Learning to communicate in English has become a necessary skill in the modern world. Many adults who have not practiced English since their school days are returning to the classroom in order to advance in their careers or make the move to an English speaking country. Others, who did not receive formal English education during childhood, are making the independent step toward learning it for the first time. While learning a language can certainly be deemed more challenging as an adult, having low literacy in one’s own language undoubtedly adds to the difficulty, as is the case with many vulnerable populations who now rely on learning English to integrate into a new society.
Teachers who take on the task of teaching English to refugee children put themselves into a very unique situation, facing challenges that they would probably never be exposed to otherwise. Unlike the average ESL classroom, this environment demands a variety of special considerations that can have much bigger and more permanent consequences on the individuals concerned. One major fact to consider is the likelihood that the children have experienced an interruption not only in their lives but also in their education, if they had one previously. It is important to find out as much background information about your students as you can, as assumptions just won’t cut it here. Never receiving a formal education is a concept that most Westerns cannot truly understand, but it is an unfortunate reality that occurs in many other places in the world. Imagine attending a lesson for the first time- and it’s in a foreign language. It’s a lot to digest and is certainly high on the list considerations teachers must make.
Teaching English is not a ‘one-size fits all’ endeavor. Understanding your students’ needs and, more importantly, their backgrounds is always important. However, it is even more crucial to exercise precise judgement when working with students coming from a life experience very different from your own. As a comedian would say, you must be able to “read the room”. I’ve recently embarked on a totally new ESL teaching journey, one that has, unfortunately, become all the more necessary due to the humanitarian crisis occurring around the globe: working with refugees and asylum seekers. With such a growing demand for relocated persons to learn English in order to integrate into their new home, I’d like to pass on some newly acquired wisdom that I’ve gained through my recent experiences.