The life of adult migrants who cannot speak English is strewn with difficulties. As adults, and often parents, they have responsibilities and they must manage their everyday life commitments. Moreover, adult asylum seekers are directly and personally in charge of their cases. Nevertheless, the lack of English proficiency that characterizes some adult migrants makes common interactive situations complicated and painful events.
[toggle title=”Listen to people’s experiences”]Rashid’s experiences at the supermarket and at the Refugee Council:
Salim’s experiences at the hospital:
Translators can help a lot, but some people think they stop their ability of expression:
Listen to a student’s opinion:
Moreover, not being able of speaking English strongly affects the capacity to have conversations with other people and to establish relationships and make friends.
[toggle title=”Read people’s experiences”]
“Sometimes when you say a word, the other person says, ‘What did you say?’ And you get lost straight away and ashamed.”
“Sometimes someone on the bus wants to speak to you, or you are in a party and someone talks to you and you say, ‘No, me no English’”
In the end, the chances to find a job without being able to speak English diminish tremendously.
All the situations I encountered had a serious impact on their self-esteem, making people feel down and strongly compromising their integration process.
[toggle title=”Read people’s experiences”]“It was a shame for me because you are human, you are clever, you can learn… It was awful because every time you need someone to come with you, even for shopping.”
“It is like having a chain and a ball at my legs” [/toggle]
As it can be deduced, the lack of proficiency in English has a negative impact on almost all the fundamental aspects of people’s life: their ability to manage social interactions, to deal with public institutions, to gain a living and, ultimately, their psychological balance. It is for this reason that ESOL should be considered a social policy and not a mere literacy issue. This becomes even more evident when considering the positive outcomes of a good English proficiency on peoples’ lives.
Life After ESOL
If the picture of a life without English is depressive, life when you can finally speak English is the opposite. To use just a simple, but powerful adjective, life becomes easy: “My life is much much easier now. I don’t look for others to help me.
[toggle title=”Read about the changes in people’s lives“]“I can go to the internet find information by myself. When you are sick, you go to the emergency and doctor gives you straight away medication […] I can go to school and speak to teachers.”
“Every time I want to see my solicitor I go by myself… I ask about my case and I get information quickly.”[/toggle]
Apart from the fact that everyday life becomes easier, learning ESOL has many other positive effects on the psychological situation of people:
“You just get confident. You speak the language, so you can do so many things… I can be an example for others. In Pakistan I have never had the chance to study and now I can speak, I can write.”
The change of attitude of students during the course are confirmed by the teachers as well:
“You can see that they are more comfortable, happier, you can see freedom in their body language.”
“You feel safe, anything can happen I can speak. Before I didn’t feel safe, but now I feel safe, I feel free.
Improving Mental Health
“English is important to be relaxed”
“We become less homesick. Once you are able to speak, you feel less lonely, you can make friends””
People finally obtain the most precious thing: they finally have their life back in their hands. As one of my interviewees put it : “Now my life is myself taking decisions”.
A New Will To Live
Learning ESOL helps people psychologically, not only because speaking English makes their life easier and gives them the confidence to enter the real world. It is also the learning process in itself that works as a psychological support.
First of all, this is evident for asylum seekers. ESOL helps asylum seekers to “keep their mind busy” as one of the interviewees put it. Studying gives people the chance to use their mind and then to push negative thoughts and traumatic recollections away. One of the students openly told me that learning English probably saved him from mental illness:
“When you have a mental problem… of course you can get tablets. I threw all of them to the bin. I thought, ‘This is what can help me: learning something.’”
Secondly, and more generally, learning a skill and then using it makes people confident about their capacities. This awareness, combined with the ability to speak English, gives people the will to take action to change their lives. All the people I talked to were planning to continue their education after the ESOL course at college or at university. People who did not attend school in their home countries had discovered the love for knowledge and people who attended university at home found the motivation to study again. What is impressive is that it was the ESOL experience that made this desire of education emerge in people. Moreover, some advanced students obtained the skills to find a job thanks to ESOL:
“It’s six year and a half I am here. The first four years I worked in a Portuguese restaurant… I took so many ESOL courses and finally, 2 years ago, a got another job where I speak English.”
To sum up the impact of ESOL on people’s life is huge and varied:
-It changes both people’s practical life by teaching a fundamental skill and changes their psychological situation by providing confidence.
-It has an effect on the present by making people’s lives easier and on the future by giving people the will to continue their education or the right skills to get a job.
This shows that ESOL is not only about learning a language but is a fundamental factor for integration.