Refugee waves and new challenges
Forceful relocation of massive amounts of people is no stranger to human history. Dreadful causes like famine, war and persecution have pushed thousands around the globe since the very beginning. In the most convoluted times, refugees leave their homelands in the search for survival, freedom and other basic aspects of life. Even if they leave the worst behind, they are still likely to find hell when they arrive to their next stop. Sometimes, that stop is the United Kingdom.
War and poverty have forced thousands to ferry across the sea and arrive to the United Kingdom, looking for a place to live. Countries that welcome refugees will take measures to ensure they can be integrated into their society, for social and legal purposes.
Of course, the more different our culture is from the regfugees' culture of origin, the more intense the shock will be. They might be used to behave in a different way, to live under different laws, and to embrace different values. Also, one of the main challenges for integration is the language barrier.
If we want refugees to integrate in to the British society, work, get educated and fulfill their legal obligations, and even become an active part of our country enriching us and offering their own cultural contributions to our nations, it is fundamental to teach them at least the basics of the English language. Studies in other countries like the United States show how English language proficiency is heavily linked to economical success and work opportunities. Also, language is funamental for social integration, comprehension of legal and civil liabilities, and the use of private and public services, including basic rights like health. political involvement and education.
Teaching English to refugees
The main challenge when integrating refuges through the English language is that not in all cases they have the basic knowledge and training to receive these lessons like any adult student from other language would do. Educational structures and devices are based in our cultures, and even if we take them for granted, things like classroom etiquette and behaviour and group work with a given task might not be among the refugees' list of skills.
Adult refugee learners with limited literacy, or even no literacy at all, are the main challenge here. Refugees usually come from culturally and economically restricted backgrounds and have the bare minimum to survive, so they might not even know how to read or what a school is. So a regular English teacher with no specific training in teaching refugees might now know what the best practices are for helping these new inhabitants learn the basics of our language.
A process of teaching academic literacy is often needed before refugees can take English classes in a regular classroom model. Also, this sort of training will also help them get integrated in the educational system, opening new doors for acquiring new knowledge and even engaging in professional studies.
An integrative language teaching model
Standard English classes might have a limited impact in the actual life of refugees. Not only does literacy limitation impact negatively in the overall results of traditional English classes, but also an approach model for language integration of refugess shoud emphasize the practical needs of this particual population as well as address their specific traits. Refugees often face great challenges for integration and education, such as cultural shock and differences, homesickness and even trauma caused by the horrible things they have experienced before fleeing their homes and arriving to a somewhat welcoming environment.
The Integrate Ireland Experience launched in Ireland a few years ago has put these and other challenges in evidence. Integrating refugees and offering them a true chance to become successful and happy members of our society isn't an utopia, but it's deffinitively challenging and requires a specific approach. From this point of view, integrative teaching models that focus on the practical aspects of language and integration with native members of society seelms like the best option. Cultural immersion models, offered in language schools like Totally English across Ireland, are considered to be one of the best approaches for this situation.
The advantage of immersion courses is that it offers students the possibilitiy to make friends and establish bonds with locals, while practicing English in real life situations. English courses based in this model have proven to be very effective to tackle not only the language barrier, but also other problems many refugees face when they relocate in a foreign country like ours. Hopefully, more and more teachers will receive proper training to address these challenges in the future.