSA, the minister denies any instructions from the government to apply this ban and recommends that such "irregularities" be reported to the authorities, as they are illegal.
CONTACTO reported on Wednesday a case of a class director in a high school who banned students from speaking Portuguese in class, a decision that was approved by Corinne Cahen, the minister of Family and Integration of Luxembourg, in a comment posted on October 4, on her Facebook page and was since deleted.
The ban has incensed the Portuguese community in Luxembourg and is criticised by specialists in education questioned by CONTACTO. Adelheid Hu, a German professor specialised in plurilingualism and Intercultural communication of the University of Luxembourg, has no doubts about it.
"We had the same situation with Turkish immigrants in Germany and all the research shows that students should not be banned from speaking their mother tongue in school." Doctor Hu also points out that "students often use their mother tongue to try to understand what they hear in class and not only to speak with one another".
By banning students from speaking Portuguese, "it is not only the language that is at risk, but the cultural identity of the children is also threatened".
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