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Bangkok Faces: Ondine Ullman
 of Bangkok Patana School

Name: Ondine Ullman
Job Title: Head of Language Acquisition, Primary at Bangkok Patana School

What is your nationality and background?
I was born and raised in South Africa. Since qualifying as a teacher from the University of Johannesburg I have taught in South Africa, England, Russia and Mongolia before arriving in Bangkok.  I am married to a man for whom English is a third language and together we raise a very beautiful bilingual daughter and our new born son.

What is your profession?
I am a teacher and have over a decade of experience working with EAL learners, training EAL teachers and designing EAL learning programmes and curricula that celebrate native languages and cultures.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?
I currently manage the English as an Additional Language (EAL) programme at Bangkok Patana School, overseeing 18 members of staff. The EAL team supports children in becoming proficient English language users in order to develop socially, and achieve academic success across all areas of the curriculum. I also provide support to develop Home Languages in all children, as driven by our community’s need.
Key skills in my role are communication, empathy and time management, just like being a mum!

How did you get involved in your profession?
I came from a family of teachers and my mum taught at the same school from 1969 through to 2013. I attended one of the first open, public high schools in South Africa where I studied alongside children for whom English was their 4th or 5th language. This made me think about how English could be acquired and used successfully by bi, tri, even quad-lingual students.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?
It is the job of my team and I to make sure children entering Bangkok Patana School, for whom English is not their first language, feel confident, comfortable and safe. It is a role and responsibility I take very seriously and seeing these children develop to where they are able to communicate in a world, which initially may have felt very alien, is a true privilege. Our EAL teachers and students share a very special bond.

What challenges do your face in this role?
It is a challenge when parents do not appreciate the importance of maintaining a child’s home language and/or culture. Only with strong foundations in a home language can true proficiency in English be achieved, especially as an academic language. Our Home Languages Programme aims to provide multilingual students with the opportunity to maintain and reinforce fluency in their home language.

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?
I hope that the past, present and future children studying EAL with me are happy children who, when they leave the programme, are able to access and conquer a world which no one knows what will be like in the future. I hope they are also provided with the opportunity to realise who they are and where they come from is just as important as where they are going.

Who or what inspires you?
Every child who comes into an English speaking school knowing very little or even no English; I am not sure as adults we can imagine how scary that might be. I am always inspired by how quickly they settle in, make friends and start to access the opportunities available to them. It is an amazing lesson in adaptability which I get to witness every single day.

Only a Bangkok local would know… sticky rice from a street stall is every child’s perfect snack! They all love it, it is widely available and cheap! Be warned however, it can cause problems when you are overseas and can’t find it!

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