All views are my own – this post is from my perspective, as a new volunteer.
Last Thursday (23rd November 2017) I sat in and helped out during the whole women’s English session at SWAP, these happen 10:30am to 12:00pm every Thursday.
Belinda, an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor, who leads the session arrived first so I used the time I had before the clients came to ask her about her experience at SWAP. She described it as “very, very rewarding” and out of a week’s work she finds absolutely the most satisfaction at SWAP because she teaches “real people with real problems” and she feels she can make “such a difference” to their lives by teaching English. I agreed with how rewarding the class is, after sitting in a few I can see how SWAP have created a social space for the clients. Belinda commented that it is a relaxed setting for the ladies to make friends.
“Belinda will be teaching the class with a client’s baby in her arms”
I have worked in a different type of classroom environment and the differences are striking, Belinda said it is not like a regular teaching environment, the ladies vote with their feet. The clients who come want to be here. Sometimes, if it rains the ladies can’t come and sometimes Belinda will be teaching the class with a client’s baby in her arms because it’s so busy – the attendance of the clients matters on their circumstances that day and no two days are the same.
Then the class began, the atmosphere was helpful and friendly. There were ten people that day including Belinda and myself. The first task was “asking for things”. This task included words that are useful in general life and conversational phrases, this was done by putting concrete words into sentences. Belinda asked about the client’s lives to apply the conversational phrases in a more personalised way, this demonstration of friendship and trust showed again that this class is different to regular teacher to student classes. Belinda has established a relationship with every individual in the class and if they are new they are welcomed into the class. The new client Jane* brought her young child who patiently watched the class and played toys from SWAP’s toy box!
“The only time she practices English is at SWAP or out in the community”
Towards the end of this task I sit with Mahbuba* and ask about her experience with SWAP. She tells me that it is very useful. Specifically this class as she doesn’t speak English at home and she goes home straight after the SWAP class. The only time she practices English is at SWAP or out in the community. The practice here is very beneficial and the conversational phrases are particularly beneficial as she can directly use sentences Belinda has taught her and they can be easily adapted to be used in different situations. She told me the phrase I hear very regularly that SWAP is a kind and friendly space. Mahbuba* enhances on this and tells me that Belinda is very friendly and especially because she teaches out of her own time. I asked about her experience making friends at SWAP in the class and she said it is useful because she saw someone from the class near her house and it made her happy to see someone she recognised and knew from the class, and since then she has spoken to her outside of the class a few times.
After Belinda had gone through the first task and the pronunciations we moved to the second. This task is about “health checks”, for example what you would go to a doctor’s surgery for, the opticians or the hospital. This task is very important in everyday life because it concerns client’s health. During this task I sat with Amina*, I asked her about her experience with SWAP and she said she has been coming for three years, SWAP helped to register her children and allowed her a space to make friends.
“These classes have definitely inspired me to learn another language too!”
The final task was more social than the others, paired clients had a board and a dice and whatever question the dice landed on it would encourage a conversation would begin about something different, the questions included “What do you want to do on your next birthday?” or “what are you doing after this class?” or “What’s a place you don’t want to go back to?”. This allowed me to join in with a conversation with Amina* and we chatted about our birthdays and what job she would like to do in the future and this led to her telling me how she loves baking and would like to open a bakery store.
To conclude, the women in attendance at the class seem to get a lot out of it and enjoy it, and this is exemplified by the fact that they show up! They are not obliged to do so, many of them also attend college, study online and try to learn wherever possible. I think what I have learned from sitting in on these classes is that another language is difficult to learn but very fulfilling when the phrases start to help in daily life. These classes have definitely inspired me to learn another language too!
*while their words are true, client’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.