From education to employment

Overcoming barriers to learning English as a second language in lockdown

Chloe Jacobs

@CitynIslington – Learning English as a second language is not easy but during the coronavirus pandemic it is even more challenging. 

Find out how Chloe Jacobs, an English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) lecturer at City and Isllington College, has been supporting and motivating 16-18 students in these difficult times.

Around half of my 16-18 students arrived in the UK as unaccompanied children seeking asylum having fled countries in fear of their lives.

Many of them have suffered with trauma from the devastation of war and atrocities in their own countries and feel stressed and anxious. They feel lonely and isolated and in many cases do not have an established support network of friends or any family here or at all.

They are unlikely to understand all the government rules around coronavirus, and many live in hostels where they do not have a lot of personal space during lockdown. 

They are generally in low spirits and feeling anxious having migrated to a place of education and safety, and now it turns out that that is not the case. Some received little or no education in their home countries and are worried that they will not be able to get the education that they have struggled so hard to reach.

A lot of the non-asylum seeking 16-18 ESOL students who arrived with family as economic migrants are also worried about getting even further behind in their education, having arrived in the UK before completing their GCSE-equivalent year in their countries.

I was concerned that this could lead to many of them feeling they might as well give up.

At City and Islington College (CANDI) we have provided financial support to help students access computers and online learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Switching to remote learning has been hard for many ESOL students, particularly at entry level, but as teachers we have made sure students have any support they need with digital skills and work is available in various formats outside lesson time.

Some teachers have had to home school their own children during the crisis so timetables have had to be adapted to provide lessons around personal circumstances. Lesson planning has also taken longer than usual as there has been limited access to many resources. 

Pair and group work are pivotal to language learning, and these have been replicated by running smaller groups simultaneously on Microsoft Teams and jumping between them to monitor students’ progress. I have found the group chat in Teams to be a very effective way of getting learners to react and respond even more during online lessons.

I have also encouraged more self-study, including websites such as BBC Learning English and the British Council’s ESOL Nexus, as well as helping students with course progression and preparing for job interviews.

Teachers have explained the Covid-19 legislation in a way they can understand, updating them about any changes and how they can keep themselves safe in lockdown. One of our online class projects I used to keep them motivated came from asking them what they had been up to during this time.

The discussion led to a lesson on the present perfect continuous tense (eg I have been working, we have been chatting, etc). Students were asked to find out what their classmates had been doing at a fictional reunion in 10 years’ time and then write articles for a 2030 college alumni magazine.

Reading the students’ articles was so incredibly heart-warming, and it was so good to hear them sounding so happy in an alternative reality, which hopefully will turn out to be their actual reality in 10 years’ time.

The whole project felt so pertinent where there is a need to keep aspirations high at this difficult and unprecedented time.

As a team, we’ve really pulled together by sharing resources and ideas. It’s been a massive effort.

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