International Literacy Day

Having strong literacy skills is extremely important nowadays. Some might argue that this is a very fundamental skill for anybody now. It can open many doors to a good job or further education. In this post, I will share a story about one of the prisoners I am currently befriending. He showed extreme courage to learn a foreign language with just a dictionary in his hands. Although, at first, I might introduce myself.

My name is Jagoda, and I have been volunteering with New Bridge for almost two years. I am a Criminology graduate, currently working towards a master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Psychology. My journey with the New Bridge started when I was doing my undergraduate course. As a part of the course, I could choose an optional module. One of the modules was a work placement. It would mean that instead of attending sessions, I would go to criminology-related work, either paid or as a volunteer. I loved this idea since working in the criminology field is my dream career. Without much thinking, I sent my application form, prepared for the interview, and became a volunteer. Since that day, I have been proudly representing New Bridge as a befriender.

One of my dreams from childhood was to live and study in the UK. I come from a small city in Poland, where I spent most of my life. I was always a good student, and I loved reading books! After I graduated from Polish ‘college’, I decided to fulfil my dreams and move to the UK. Once I arrived to the UK, I realised that the English I was studying at school was very different from the one I could hear here. All of a sudden, I could speak very little English. I also struggled with reading and writing in English, even though I passed my English tests very well in Poland! Thankfully, my skills improved over time, and I could go to the University as I wanted to.

As a volunteer, I am writing to a few prisoners now. Some of them have better literacy skills than others. From my experience, many of them first struggle with punctuation or spelling. Sometimes I would have to read the letter out loud to understand it fully. It is because some would write the same way they speak. I have noticed that some prisoners would improve their skills after a few letters. They would start using commas or make fewer spelling mistakes. Some would improve their handwriting to make their letters more readable for me. One of my befriendees used to write very short letters with simple language, while now he can write a few pages at a time, and I have noticed that he is using more unusual words. It is always nice to see how they grow and improve.

Currently, I am befriending a person who has good literacy skills. He always writes neat letters with good punctuation and his handwriting is much better than mine! He was intrigued about my origins and asked me one day if I could teach him a little bit of Polish. I am always happy to help and share my skills so I would send him common phrases or words. One day I received a letter from him that positively shocked me. The whole letter was written in Polish! He spelt words well, and I was very impressed. The only problem was that it did not make much sense! After a few days of trying to figure it out, I decided to be honest and explained to him that this was not his fault. It is just the Polish language being awkward. Unfortunately, not everything can be translated into Polish. For example, in Polish, words like ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’ just do not exist. The next letter he wrote was written in English with polish words underneath it. Then I realised where the problem was. A lot of words can have more than one meaning. For example, he would translate ‘can’ as a ‘can of pop’ instead of ‘I can’, or ‘well’ as a place to take water from rather than ‘I’m doing well’. I learned from his letter that he had asked the prison for a Polish dictionary and would look up each word to translate. He admitted that writing one short letter took him a couple of hours!

I provided him with some tips and explanations with each letter, and his letters became increasingly fluent in Polish. It has been a few months now, and the difference in letters is extreme! He put a lot of effort into writing those letters. It was truly amazing to see how he progressed over time and how brave he was to write his first letter in an unfamiliar language. Especially since the Polish language is very difficult and so different from English. Specifically, it has different grammar from English and a few extra alphabet characters!

If he keeps going, he will be more fluent in written Polish than I am!


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