English teaching projects awarded £6m

Multi-cultural population in Kingston-upon-Thames The 2011 census showed that across England 1.7% of the population cannot speak English

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Six projects across England have been awarded £6m in government funding to teach English to the public using non-conventional methods.

They competed for funding with the aim of reaching 24,000 non-English speakers in so-called priority areas across London, the Midlands and the North.

The projects will be given funding initially but then encouraged to become self-sustaining.

Councils have been told they must encourage people to speak English.

'Limited life'

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told local authorities in March they should encourage speaking English by not translating documents into foreign languages.

He said: "Speaking English is crucial to allow us to come together and be part of British society. People are unable to do this and are condemned to a limited life if they can't speak our language."

Jan Bros, director at one of the six projects, the London based e3 Partnership, said learning English was far more preferable to relying on translators.

She said: '"It is better to empower individuals to undertake things for themselves than encourage them to be passive.

"Our learners would rather be able to have conversations themselves than rely on family members to do everything for them."

Woman taking part in an e3 Partnership in Mile End The e3 Partnership say they use community garden projects to encourage socialising between participants

The winners, picked from 124 entrants, were tasked with coming up with innovative approaches for English tuition in local communities. The projects are meant to put language learning into daily activities.

Figures from the 2011 census show that across England 1.7% of the population cannot speak English. This rises up to 9% in some parts of London.

Another funding winner is a project called Timebank, targeted at women from Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani communities, which aims to reach 1,300 participants in Leicester and Birmingham.

Director Helen Walker said they were trying to find those most in need. She added: ''Although no-one is excluded from our programme, women are the largest non-English speaking group here.

"We will teach functional everyday English using volunteers who understand the difficulties of being a non-English speaker in the UK.

Start Quote

Outdated approaches can be improved but replacing traditional language-teaching with unestablished projects could be a superficial solution”

End Quote Guy Taylor Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

"Over 12 weeks we teach a different module every week on practical English like going to the doctors and using computers. Most importantly the lessons take place in a community centre - somewhere safe, secure and familiar, which has childcare facilities like a creche.''

Another winning entry, from a group called FaithAction, called 'Creative English' involves holding classes in mosques and churches.

In Manchester, the winning project #TalkEnglish intends to train shop-staff to be 'sympathetic listeners' - so that while out buying groceries participants are encouraged to speak English.

But critics argue that the projects are not a sufficient replacement for English lessons for migrants which have been subject to central government funding cuts.

Guy Taylor, from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said previous methods of teaching were sufficient and the new approach through community projects was outsourcing services previously provided by the government.

He said: "While we support these kinds of projects, the government is cutting free provision of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) for migrants. These kinds of classes were useful, often giving participants lifelong language skills.

"Outdated approaches can be improved but replacing traditional language-teaching with unestablished projects could be a superficial solution."

Local markets

The government said the overall aim of the competition was to increase integration and ultimately save public money by developing self-sustaining projects.

According to the competition criteria, planning for long-term sustainability was a key part of being selected.

Ms Walker said that had always been Timebank's plan.

She said: "The whole point of this is to have a sustainability element beyond the initial phase. We hope the volunteers will train other volunteers and we are developing core learning materials which will be accessible online for the foreseeable future."

Those behind the e3 Partnership say they also aim to increase the employment prospects of those taking part.

Ms Bros said as part of their programme they will encourage learners to take part in local markets, including setting up their own stalls.

If successful there are plans to roll out the winning projects on a larger scale.

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