Three trilingual sisters – Mariam, Fatima and Sara– are proud of their Polish-English-Arabic heritage. “I don’t know if I want to continue living in the UK. I would like to live in the best country available for me where I will be able to communicate well with others. Being trilingual helps increase the number of areas I could live in”, says Mariam Al-Janabi in an interview with Maria Helena Żukowska.
Were you all born in the UK?
“No, Sara and I were born in England and Fatima was born in Poland.”
You go to English school, you used to go to Polish school, now you also go to Arabic school. What is it like, as British teenagers, to keep all this rich family heritage alive?
“It’s hard because we’re always busy and have to keep up with our school work and with all our friends, whilst having our family days and our community meetings (for example Eid celebrations, Polish national days and events).”
How do things work linguistically in your household?
“All three languages are used. We speak English between ourselves, we speak Polish with our mother and Arabic (mixed with a bit of Polish) with our father.”
When you travel to Poland, do people pick up that you are from the UK by your accent?
“Sometimes they pick up that we aren’t from Poland because we may pronounce some words wrong.”
In what way do you feel Polish? In what way do you feel British?
“I feel Polish in the sense that I can speak and understand the language, and I take part in some traditional and cultural habits. I feel British because I was born and raised here.”
What are your ambitions or career plans for the future? Do you plan to continue living in the UK , or maybe to travel to work in Poland? Or somewhere else?
“My ambition is to help others, to work with old and young people that need help (as a therapist, psychologist). I don’t know if I want to continue living in the UK. I would like to live in the best country available for me where I will be able to communicate well with others. Being trilingual helps increase the number of areas I could live in.”
Do you think it’s important that Polish-British children attend the Polish Saturday School? Is it important for such children to learn the Polish language and culture?
“Yes, I think it’s important because then the Polish children will understand their culture and traditions, which will help them understand and know about who they are and where they come from. Also, when they have their own children, they can pass on the traditions.”
What do you think of Polish traditions?
“I love the Polish traditions. I find them interesting. Everything has a reason, and they all just look good!”
Do you sometimes teach your friends about Polish traditions, foods or the language?
“I try teaching my friends the language. They are always intrigued and try, but sometimes they find it difficult to pronounce some words. I offer my friends a lot of Polish food, which I love. They then become fond of it.”
What do you think the future of Poles in the UK will be? Will more continue to move over here?
“I think that the Poles will start their own companies in the UK, and more Poles will continue moving here. They will join the community and social groups that are already settled in the UK.”
Any funny stories?
“Once we were in Poland and we were shopping. We forgot where we were and we started talking in English. Suddenly, we noticed that people started looking at us, so we thought, ‘why don’t we speak in Arabic?’. And so we did! Everyone that we walked past turned to look at us!”
Answers by Mariam Al-Janabi
This interview was carried out as part of the ‘Poles in the UK’ project, and was first published in the book Poles in the UK: A Story of Friendship and Cooperation (by Brin Best & Maria Helena Żukowska, 2016).