Roma preschool children and language in Slovakia

Still today, Roma children are placed in special schools and classes because they do not master the national language. Preschool is failing on them and they are often exposed to communication in Roma language only at home. How can we help them?

Preschool education for children is indispensable and provides them with the right prerequisites to master school, social skills, hygienic habits, ability to work in a collective environment and respect others. The use of the language has to be mastered at a sufficient level to enable the pupils to learn in school. For example, the process of learning to read, write and calculate assumes that the pupils have sufficient vocabulary and understand simple tasks.

Our experience shows that children who speak in a dialect with their parents at home, and have not been in contact with the national language, face communication problems. This is even harder for children from the marginalized communities. Not only do they come into contact with a completely new language, they are also burdened by the psychological feeling of shame when they express themselves, or are afraid of being mocked by their classmates.

Preschool education presents the best opportunity to adapt and get prepared for the first year of school. The compulsory final year in kindergarten before entering school is unfortunately not sufficient in the majority of the cases: Roma children mostly fail to fill the skill gap that separates them from the majority children.

Statistically, Roma children are often ill, miss many days of preschool and their preparation process is not continuous. Also, a sufficient mastery of the Slovak language usually requires a longer adaptation time and these children are often exposed to communication in Roma language at home. So how can we help them?

Invest in families

Roma mothers usually do not work, they are at home, so they prefer the children to stay at home with them. Shouldn’t we therefore look for ways to “enlighten” parents so that they can support their children adequately?

In addition, Roma often lack sufficient funds to pay the school fee, which is about 150 euro per year. Long-term segregation and lack of interest in addressing these key issues have produced critical consequences. Shouldn’t we motivate the families with suitable economic tools to help them?

Provide services

There are, however, also examples of good practice provided by municipalities, non-profit organizations and volunteers that have created spaces for families with small children in community centers. TOY for Inclusion is an example in this direction. The Play Hubs created by TOY for Inclusion have been helping vulnerable children prepare for preschool and school in eight European countries. To read more about the project, go to

By Miroslav Sklenka, PhD., Executive Director at Škola dokorán and
Peter Strážik, Principal of the primary school of Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.

Willing to speak Romani?

- Blog | Stanislav Daniel

Today is the International Day of Romani Language, recognized by UNESCO and the Council of Europe. While waiting for recognition by many other institutions and authorities, Romani is finding its ways towards usability. Diversity cannot be embraced without acceptance of Romani. Are there challenges? Well, we never said it was going to be easy.

Using the Romani language beyond the Roma community can indeed be a challenge. At the community level, it is expected that people speak your dialect. Also, they will most probably understand the words adopted by the nearby majority language(s). Exactly this might be an obstacle just the moment you leave your own community.

Old words, new words and everything else

For centuries, the Romani language remained mostly unwritten, shared from generation to generation by a word of mouth. It has never been a language of science (not yet) and thus it has not been developed with new, modern words.

To describe modern subjects, Roma would typically use the local majority language term with a suffix: “-is” or “-os”. This might be a challenge for people who do not speak the local majority language. In Slovakia, for example they would be suddenly expected to understand počitačis (“počitač”=computer, plus the “–is” suffix). Despite easily understood by Slovak Roma (and probably by  Roma speaking other Slavic languages), it may not work for Roma elsewhere.

There are two main streams in efforts to make Romani usable at the international level. One is trying to develop new words by transforming the original ones – e.g. modifying the Romani adjective meaning right (ćaćo, čačo, tʃatʃo) to refer to right as a noun (e.g. in human rights).

The second one, relies on the use of international words. Thus, constitution becomes konstitucija and inclusion is inkluzija.

The struggle of writing

As you have already witnessed, writing in Romani is another challenge – as you have to decide which transcription you are going to use. The word for a girl/daughter can be written as čhaj, ćhaj, tʃaj and many other forms, while still keeping the original sound.

But it does not stop there. With the wide variety of dialects and different pronunciations, you may hear Roma also using shay, tschey or similar words to refer to girl or daughter. And yet, with Roma being the real global citizens, do not forget about the Roma in Russia or China, whose writing would be very different.

And still we must try!

In 2016, we translated the Romani Early Years Network manifesto and some other materials in Romani. To reach as many communities as possible, we have used two of the most widespread Romani languages in Europe. And yet, exactly because of trying to be universal, we are losing those who understand only their own dialect.

Still, using Romani, especially in projects and initiatives aiming for Roma inclusion, is a must. We accept all challenges, we understand that they would need to be addressed. That’s because for today’s open society it is crucial that Romani is accepted. Exactly because the lack of its development is only the result of centuries of efforts towards obliteration.

‘Buna zua! Kum ješć?’ REYN Croatia presents the course for teaching the basics of Beyash language to adults

- News

The Romani Early Years Network Croatia offered a course of Beyash language to its members – primarily to educators and other professionals working with Roma children. The course is taught by Romani assistants, Biljana Horvat and Elvis Kralj, with the guidance of Professor Radosavljević. The Beyash language is an old Romanian dialect; it is spoken by a large number of Roma people in Croatia and specifically in the Međimurje County, which has the highest concentration of Roma people in the country. This is the first time that a course of this kind is delivered, so far there have been no published resources nor teaching materials in Beyash.

Read more about the course here.