Northern Ireland

The Syrian boy in Belfast who charmed social media with his language skills


It's been an interesting three weeks for Mohammed.

After the 11-year-old was interviewed for a BBC News NI report on the drop in the number of pupils who study languages in Northern Ireland, he has become something of an internet sensation.

The young boy who came from Syria to Northern Ireland captured the hearts of social media users who were amazed at his aptitude for picking up languages - and his Belfast accent.

Standing on a pitch at Michael Davitts' Gaelic Athletic Club with a hurley in hand, Mohammed says he was a bit shocked.

"I thought [the news report] was going to be a normal thing, but it just went viral," he said.

"Everyone was congratulating me on it, so I was happy."

Image caption Teacher Barry McMahon says that taking part in Gaelic games has helped some students integrate

To date, the video about Mohammed acting as an interpreter for his classmates has been viewed more than two million times on Twitter.

But for St Clare's Primary School, ethnically diverse backgrounds and accents are part of the furniture, according to teacher Barry McMahon.

Culture diversity

The Belfast primary school has 448 pupils, approximately 10% of whom learn English as a second language.

Figures from the Department of Education suggest pupils who do not have English or Irish as their first language account for 4.7% of the total enrolment in Northern Ireland.

Last year, an extra 1,018 "newcomer pupils", as they are known, enrolled in Northern Ireland schools.

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Media captionMohammed picked up plenty of languages during his journey from Syria to Northern Ireland

Polish is the first language most spoken by newcomer pupils, department statistics show.

Lithuanian, Romanian, Portuguese and Arabic are also in the top five first languages for newcomer pupils.

At St Clare's, there are 10 different nationalities, from Syrian, eastern European, Asian and more.

'Language barriers'

But an interest in the Irish language is not the only way some pupils have integrated into their new community.

It is Friday morning in Davitts' and boys and girls in purple and yellow jerseys are passing the leather Gaelic footballs between multi-coloured cones.

When pupils arrive at the pitch, some run to pick up a hurley, others a football.

Mr McMahon believes Gaelic games are a great way for the children to experience the culture.

"It's a way for them to come together," he told BBC News NI.

"A lot of the children who come here have language barriers and it's a way of making friends and just belonging to something."

Image caption Samantha is from Belfast and her family hails from Lithuania

Ten year-old Samantha is from Belfast, but her parents are from Lithuania.

She has been playing Gaelic for two years. She said her parents were "surprised but happy" by her new hobby.

Mohammed said Gaelic football is his favourite. He likes playing in defence or as a forward and "sometimes midfield".

But, he said, he doesn't have any ambition to play for county - at least not yet.

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