Ideas on how to overcome barriers facing those new to English

Ideas on how to overcome barriers facing those new to English

Having worked in the ESOL field as a tutor for the past decade, I feel I have become fairly well acquainted with the varied and specific needs of individual learners in the field of this crucial language acquisition.  Whilst I have only been in the English Language Service Assessor role for a short time, I thought it might be useful to reflect on some things I have learned so far.

Learners are often only able to be offered short courses with few learning hours per week owing to funding constraints and other personal, work or family commitments. As such, learners can be understandably guarded about using that precious time to help strangers collect information about them, no matter how much context to the research we can provide. One thing that can help with this is to offer learners an icebreaker task (such as a vocabulary or spelling game) to help ease the transition from learning to form filling and focus group chat. This also helps to cement a rapport with what are essentially one or two previously unknown presences in the classroom and also creates some laughter and fun to prevent nerves about participating in an unfamiliar activity. In addition to this, having a cool down discussion about related or even non related topics provides a more human side to the interaction. Naheed, who is the English Language Service Coordinator is an absolute shining star with this and always leaves a venue with many new fans!

Another issue is around trust. When we present in a community setting with our Bradford Council badges, some learners can be initially on their guard with concerns (sometimes due to negative prior experiences with people in authority) on what information will be recorded and with whom it will be shared. Being able to be thorough in explaining our purposes, our professional backgrounds and giving detailed information relating to data protection are all key components of gaining and sustaining trust. In many venues, we have the invaluable benefit of having a translator on hand to explain in the learners’ first language all of these vital points. Where this facility is not available to us, we have online translation tools to enable us to clarify concerns. I feel it is also a crucial element to convey to learners that this is an opportunity to have their voices heard, their positive and negative experiences made known and to participate in the hope of achieving real improvements to ESOL provision across the Bradford district for all ESOL learners.  

Lisa Mckeon
English Language Service Assessor