English Language Teaching: Refugees

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 24th October 2017.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner 4:29 pm, 24th October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered English language teaching for refugees.

As a linguist who spent the early part of my career living abroad, I know all too well how isolating it is for someone if they do not speak the language of the country in which they are trying to live and operate. Today, we are here to focus on the fact that being able to communicate in English in this country is absolutely key. In its report “Safe but Alone”, Refugee Action highlighted the inability to speak English as being one of the single most important causes of isolation and loneliness among refugees.

As Klajdi, a refugee interviewed by Refugee Action, said:

“What is most important is language. If you can speak the language you can make friends with your neighbour.”

Without English, refugees find it incredibly difficult to work, study and volunteer. They are effectively excluded from activities that would result in their becoming a connected member of their local community. People need language skills before they can progress, and a shared language enables integration, productivity and community cohesion.

The Casey review clearly highlighted the link between English language and integration, identifying English as

“a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration.”

More recently, a report produced by the all-party parliamentary group on social integration concluded that English is necessary

“to access employment opportunities and to build a diverse social and professional network.”

The report also recognised that speaking English is critical

“to social mobility in modern Britain.”