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Learning to Communicate in English, part 2

September 20, 2017 9:43 PM
By Maureen Rigg

Speaking at Federal Party Conference in Bournemouth on a motion to provide proper English tuition for migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in the UK, Maureen Rigg said:

I want to emphasise the title of this motion - it's about learning to communicate, not about learning to pass exams.
I spent many years teaching ESOL to adults.
As funding got tighter so we had to focus more on outcomes being measurable and standardised - passing exams, getting certificates etc
But the people we were teaching were here in Britain because they wanted to be here; they'd come to join their spouse or to take up a new job or to improve their English. By and large they were happy with the courses being offered,
Then the world changed and suddenly we had people seeking sanctuary from wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, The Congo and more. They were here because being at home was no longer an option.
Their needs were not met by a syllabus. They didn't fit neatly into levels or categories.
Some needed help to understand the basics of prices and shopping; some wanted to talk about the trauma they'd been through, some didn't; some wanted to work and needed help to understand why they couldn't; some were fluent in English but needed help to understand our culture and behaviour rules: Questions about how to ask a woman to meet for coffee; how to make sure that you're not buying food that contains a forbidden item; how to shop on the market when prices are fixed, not open to bargaining - these don't generally come into a text book or syllabus.
For these people passing an exam was irrelevant at that moment . They couldn't always face coming to the class. Sometimes they just wanted to stay in bed and hide from the world. Sometimes they wanted to be at class but had to go to an immigration interview instead. Sometimes what they needed from a class was reassurance that we cared, we were trying to understand, or a warm place to be when their accommodation was cold. Can you imagine trying to learn a new language when you're desperate for news of your family back home or frightened that the policeman at the end of the road is going to arrest you.
Funding regimes must be flexible enough to take account of these ups and downs. Traumatised people need to learn at the pace they can cope with.
And parallel to this we need proper classes for those who are not driven here by trauma but have come happily and willingly and need language classes to help them settle in and support themselves and their families in the best way possible.
You can see a recording of the speech 57 mins into this video