Talking Groups: getting comfortable with speaking English

We’ve been running our Talking Together project for the last five years, providing basic English classes to over 5,000 adults across London and the Midlands. Now, we’re excited to be able to pilot a follow-on programme for our learners: Talking Groups. 

For the past few years, learners and volunteers have told us they want to practice their English more before they have the confidence to attend more formal ESOL classes or to use their new language skills in real life.

As part of MHCLG’s Integrated Communities English Language Programme, we’ll provide 300 learners with an extra 6-8 weeks of sessions held at the same community venues where they’ve attended Talking Together classes. These Talking Groups will be focused on the practical use of English and getting comfortable with situations like a doctor’s appointment, school parents’ evening or a job interview.

Practice in a safe space with a volunteer they know and a group of other learners they feel comfortable with, combined with practice in realistic settings through class trips, will hopefully make using English in those real-life situations that much easier. In addition, we’ll be inviting speakers from organisations such as ESOL providers, schools and other charities to visit the Talking Groups to give learners the chance to ask questions and learn more about the things they may be anxious about.

Our inspiration when devising the Talking Groups came from both our learners and our volunteers. When visiting our Talking Together classes, we’ve noticed the same areas of discomfort repeatedly mentioned by learners. They say they struggle with understanding their child’s school report and generally want to get to grips with how the English education system works. Some find it difficult to understand letters from the hospital or don’t know what support is available after they’ve had a baby. Others are not sure how to put together a CV or the cheapest and easiest way to buy a train ticket.

Some of our volunteers have adapted the Talking Together curriculum to help address these areas and boost confidence. One volunteer put together a session for learners to role-play a parents’ evening, another planned a class to help learners understand the language around minimum wage and workers’ rights, another talked to their group about what a smear test is and how to book one.

Based on all we’ve seen, the team have created resources focused around four main themes: health and well-being, work, transport and public services, and relationships with your children’s school.

Every group of learners is different, so we expect each of our Talking Groups to be a little bit different in terms of what is covered and how. Our volunteers will choose which topics are best suited to the needs of their group and will also encourage the learners to have a say in what they want to focus on. We’re continually impressed by our volunteers’ ideas and creative ways to support learners, so we’re excited to see how they adapt the materials we’ve put together.

No matter which topics the groups choose, we’d like all learners to understand the next steps in their ESOL journey. Many will attend a class in a local community venue but not go on from there to attend more ESOL classes, often due to fears about the formal environment. We’ll try to help break down these barriers and show learners that there is plenty out there to support them to learn English once they’ve finished the Talking Together programme.

Now that our resources are ready and volunteers are trained, we’re ready and raring to get started. If you’re interested in finding out more about how our pilot goes, take a look here and keep an eye on our social media!