This article is to give some background to a refugee´s language learning situation and their language learning needs. My intention is to create a network of teachers prepared to offer lessons for free to refugees in order to bridge the gap between the current educational opportunities available to them and their language requirements. I will talk about the situation in the city of Granada, Spain, I have some experience and knowledge of the refugee crisis there. It is not necessarily a reflection of situations in other countries, though I expect the need for 1:1 teachers is not being met anywhere.
Since 2016 Granada Red Cross has been sheltering refugees who have been sent from Camps across Europe. Up to date it has taken in some 300 refugees more or less and expects another wave of a hundred or so more in the coming weeks. The refugees are housed in a hostel for the first 12 -18 months the time needed to process their placement and then eventually grant them their work permit. The hostel is under supported, with education being low on a list of priorities when blankets and beds are scarce and heavily in demand. There are funds for a teacher, a classroom is provided and 5 hours of daily lessons given in Spanish Monday to Friday. This all sounds quite promising until to imagine that classroom.
Let me explain; the first wave of refugees brought 90 students to Granada. They had all been sent from a refugee camp in Greece. Refugees may have to wait 10 years to be granted asylum to a country, 10 years in a camp of refugees with endless mother-tongues; Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and numerous African languages and dialects being some examples. Ironically enough this multilingual community, living so closely together forces refugees to need a common language. Refugees are resourceful. If they have got as far as a Greek camp they are very resourceful and a difference in language is not going to stop them. They learn quickly and often English becomes a common vía of communication that they use with refugees of origins different to their own and with authorities and aid organisations. This is wonderful, you may think, except that the majority of refugees will not end up in England or any English speaking country. Where refugees do get sent will not be determined by what languages they speak. The UN will decide if a refugee is eligible for asylum. Once they have granted this asylum they will be placed on a list of those first to leave for the next available country, wherever that may be. With little warning or time to prepare, refugees will be given asylum and flown to their new country of residence. They land and are distributed among the cities with shelters.
So, back to that classroom – a classroom of students with multiple languages in a country they have no idea of. They have 1 year to get fluent enough to find a job, get through an interview and keep the job, they need more than just a basic level of Spanish and quickly. They are 90 people of various languages, literacy skills, various alphabet systems with diverse phonetics, various educational levels and multiple professions. Imagine being that teacher. You know from the start there is only so much you can offer and it´s probably not going to be enough. For some students it isn´t enough, they find it too difficult to keep up, the challenge is too great and they leave, resorting to trying to find ways to self teach.
There is a common factor, these students are motivated – remember they have come a long way to get this far. They are the survivors of millions who didn´t make it across the seas, through the years in camps, through the asylum process, not least to mention the reasons they are fleeing in the first place. They are determined. Despite everything they will find a way to learn this language. Their motivation is still rooted in survival just as much as it was before in their journey. Without work, they will soon be without food and homeless.
So, the situation is not absolutely hopeless but as teachers we can see the limits, the holes that desperately need filling. One teacher cannot provide enough individual correction and individual help to so many levels and abilities and spoken language cannot be practiced and monitored to aid a degree of mastery.
So, what are the solutions available? Well, the European Council presents a list of links available with free language learning resources; some grass-roots organisations try to involve volunteers to help with conversation practice; the Instituto de Cervantes had promised access to online course resources (teacher not included) though this promptly fell into inactivity; the British Council also has materials available. In reality though what refugees really need is the 1:1 lessons.
1:1 would allow students to learn quicker, to focus on the level they are on, at the speed they learn at, to practice the language areas that are most practical to them and most importantly to practice spoken language and pronunciation. Some special purpose materials may be needed for skills like interview practice, CV writing, job searching. All of this can be accessed on an online platform even on a mobile phone. Most refugees have a mobile; this is a lifeline enabling them to keep contact with family and friends they may have become separated from, allowing them to find legal advice and support on the internet. There is a way to help.
The finer details of such a program I will present in a follow up article. If you would like to help this project you can follow me, to get more details and to receive follow up articles or you can message me. You can also recommend this article to others and like it to help others find it more easily. Thanks for following.More soon J