Arrivals in English: A community project

by | 11 June 2024

Have you ever been in a situation overseas where the language barrier meant you were just totally unable to get your meaning across? How did that make you feel at the time? Helpless? Demotivated? This is how many newcomers to English-speaking countries – asylum seekers, refugees, migrants – feel much of the time.

Arrivals in English was born out of a need to teach practical, functional English immediately. Asking the way to the station, sharing personal information at the bank, being able to give basic answers to a doctor’s questions in a clinic – these are just a few situations which challenge migrants, who often don’t have the functional language to navigate themselves confidently.

For the program to be useful, it had to be immediately relevant. That’s why we created different versions for the UK, Canada and Australasia, further differentiating between Australia and New Zealand. We worked with two wonderful local editors Tania Pattison (Canadian version) and Gillian Flaherty (Australian and New Zealand versions) to ensure the language and local markers were appropriate and accurate for learners to readily use in real-life. They were kind enough to share their thoughts on the process here.

How would you rate the current ESL provision for newcomers in your local region?

GF (Aus): I think it’s rather limited so teachers spend a lot of time adapting and creating materials. A lot of the existing local materials are a bit old and somewhat basic. There is some local publishing happening (mostly self-publishing) but there isn’t a wide choice of attractive, current, local material available.

TP (Can): It’s good. Every new immigrant to Canada is eligible for free, government-funded ESL training (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada, or LINC, classes). While I have never taught in these programs myself, I know people who do, and they seem very good. Teachers have to meet certain requirements in terms of training and experience to teach LINC classes.

What were your first impressions of Arrivals in English?

GF (Aus): My first impressions were that it covers key elements that are essential for newly arrived migrants. The topics, vocabulary and structures match what is usually covered in local ESOL classes. But Arrivals feels more up to date than existing materials. I think the simplicity of what each unit covers makes it effective. The writing is very tight, there’s lots of repetition and the units are structured in a logical way.

TP (Can): The first thing that struck me was how user-friendly it is. The program is designed to be used on a variety of devices, either in one place or on the go. The instructions are super-easy to follow. The animations and use of colour make it appealing to users. There is nothing off-putting about the design. This is even before we get to the content, which is obviously carefully chosen to meet the needs of users, as it covers all the bases in terms of survival needs.

Is it important to have localised versions of programs teaching functional English as opposed to an ‘international’ version? Why?

GF (Aus): Adult learners need to feel that the material is relevant and useful and having localised versions is an important element of this. It allows teachers to make their lessons practical and needs-based and provides a good springboard for extension work such as introducing authentic materials. Some of the substantial changes were quite involved and took a lot of consideration. These types of changes were mostly around how some services work in Australia in comparison to the UK and elsewhere. There were also some complications due to Australia’s system of states/territories that needed to be addressed.

TP (Can): Every context is different. While international programs can work well, I think students will appreciate having a course that is designed specifically for their context. For example, Canada does not have an extensive train system. The country is too big to have trains going all over the place, and the only cross-country train is essentially for tourists. Large cities like Toronto and Vancouver have suburban train services for commuters; I based my train section on one of these.

When localising a text, is it enough to use your lived experience as a local or do you have to have conversations with migrants or look at processes/tasks from the lens of a migrant?

GF (Aus): I don’t think lived experience as a local is quite enough. People often drift through life with little understanding of the challenges others face. I think that having community connections and experience teaching in the migrant space is useful as it raises awareness of what issues migrants come up against, and how they use services. ESOL teachers become involved in the daily lives of their students and often assist with tasks like bills, appointments, CVs.

Where do you think this program would work best?

GF (Aus): Libraries and self-study – definitely. I do think that ESOL classes (TAFE and other registered training providers in Australia) could also use it as a supplementary resource as the lower-level courses have a settlement English component. Many of these classes are equipped with smartboards and I can see this working well in a class setting if the teacher is confident in how to exploit it.

TP (Can): It’s adaptable enough to be used anywhere. It could certainly be used in LINC programs, which are government-funded. It could also be used at home. Not everyone has the time or inclination to go to a formal class, so this program meets their needs. Many LINC students have arrived in Canada from difficult backgrounds and with traumatic personal situations, and they don’t have the mindset to tackle a large, demanding course of study. This program gives them what they need without being too onerous. It also gives them much-needed confidence, as they learn something useful in a short period of time.

What’s more, It also recognizes that newcomers often don’t have a lot of money. The focus is on survival: taking the bus, shopping in grocery stores, finding a job. This is in contrast to some coursebooks, which assume that users have plenty of money to eat in restaurants, go on holiday, and pursue expensive hobbies. It covers all the bases.

Arrivals in English was a community-developed project built for those looking to build community. If you’d like to find out more about the program or try it yourself take a look here.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Gillian Flaherty and Tania Pattison for taking the time to share their insights for this blog post.

Katie Stokes, Blog Editor, ClarityEnglish

Katie Stokes, Blog Editor, ClarityEnglish