My First Day at School in Manchester: Read Aloud with Me

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Hi, it’s Azimah from My English Matters. Today I thought I’d read aloud a short story I wrote a few years back called “My First Day at School in Manchester”.

(You can find the original post with the story and photos here! Or listen to the episode here.)

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

You can read the story aloud with me here:

At the age of eight, my family and I moved to the United Kingdom. This was the start of our eight-year journey in an English-speaking land — my father was pursuing his higher education while the rest of us five siblings (all girls) and mother (homemaker)  began to carve our life in the multicultural city of Manchester.

We settled in a small, fully furnished, red-brick terrace house. The house kept us happy and warm even in freezing temperatures. Over the years, Mama cheered the house up with her fabulous cooking and baking. We also welcomed two more siblings and two white British cats into our home. (The picture above is our home in Manchester after I was lucky enough to go back and visit in 2016!)

Papa enrolled us in a nearby school. St. Marks was an ominous-looking building, shaped almost like a cathedral. The narrow, dark stairways reminded me of dungeons, while the large classrooms were the exact opposite: they were brightly lit and decorated with the pupils’ hand-drawn artwork and murals. Unlike primary schools in Malaysia, we didn’t have a school uniform, so I wore simple sweaters (or jumpers as they call them) and jeans underneath my maroon coat every day.

On my first day of class, it struck me how mature my eight-year-old peers were. It was a multi-ethnic class; my classmates were mostly Pakistanis, and so was my teacher. They’d speak to our teacher as if they were friends! In confident, loud, Manchester-accented voices, they’d say: “How are yeuu, sir?”, “Mornin’!”, “Ye aww right, sir?”

There I was seated at the girls’ table, tiny and shy. Everybody was big-boned and a head taller than me. I could barely speak a word of English. I had watched English cartoons and had English-speaking neighbours back in Malaysia, but I rarely used English at home.

Luckily, my classmates were very friendly. They thought I was a polite, shy, little Malay girl. The girls asked me how to say their names in Malay. A boy came to my table and asked me if I lived in a house on top of a tree in a rainforest.

“Don’t be daft!” the girl at my table snapped at him, dismissing the boy’s curiosity. Then she turned to me and said, “So, how do you say my name in your language?” (Let me remind you, we were eight.)

My teacher, the kind Mr. Fadzil, gave me exercise books and a pen to gauge my level of English and Maths. I did the exercises in silence while the girls chatted away. On a section on identifying colours, my heart sank when I realised I didn’t have a brown colour pencil.

I had to interrupt the girls’ lively chatter to speak in English.  I pointed at a small tub of colour pencils in the middle of the table and said, “Excuse me. Can you give me… um… that colour?” I didn’t know the exact word to describe the colour so I blurted out the best and most accurate term in Malay:

“Coklat.”

“Chocolate?” the girl with thick braids asked, looking blank. “Do you mean brown?” She turned to the other girls. “Aww, Azimah said chocolate! That’s so cute! Here you go, mate!”

My ears and cheeks burned in shame, but because the classroom was cold, nobody really noticed. They resumed their cheerful chatter and continued doing their work.

Those were the first English words I spoke, and although my classmates found it amusing,  to me, this experience marked the beginning of my deep desire to learn English. And thus began my labour of love to learn, read, write, and communicate in English.

I enjoyed writing this story and reading it aloud to you. It reminded me of how much I used to enjoy writing during my childhood years in the United Kingdom.

It’s all thanks to my mother who was concerned that her five daughters would not be able to adapt to the English-speaking environment, and so she had to devise a plan.

Every Sunday, Mama would go to a nearby car boot sale and buy second-hand British comics and storybooks. She bought them at extremely low prices (10 to 50 pence a piece)!

I would pore over these books every Sunday afternoon, marvelling at the beautiful illustrations and captivating stories, and picking up exciting new words and phrases along the way!

As my sisters and I got older, we turned to writing to express our creativity. We would then draw the characters, design the “book” covers and read each other’s stories, admiring and laughing out loud at the plot twists!

Anyway, this week’s episode is a short one. It is a story aimed at capturing my shyness on my first day at school in Manchester as an eight-year-old girl.

Perhaps you too have a story you would like to write and read aloud?

Let us know if you do!

Anyway, enjoy this episode!

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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