Lindy’s story of teaching a young refugee English

Lindy was a volunteer, teaching English to unaccompanied young people for Hope service group. She was introduced to H, a student at Manchester college. He had come to the UK from Sudan and had never attended school at all, so could not read or write in his own language, let alone English.

Here, Lindy reflects on her time with H, working as a volunteer and how she’s has had to adapt her teaching methods during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Learning curve

girl drawing face

Learning curve

I know from experience how long it takes to learn a language. Add to that not being able to recognise letters and sounds, being here unaccompanied and maybe having suffered considerable trauma on the way… well, you can imagine.

H told me that he had been sitting in class for nearly six months without really understanding anything. He was hunched and his face was sad.

It took me a while to realise that I had to start with phonics and basic sound, but once I did, progress was fast. The grin on his face when he “got” it was a gift. When he was confident enough to make jokes and poke a little fun, and when I saw him interacting with other students, my heart soared.

Learning curve

I know from experience how long it takes to learn a language. Add to that not being able to recognise letters and sounds, being here unaccompanied and maybe having suffered considerable trauma on the way… well, you can imagine.

H told me that he had been sitting in class for nearly six months without really understanding anything. He was hunched and his face was sad.

It took me a while to realise that I had to start with phonics and basic sound, but once I did, progress was fast. The grin on his face when he “got” it was a gift. When he was confident enough to make jokes and poke a little fun, and when I saw him interacting with other students, my heart soared.

Working virtually

Lockdown has not been easy. It took me four weeks to get H to understand how to attend a Teams meeting. I sent him emails with screenshots, face called to try and show him my screen. I even spoke to his housemate so that he could explain in Arabic, but we made it in the end.

These are challenging times because everything has to be done virtually. This means no meeting and no hugging. It was tough when one of the girls ran away from her family because they were going to be repatriated to Libya and she wanted to stay here, or when one of the young men told me that he was feeling very low and felt unable to leave his bedroom or do the work set by the college.

A helping hand

There are positives too – like knowing I can be useful even at the end of a broadband cable. There are new ways to engage and it is an advantage that I can have one-to-one sessions now as well as small groups rather than running games and discussions for twenty. There is more time to listen and that is teaching me more about what these young people want and need.

I am so privileged and so grateful – not for the virus, but for knowing these young people.

We do what we can, but they need more. They are often in hostels with other refugees and asylum seekers who do not speak English. They need a guardian — that one adult who cares. If the young people’s Distress Signals campaign can fix that for them, they will have the lives they deserve, and that can only be to the benefit of all of us.