Imagine: your child is sick, you need to call the doctor, but you can’t speak English, you can’t understand or navigate the switchboard options; if someone answers what can you say?
You want to learn, but there are no classes locally, you have no money for private lessons, you don’t feel confident travelling to college classes and don’t meet the entry requirements for them anyway!
Not knowing the language can isolate a person, physically within the small area in which they live and feel safe and emotionally, making them dependant on others to do things that most people take for granted. It means that some things you’d prefer to keep private, like health conditions, have to be shared with others.
Talking Together works to change the life chances of people without much or any English who are living within our communities. The programme provides free spoken language training and mentoring support to learners predominantly from the Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani communities. However, in total, we’ve recruited learners from 55 different countries of origin.
Research shows that it’s women who make up the largest proportion of non-English speakers. They want to be able to play a greater role in their communities and in British life. One of our learners, Naseem, says: “Now I can speak English at home with my kids and can even make an appointment with doctor and visit him by myself and for that I do not need anyone’s help any more.”
Fareeda says: “Now if I go out I can talk to shopkeeper and buy what I want to. Now even for hospitals I can understand appointments and their schedules.”
When one of our volunteers, Amy, took a group of learners on a trip to the city centre, she found that many had never been on a train before. In her blog she describes the difference this five minute journey made to their confidence. What had previously been unknown became known - from buying a ticket, watching the arrivals board, getting on the train, watching stations go by and recognising the right one, getting off, walking through a ticket barrier … so many tiny details, all previously unfamiliar.
In just 12 months, Talking Together has trained 146 volunteer language trainers and classroom assistants and delivered 1,440 individual classroom sessions involving more than 1,200 learners.
One of the reasons it has been so successful is that classes are organised locally and hosted by trusted community organisations; learners feel secure and so able to attend. The notion of ‘hard to reach’ is transformed through simply understanding what our learners need and partnering with the right agencies to ensure things happen.
In that regard, we work with a range of community partners to deliver the project. One of them is the Shama Women’s Centre in Leicester, where co-ordinator Khudeja Amer-Sharif describes the language training as very practical and family oriented: "It is about how to communicate with your GP, catch a bus - it is very practical. By learning the language, it impacts not only that individual but their family.”
We’re delighted that the project has now been boosted with further funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government! This will enable us to expand Talking Together across the Midlands and launch new projects in London, so watch this space!