Teach a man to fish!

Azita Jabbari-Arabzadeh writes about her various work experiences, highlighting the need for more accessible ESOL classes

I am a multi-lingual person and before joining RST as a policy and research officer, I worked as a sessional interpreter on and off in the UK, including in Scotland in recent years. I generally enjoyed my role as an interpreter working in various settings within the NHS or the third sector.

The parts that I took pleasure in were meeting new people in new settings and helping immigrants and various professionals to overcome linguistic as well as cultural barriers. The parts that I did not enjoy and in fact put me off wishing to work as an interpreter were: I was basically working with a zero-hour contract with various agencies who allocated me assignments, which meant I could not plan my time or finances reliably, having 1-2 hours of work one week, nothing perhaps for a few weeks and then having 5-6 hours of work for a couple of weeks.

There was also the issue of being called at the last minute often, with some agencies, for a session sometimes quite far away from where I lived, which although I had the right not to accept, it could have been interpreted as a lack of commitment from my side and may have resulted in me getting penalised and not being allocated many jobs afterwards.

The other negative side of this setting was that, I could not take on a voluntary assignment, which required me to be able to commit myself to fixed hours of work on certain days every week.

I had previously worked as a further and higher education teacher in the UK. I enjoyed teaching a lot and so I studied to become an ESOL teacher later on, since I quite liked teaching English rather than my previous subjects of Maths or Computing.

I was ready, after a long application and induction process to start volunteering at an ESOL provider, which offered ESOL classes free of charge to immigrants, when I had to start working as a sessional interpreter again, and so had to refuse the chance to teach English.

I really did not wish to refuse that voluntary work. I knew I would enjoy much more to attend a regular class in a regular location and teach English to refugees and asylum-seekers, whom I have always enjoyed working with and supporting.

I would really have liked to pass on my knowledge of the English language to them, especially as a migrant myself, and this way empower them to access services, communicate better with the locals, access further education and hopefully employment, or as the saying goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”! Sadly, I couldn’t do that, since I needed a job that paid, which is what the sessional interpreting offered to me, while teaching English wasn’t!

According to the recently published From Pillar to Post report on RST’s site:

“as of November 2017, 11,422 people were on the ESOL register. 4,226 (37 per cent) were currently in learning and 7,196 (63 per cent) were not in learning”, and my recent interviews with the asylum seekers in Glasgow, it is apparent that many are on the waiting list for enrolment into an ESOL class and so the gap in providing accessible ESOL classes should be highlighted.

I believe that it would be a real win-win situation, if there were more paid teaching options for ESOL tutors, especially the ones teaching at the community-based classes, even if the payment was minimal, rather than requiring them to volunteer as a tutor.

If this option was there, even though teaching is a more difficult type of work than interpreting, due to the fact that it requires preparation for each class and further work after the classes, using different skills, I would have chosen a sessional ESOL teaching job over a sessional interpreting job, without any hesitation.

This way the participants of the English classes would also be truly empowered, so that they would be able to speak for themselves in the future and have the right tools to work and study rather than being always dependent on interpreters. I really think that it would even be quite cost effective to pay ESOL teachers in community-based classes, in comparison to the payment to language agencies for all the services that various immigrants need to attend.


From Pillar to Post report, available at: https://www.rst.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/From-Pillar-to-Post-Feb-2019.pdf

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