Celebrating the language of togetherness at Plymouth graduation party.

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As we walk into the community centre, there is an overwhelming sense of warmth and togetherness but that isn’t all. We are also greeted by the incredible scents of all the international food being prepared.

This is because we’ve been personally invited to a graduation party for an ‘English for Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL) course run in partnership by Positive People and Open Doors (ODILS). ODILS is a faith based charity that has been working in Plymouth for over 15 years to serve those isolated by language and cultural in the community. This course is run specifically for people who have English as a second language.

It is a twelve-week course that will run three times over the next year. The course is split in half; the first six weeks focuses very practically on the teaching of healthcare and how to access it. This even includes visits to pharmacies to ensure the participants are familiar with any medicine they may need, and the filling out of doctor’s forms.

The second six weeks focuses on a business perspective; including budgeting, finance and marketing. This means that the skills participants learn through workshops such as cooking and textiles can be taken further on a more professional spectrum.

Once we had introduced ourselves and (most importantly) helped ourselves to the fantastic buffet, we had the pleasure of talking to a few of the participants about their experiences of being a part of the project. I may also add at this point that I was frequently distracted by the beautiful children running around – there really was a sense of family and community in the room – with people of all ages and backgrounds talking to each other with no language barrier getting in the way.

Firstly, we spoke to Oday from Iraq, who smiled and laughed the whole conversation. He seemed proud of the achievements he had made on the project and told us about the volunteering they had done in the British Red Cross charity shop.

Oday was beaming as he told us “they are the best here” and that he now feels he “can do anything that is asked of me” with the skills he has acquired. He felt as though the experience had “been amazing” and given him the chance to “meet new people and find out what I like”, which he has now realised is carpentry.

We then sat with a group of women who were chatting, enjoying the food and always keeping one eye on their lovely babies. One told us of how they visit a different historical place every Friday. This plays a key part in the participants getting to know the city they now live in.

They also told us about the courses they had been taking such as health and safety, and IT. One woman talked about how much she enjoyed having the chance to “meet new people” and be able to “talk together” and “work together”.

The factor that stood out the most and was even visible was the fact that all the participants feel “more confident”. This is one of the most important aims of the project, because with confidence everything else seems far less daunting.

Mo, another participant who had moved to Plymouth from Iran, told us that he had been helped to put together a CV and start applying for jobs which really is a big achievement. Not only that, but Mo proudly told us that he had passed his driving theory test and wants to train to be a hairdresser! A very heart-warming statement from Mo was that he felt “we don’t have a problem with language here”.

Often a language barrier is evident due to fear, and it’s just fantastic that these participants from Europe, Sudan, Iraq and more feel as though that isn’t the case.

To gain more of an understanding of the project, we spoke to Kim Delamare, Project Facilitator for ODILS who run the course with us. Kim explained that the event we had attended was put on entirely by the participants at the end of their twelve-week course, giving them the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and proudly present this to us.

Kim has spent a lot of time with her students over the course, accompanying them to lessons and the charity shop of which they volunteer in. Kim says “The course does a number of things. It’s very practically focused as we don’t want it to be like a classroom environment – it is more about helping people build life skills, employability skills and develop personally. We have people from Europe, Sudan, Iraq, Iran and in the next course there are people from all over the world. It’s very inclusive.

“Although most of the participants can speak Arabic to each other they will speak English because they want others to be included. Working in the charity shop and conversing with the locals gives the participants access to practising English as well as helping them learn. It has also given them a huge boost in confidence”.

Explaining the language barrier beautifully, Kim adds “It’s just like if you asked me to go and talk to a neurosurgeon about neuroscience, I wouldn’t be able to because I don’t have the vocabulary. Sometimes people are scared of the language barrier and so it’s just simply about breaking down those barriers with potential employers and educational establishments. Six weeks into the course, we are laughing and joking, and the language barrier simply isn’t there any more”.

A key factor of this is team building, and so this is something that Kim focuses on too. This not only means they learn to work as part of a team it gives them people they can contact outside of the course. Kim explains that “As a group they’re well moulded and have gained friendships. We have also visited building sites, museums and galleries together and the public are really supportive”.

Summing up the course in a few words Kim says, “It is all about inspiring people to achieve their potential. And confidence – it’s absolutely about confidence”.

David Kellier, Change Coach at Positive People adds “We want to support participants to find work and to feel confident about integrating into the Plymouth community”.

My own personal experience at the ESOL graduation event was just the warmest and most positive way to spend an afternoon and I’m grateful to have been invited. It’s incredible to see the changes that Positive People can help participants make to their lives.

Oh, and the great food and even better company was just a bonus! We’re looking forward to the next one.

Positive People is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund.