Asha has offered English language classes to asylum seekers since 2011 when a relationship was first built between Keele University’s Language Centre and Asha. Trinity CertTESOL Since then students from Keele have been holding regular classes during term time for elementary (A2) and lower intermediate (B2) levels of English and currently teach around 60 asylum seekers a year.
The relationship with Keele has grown over the years. Some examples are Keele Alumni funding for English classes, Keele TESOL students running a children’s Learn English group on Saturday mornings in 2016, and a donation of sewing machines for the women’s group, medical students carrying out their project research at Asha, and Asha’s presence at Keele’s refugee week activities for two years.
The classes taught by Keele students have always been popular but there are an ever- increasing number of asylum seekers arriving with little or no English and the task of teaching them has fallen to what has now become a strong group of teaching volunteers. In 2018, funding was acquired for an English language project to equip the volunteer teachers with further knowledge and resources to teach beginner level English which, by its nature, is a very specialized area. Some have worked with classes, some on an individual and family basis, where appropriate.
Specialized training was carried out in late 2018 by Russell Clark from the Language Centre at Keele University and Dr Barbara James (myself). Materials and equipment was purchased and this year 71 asylum seekers have followed the resulting programme carried out by the volunteers. The majority of recipients have been male so in the future we plan to reach more females through a special one to one and small group programme, as well as encouraging more asylum seekers to act as teaching volunteers to support their own nationalities and/or language/dialect groups.
Margaret Yates, a teaching volunteer said (about specialized training):
The training sessions taught me a lot about what it must be like having little or no knowledge of the local language. I also gained more confidence in my teaching, particularly about being expressive and using my body and face to communicate. I learned new techniques such as breaking a word down to help ESOL learners get the pronunciation right, and the value of repetition. We also identified which were the most important functional skills to help learners progress onto the next level and this has been useful in lesson planning.
Diane Selby, another teaching volunteer said (about the asylum seeker classes):
(about the training) I now feel far more confident in teaching my Wednesday class.
Sue and I regularly teach a group of 12 – 15 asylum seekers who come from a number of different countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Eritrea. Many of the group are Arabic speakers and some have never written or held a pen before so writing our alphabet is a real challenge. Sue has been an Early Years teacher and we use some of the techniques she would have used in her classroom to help them, such as drawing letters in the air and on each other’s backs as well as on paper. They find this activity highly amusing.
Each week we include a mixture of speaking and listening, reading and writing. We aim to make our sessions enjoyable and interactive, including practical activities wherever possible. There is a great deal of laughter and we always end our session with ‘Alphabet Bingo’, which they all enjoy!
John Walsh, an Asha trustee and volunteer who manages all the English classes and one to one sessions said:
Our current users come from a wide variety of countries – Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, San Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Syria. Over the past 12 months, 36% have improved their skills substantially and have moved up to Elementary or Pre-Intermediate levels (provided by Keele University) and.16% moved out of the area (Home Office decision). A total of 138 sessions were held, consisting of 1,256 services.
Overall, the English language teaching team, Keele students and staff as well as teaching volunteers,-are proud that we have been able to work with so many asylum seekers over the past eight years, filling that gap before they are able to go to college. Some asylum seekers have moved on from being English students to becoming volunteers and we know that many feel more comfortable speaking English after they have had either one to one or small group tuition or attending a Keele class.
Dr Barbara James
ASHA NEEDS TO RECRUIT MORE VOLUNTEERS TO TEACH ENGLISH. Please get in touch if you wish to find out more.