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 ‘Refugee’ announced as Children’s Word of the Year

‘Refugee’ announced as Children’s Word of the Year

06 June 2016

Each year BBC Radio 2 runs the 500 WORDS writing competition, inviting children under 13 to submit their short stories. OUP analysed over 120,000 entries this year and fascinating insights into the lives of British children and their imaginative use of English has emerged. 

‘Tim Peake’, ‘spacewalk’, ‘Shakespeare’, and social media terms such as ‘Facebook’ all featured heavily in the results, but ‘Refugee’ was revealed as the ‘Children’s Word of the Year’ due to a significant increase in usage by entrants, the sophisticated context in which children were using it, and the rise in descriptive language around it.

Despite the tenderness of their years, youngsters show a sensitive and mature understanding of the issues involved (the war in Syria, the journey across the Mediterranean, people smugglers, the camps in Calais) and they wrote compassionate, moving stories. The subject matter was mostly the plight of children their own age leaving home and undertaking difficult journeys, with powerful descriptive language and visual imagery—showing how they respond to what they see on TV, in newspapers, and on the internet. There was also an increase in vocabulary associated with refugee, words such as boat, camp, dinghy, crisis, border, shelter, journey, sea, desperate, safe, flee, travel, and trek. OUP’s analysis of the stories found that the attitude towards refugees was empathetic.

One entrant wrote “I’m in France . . . place called Calais. It turns out that nobody wants us after all. There was no gold at the end of the rainbow. I have no idea when or how I will get away from this prison”; whilst another said ‘“Son our neighbours just got bombed. We’re lucky we weren’t in the house! It’s decided we’re going!” “Ok . . .” Replied Yusuf solemnly “I’ll go pack . . .” This was a tough time for Yusuf. He was going to leave his friends, School and home.’

Vineeta Gupta, Head of Children’s Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, says: “The children writing in this year’s competition have demonstrated a sophisticated use of language in their storytelling. They have used rich descriptions to convey emotion and have produced powerful stories that resonate with the reader. Our extensive research has provided a deeper understanding of children’s language skills across the UK and we continue to be inspired by their creativity.”