Post-16 - Building a lifeline, phrase by phrase

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
Volunteer English tutors help to end isolation of immigrants

A small army of volunteers is being recruited by Edinburgh College to teach English in people's homes, as part of a scheme to support students who struggle to attend formal classes.

The one-to-one lessons are designed to provide a lifeline to students who are unable to attend English for speakers of other languages (Esol) classes in college, whether they want to improve their English to enrol on other courses, apply for jobs or simply attend doctors' appointments and school parents' evenings.

Volunteers looking to become English tutors must have good English and communication skills and a keen interest in language, the college says. With support and training, they will provide one-to-one teaching in the student's home for one hour a week over nine months.

Prior to taking up their teaching position, volunteers receive initial training from specialist college staff, and throughout the course they are supported by a lecturer and attend training days. During the project, they gain practical teaching experience and can be provided with references if they tutor successfully for six months. Around 100 volunteers are needed each year.

"Our volunteers come from all walks of life," said Jean Howat, Esol lecturer at Edinburgh College. "We have a lot of retired teachers, but we also have people who want to make a career out of teaching and people who work in other careers and just want to give something to the community."

The students supported by the scheme are predominantly immigrants without a basic level of English, often mothers with small children or members of the community unable to attend the college for other reasons, such as health problems.

"They often get referred to the scheme by community groups and health visitors, or hear about it through word of mouth," Ms Howat said.

To increase the chances of success, tutors are matched with students who have broadly similar interests and lifestyles. The lessons do not follow a strict syllabus, but are instead tailored by each tutor to meet the needs of their student. To enable this, tutors are supported by a team of lecturers and have access to an extensive resource library.

"Not only does learning English with the Edinburgh College Home Learning Scheme provide our students with opportunities for work but it can also offer a possible end to isolation within a new and unknown country," Ms Howat told TESS.

One of the students to have already benefited from the scheme, Zarina Arif, a mother of three originally from Pakistan, said the tutoring had given her the confidence to leave the house, speak to teachers and book doctors' appointments.

"I have three children and can't leave the house most of the time, so I struggled to learn on my own and really didn't have much confidence," she said, adding that the tuition had been particularly beneficial when her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

"Of course we had a lot of questions for the doctors. The English I had learned helped me to communicate with the medical team and understand my husband's condition," she said. "Thankfully, he is now back to full health.

"I also have great plans for the future: I hope to use my language skills to study at Edinburgh College and eventually become a beautician."

The next training course for tutors starts in the new year, with information sessions to be held on 17 and 31 January. For details, email

Foreign exchange

Volunteers for the Edinburgh College tutoring scheme must have good English and communication skills and a keen interest in language.

They will teach one student in the student's home; lessons will take place for an hour a week over nine months.

Volunteers will receive initial training from specialist staff and ongoing support.

Benefits include teaching experience and a reference after six months.

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