What could you gain from volunteering?

I’m often asked if it’s hard to find volunteers to teach our Talking Together English classes, particularly as they are held during working hours and require a commitment of 2-4 hours per week. The truth is that volunteer recruitment is one of the easier parts of my role. In fact, we usually have a waiting list of volunteers!

Whilst it can be difficult to match volunteers with classes that are close to them and fit in around their other commitments, there are always plenty of people interested in volunteering, and I think this is because of the many benefits our volunteers gain from the experience.

Most of those who express interest in Talking Together want to volunteer to make a difference to the lives of the thousands of people who live in the UK but speak little or no English. Some have been through the daunting experience of moving to a country where they don’t speak the language and wish to support other people in the same circumstances. Others have parents or relatives who speak no English and have seen the difficulties of accessing everyday services such as the doctor or bank. Many others have seen stories in the media about the challenges faced by those without language skills and want to make a difference in their free time.

The sense of satisfaction gained by giving back to the community is certainly one of many rewards of volunteering. When asked what their favourite part of teaching is, most volunteers say it is seeing the progression of the learners and in particular their growth in confidence. In just 24 hours of classes, learners can go from needing their family and friends to book appointments for them to having the confidence to call the dentist themselves.  Seeing this kind of impact in such a short time is a great feeling for our volunteers.

Although we don’t require volunteers to have any specific qualifications, we’re often contacted by those who have completed TEFL or CELTA qualifications but haven’t had a chance to put these skills into practice. Volunteering allows them to get that crucial real life experience, particularly important for those who are unsure whether teaching is for them. In the last year, three of our volunteers have moved abroad to teach English, and more have taken on teaching roles within the UK. So volunteering even opens doors to a new career!

There are other things you might gain from volunteering for Talking Together that you might not expect. Organisational skills, improved time management, stronger communication skills and much more! It’s also important to note that it’s not only our learners who gain confidence as the course goes on. Many of our volunteer teachers have never stood in front of a classroom before and are nervous, even visibly shaking, at the first class. The next time I visit, I see they are relaxed and have built a strong rapport with their class. Volunteers have often remarked that they never thought they would have the confidence to do something like this.

Finally, another perhaps unexpected benefit of volunteering is getting to know those who attend our Talking Together classes. Often volunteers develop an excellent relationship with their students despite the language barrier and find themselves learning from those they are teaching! Our learners range in age from 19 to almost 100 and come from 57 different countries including Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and many more, so there’s a lot to be learnt from them. Meeting our learners is certainly one of my favourite parts of my role as Project Co-ordinator. Through them I have acquired recipes, natural cold remedies and so many facts about life in countries across the world. These interactions not only improve the English skills of our learners but are also hugely important in creating a more integrated country.

We’re currently looking for volunteers to teach classes starting in September across London, and will be holding volunteer training sessions in July and August. If you’d like to get involved, we’re primarily looking for volunteers in Camden, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest. For more information about Talking Together London, take a here or contact me at calley@timebank.org.uk,  0203 111 0700.