by Colette Butterworth
Why is teaching English in the community so important?
As a teacher of English to members of the Muslim community, I deem teaching the English language within the community to be exceptionally important. If students are unable to communicate by using the English language in the UK, this becomes a barrier to their inclusion within the social environment. The students value being included in a British setting and being informed of our British values and customs.
So, if it’s not all about grammar, what is it about? Most of my students are mothers of children who have been born here in Manchester. Their children go to nursery and school in Manchester. Their children therefore speak English to their friends and teachers but at home they speak the native tongue of their parents. If there is a problem at school, these mothers do not have the confidence to speak to their children’s teachers. If they have a health problem, they often ask their children to translate at the doctors or dentist. These mothers therefore need to overcome the barriers of exclusion within their society.
Teaching in the community is not simply about building grammar techniques and structuring language correctly; it is about building confidence. Not only confidence in speaking and listening skills, reading and writing but also in their ability to jump on a bus, speak to a doctor, buy something in a shop and help their children with their homework. All this, without their husband or their child translating for them. All this, on their own. Finding their confidence, autonomy and independence is just as important as gaining an entry level qualification in English.
The students work together to improve their spoken and written English. As their teacher, I would like to allow them to become more integrated into the society they and their children live in. I build their confidence by employing activities so they understand the importance of communication, whether it is by sight, sound or touch.
The group have been out on a trip to the Manchester Museum where they had great fun looking at the poisonous frogs and exhibits from their home countries. We then took the bus into Rusholme and they ordered their own food in a highly recommended kebab house. Across the road was a sweet shop where they all showed me their favourite desserts.
The students in my community group are of a variety of ages. They all speak the same language and most have children. They have varying abilities. Some have never been to school before and some have high level qualifications from their own country. However, in this country, my students are confined to their homes because they are relied upon to look after the house, the husband and the children. They are so committed to their family they feel uncomfortable when leaving the house. For these students, this session is the highlight of their week.
We are currently planning a cookery day. I will be showing them how to make a Victoria sponge and they will be showing me how to make samosas and biryani.
So, it’s not all about grammar, but it is about confidence building, having fun and doing things the students have probably never done before.