You know that old platitude ‘the smallest things make the biggest difference’? Well, who’d have known that the key to confidence lay in a pair of shoelaces! One learner from our hub at Gascoigne Primary School has reported the immense satisfaction she felt at being able to go into a shop and ask for shoe laces. Having previously been a teacher in her home country, she felt bewildered and disregarded, arriving in a completely new place with no idea of how to do things for herself, no voice, and no real sense of purpose. The laces on a pair of her son’s shoes snapped, and because she didn’t know the English she needed in order to find and buy a new pair, she was just going to buy him a whole new pair of shoes. However, in a session on clothes shopping, she asked what the word was and was able to go into a shop afterwards and buy a new pair of laces. Since this event, her confidence has grown so much that she is hoping to get back into teaching once her children are in school.
‘Learning English in my country didn’t help me!’
A learner from Gascoigne Primary School has told us how attending English lessons in her home country didn’t help to prepare her for the realities of speaking it once she arrived here. Arriving in the UK two years ago after having attended English classes in preparation for the move, she didn’t expect to find the language side of things as challenging as she did. Different accents, colloquialisms and dialectical variations she’d never encountered before left her feeling totally flummoxed and vulnerable. She tried to speak with her child’s teacher at parent’s evening and felt ashamed of her inability to communicate with them. After two years she was still very under confident. Since attending the classes, she is more confident attending parent’s evening and feels she has plenty of friends to talk to.
‘Now I know teachers here are friendly, and I can ask for help.’
‘Before dinner, we only speak English!’
Bilkis has made lots of friends from Creative English and has made a new rule with her children – before dinner, it’s English only! Sitting at the back of Green Street Library in Newham at their end of term party, with a big slice of lemon drizzle cake in hand, Bilkis told me how her relationship with her children has improved since attending the course. Where before they were embarrassed by their mum’s inability to communicate, she said that now they are proud of her and she was even able to take her daughter to the doctor’s without her husband to translate.
‘Every evening, my daughter ask Mum “Mum, let’s do reading!”, and we read!’
Where in the past her daughter’s book bag was a no-go zone of fear and bewilderment for her, now Bilkis and her daughter sit after school and read together. She says that, not only is it helping her to learn new words and to understand more about the way her children learn, it is also bringing them closer.
I often have to marvel at the intrepid spirit of many of my learners. It takes some real chutzpah to find yourself in a totally new place with a different language and completely different ways of doing things and still get yourself out of the house to do the food shopping on a daily basis, let alone getting information about and finding your way to an English class in an old church hall tucked away on a side road, a considerable walk away from where you live. With a small baby. When you’re only 20 years old.
Flutur arrived at my Monday class in Ilford, babe in arms, Children’s Centre timetable clutched in her hand and a faltering yet determinedly positive smile on her face. That Thursday, she arrived at the Goodmayes class, looking slightly more relaxed and ebulliently telling anyone who would listen how she’d asked her husband to help her to find a bus route so she could still get there when he was working. She completed ten sessions in record time, coming to both classes every week for five weeks. When the course finished, she told me how she felt she had more freedom and that she had the confidence now to do everything for herself, even joking that she really had no use for her husband any more because she was so capable and independent!
At 9am one Monday morning, I was setting up at St Luke’s. Humming away to myself and having probably let my mind wander while I moved chairs into a circle, it was a moment before I registered that the door at the back of the hall had creaked open. I turned to see a lady tentatively sticking her head round the door, already looking ready to apologise for her intrusion. I smiled and started to say hello, but before I could get much further the door was flung open and in came an energetic three year-old, whooping with delight at the sight of the toys laid out by the crèche workers. She was followed by a tall, over-worked looking woman who stopped short at the road-rug the crèche workers had put out and gestured to the lady still hovering in the doorway. ‘This lady wants English, I sent her to you?’
After sitting her down and explaining that I was still setting up, Blandine and I got talking. Her level was somewhere between Basic and Intermediate, but she was chronically under confident. The reason, I discovered, was that she was single and homeless, with three children.
Over the following three months, Blandine attended whenever she could. At the end of term party, she told me she was feeling better overall and that she was really happy she’d found the courage to come in on the first morning. Living in a hostel with three small children is lonely and exhausting. She told me that Creative English offered her a short break from her worries and the guarantee of friendly faces, as well as improving her overall wellbeing. She feels she can communicate more clearly, and has said that the best thing about the course is bumping into people from the class when she’s out and about and least expects it.
It’s the end of term party at Green Street Library and I am chatting to learners about their achievements since attending Creative English. I sit down next to Sabria, who I noticed earlier seems particularly confident and noisy – she is happy to make herself seen and seems to enjoy being the centre of attention. I ask her what the biggest change to her life has been since she started coming to Creative English.
‘I never used to speak in class…never! I just want to sit quietly… listen…not join in. But now…’ She looks away as though she is searching for the word, seems slightly embarrassed. I’m amazed – this wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
‘Oh!’ She stares at me all of a sudden, as though there’s something she forgot to say. ‘I have interview at Tesco!’
‘What…this Tesco?’ I indicate the Tesco Metro a few doors down from the library and she nods vigorously, grinning.
‘Yes yes! I find out to start Monday!’
‘Oh, wow! That’s fantastic! So you had an interview, and you will find out on Monday if you got the job?’
‘No!’ She laughs at me for not understanding. ‘They tell me I start three days induction, on Monday! I start job!’