Help Refugees Learn English

Help Refugees Learn English

by | May 11, 2022 | Blog

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Tips and suggestions for helping refugees learn English

How can we help refugees learn English in our classrooms or English cafes?  That’s the subject of this blog as we aim to answer a question we received recently from one of our former CT trainees:

“I was wondering if you have any sessions on things we should specifically consider when teaching refugees?”

We put our heads together and decided to ask our lovely trustee Sophie. She has started teaching refugees in the South West recently and makes two very useful suggestions.


1. Carefully consider ability and materials

Firstly, we need to think about their level and ability to learn English. We can assume that many (though not all) refugees will have a low level of language ability. Therefore, we have to find resources that will be visual, at an appropriate level and not require a lot of additional time to tailor or adapt them. Sophie says:

“A couple of websites for learners with low levels of English have been recommended to me. This is one, the ‘Learners new to ESOL’ section on ESOL Excellence Gateway (free lesson plans based around topics) is really useful.”

That’s an excellent tip, Sophie. Thank you!

We looked into this and think that the New to ESOL Topics 1-5 complete set is really helpful for any new or experienced teacher. It’s clearly presented in a PDF format, which can be used with your students. It’s got lots of visuals, samples and material that can be cut out and used in the classroom. So the site does much of the creative work for you. But not only that – the videos from the listening resources (also available on YouTube as downloads) are great as well. Topics such as:

  • my home
  • my neighbourhood
  • things I like doing
  • my occupation

are super-relevant for early level language speakers.

In addition, you’ll find some time-saving templates that are downloadable and colourful. Just basic things like the numbers, days of the week, and the alphabet are all here for you to print out and use.

There are several other websites as well that you might find useful on the teaching English to beginners blog here >>

However, Sophie goes on to make a second worthwhile point we should consider as well.


Concentration and trauma

We can sometimes forget that our learners struggle to concentrate in class.

So much has happened in their recent lives that sitting in a classroom can seem like a very unusual experience. It takes time to adapt. Many of the refugees we meet struggle to learn because they are experiencing ongoing trauma. When thinking about how we might address this, Sophie says:

“Thinking about trauma means being aware of extra tiredness and low levels of concentration. In general the advice is not to ask directly about their home situations in the context of an English class. Once you get to know individuals, you can make wise judgments in conversation with people one-to-one. Some really want to talk and do so easily. Others are angry and upset. Some definitely don’t want to talk. My co-teacher and I are planning a lesson on feelings words, not to make them talk but to enable them to do so, if they want or need to. NATECLA ran this seminar earlier in the year and I think they’re running it again later in the year, because it was so oversubscribed, so worth keeping an eye out.”

We have contacted NATECLA to see if that seminar is running again, but in the meantime, it’s probably work checking out the Welcome Churches series of webinars here >>


Further research on how to help refugees learn English

Sophie’s final comment is interesting as well:

“Also – I’m just about to do a biblical counselling module that involves looking at PTSD so I may be better equipped to answer in a month or two.”

Thanks, Sophie, those tips and suggestions are really helpful starting points. We would love to know more about the biblical counselling module on PTSD at some point too!

If you would like to hear from Sophie and others involved in teaching English to refugees, watch out for a new Christian TEFL webinar on this topic, coming up on 9th June and repeated on the 11th June, 2022.

Book on to the webinar here and remember to sign up to our newsletter below to discover more on teaching English and all things TEFL.



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