My brief for helping asylum seekers to practise speaking English, was to "just give them something to stop them giving up hope until they can get into an ESOL class". ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is regarded as a Basic Skill for those who have come to live in a "majority native English speaking country". Of course, people living in England need to learn 'survival' English, and the English of formal education, social participation and work. But we are talking with adults who already have a load of skills and experience, hopes, dreams and aspirations. When I asked members of my regular Conversation Club to share ideas and concepts in their home languages, I realised we had a group of polyglots, with a wealth of knowledge far beyond that which they could articulate in English. As Jerome Bruner, American cognitive psychologist, wrote,
"A language that you have never been happy in, never been angry in, never made love in, a language that is only for school is no language in which to develop the enterprises of the mind".
1) We enlist the support of confident English speakers who also speak other languages. These include the polyglots who are already attending the Conversation Club, several of whom have been happy to translate for those who are less able to say what they want to say in English. 2) We ask the learners to become teachers. So the native English speakers who join the club must be people who enjoy trying to learn other languages. You don't have to be any good at it! But if you don't enjoy trying, then it would be like joining a dancing class when you don't like dancing. If we define a polyglot as someone who loves learning languages, then we can all become polyglots.
A politics of hope My work in adult education since the 1970s has been underpinned by Paulo Freire's politics of hope. Through my work on this current project, I want to show the continuing relevance of this politics to the task of helping asylum seekers to acquire confidence in using language to participate in all aspects of our society. You can read more about this approach here: Reading Paulo Freire in the 21st Century.