Hearing from an ESOL tutor

Ortrun Peyn runs the weekly English conversation class at WMAG, Fridays 10 – 12:30, Salvation Army, Forest Road, E17 4PY

The WMAG runs a weekly English class for women who speak no or very little English. The aim is to equip the students with the language skills and confidence that are required to deal with everyday situations: making an appointment at their GP’s, shopping, talking to their children’s teacher, reporting a problem to the police, filling in forms for a library ticket or a season ticket, etc. Fun, enjoyment and the social aspect of meeting new people in a cheerful and supportive environment are an essential ingredient of these English classes.

Even though some of our women students are bi-lingual (e.g., in Somali and Arabic), many of them have had very few educational opportunities, leaving them with correspondingly poor literacy and study skills. Most of our women learners have busy lives, looking after their families and their homes. So the weekly English class has to be a worthwhile investment of their time. The offer of having a break during our two-hour lesson was firmly rejected. Not surprisingly, our students are extremely keen to learn and very aware that better English will improve their ability to cope with everyday problems and to understand the world around them.

Building up sufficient vocabulary alone takes time, especially when the teacher has no knowledge of her students’ native language(s).  Thank heavens for Google with its “Images” tab and for Google Translate. Students with good literacy skills in their native language should, ideally, have access to a quality dictionary. But who can afford the price of £30 or more?

One of the biggest challenges the students face is an understanding of the fact that successful communication is based on the use of correctly structured sentences. The bad habit of replying to questions or attempting to explain things by haphazardly stringing together a few nouns can be hard to break. Furthermore, the ability to describe a situation (or to tell a story) requires some understanding of what a verb is and the skill to express the distinction between the past, present and future. To learn these things, we always use examples that are relevant to the students’ everyday lives and their everyday communication needs. Hearing from a student that she now trusts herself to phone her GP surgery or her children’s school is hugely rewarding.

At the moment I produce my own teaching materials. If anyone knows of a textbook geared towards adult students from Middle Eastern and/or African backgrounds, please let me know by email at e17migrantscentre@gmail.com

Ortrun Peyn

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