PEOPLE WITH PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
LEARNERS IN PRISON
PEOPLE LIVING IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES
YOUNG PEOPLE OVERCOMING DISADVANTAGE
PEOPLE SEEKING EMPLOYMENT
People recovering from addiction
THE ORGANISATION INVOLVED
Betel is a Christian Evangelical organisation founded in Spain, with branches worldwide. It provides accommodation and work for men and women recovering from severe addiction to drugs and alcohol and accompanying social problems. It has two centres in the UK, one of which, Manna Farm, is in the countryside, near Nottingham.
INITIAL CONTACTS AND PLANNING
Contact was made with Betel through the ALLEGRO Project Administrator who knew of a similar organisation based in Scotland. The Administrator at Betel said there were residents who were keen to learn Spanish, in particular a young man who was about to marry a Spaniard.
JN visited Manna Farm and met both the Administrator and the young man. A second meeting was arranged between JN, the proposed teacher and the staff and residents of Manna Farm. JN requested that the Director of the centre should attend, to ensure he was fully involved in the project
At the first meeting, JN and MC-A met the Director, who is Spanish and a pastor. He appeared unaware of the meeting, but a group of interested residents was assembled. JN explained what ALLEGRO was about and how we might work with them. They appeared keen to learn Spanish, as they often visited Spain and took part in the organisation’s international meetings there, and they also went to Europe to collect furniture for renovation. One said, ‘It shows a bit of respect if you can say a few words.’ Some knew a little Spanish, mainly phrases connected with religion. It was obvious from the start that MC-A related well to the group and they to her. The Director had very definite ideas about when the group should meet and for how long. He explained that all references to alcohol were banned.
The teacher, MC-A, is senior lecturer in Spanish at Nottingham Trent University; she volunteered to teach for ALLEGRO. She has had much teaching experience, not only in universities, but also with elderly people and young people with learning and behavioural difficulties.
THE LANGUAGE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
MC-A planned to follow the first chapters of the Planeta 1 course, but progress was very slow, because of frequent changes in those attending the class and very different educational and cultural backgrounds. The material, [the alphabet, numbers and short role plays] were repeated in different ways through a variety of activities. The learners particularly enjoyed games and talking about the differences between England and Spain, in English. They asked to learn some grammar, but found it difficult to grasp.
Each meeting of the group was supposed to last an hour, but in fact always started late and lasted longer. Arrangements were disorganized; the room was not always available and there was no board for the teacher to write on, despite repeated requests from MC-A and JN. These problems seemed to stem from a ‘laid-back’ attitude and the fact that residents were very tired at the end of a day’s work and often arrived very late. [On one occasion a learner arrived still covered in dust.] These problems were explained to the Director on several occasions and he said he would encourage and help them to attend regularly. The fact he seemed unable to achieve this may have been associated with the internal culture of the organisation.
There were usually four students in the group. The Administrator attended all classes as a learner and, on one occasion, the Director was there too. The main problem was the group’s lack of continuity. People left and joined with no explanation. They seemed to appreciate the fact that someone was making an effort for them, but they found it difficult to take responsibility for their own learning. The group put considerable strain on the teacher, as they often behaved in the manner of young children, in particular one who wanted to dominate the situation. Learners’ reactions sometimes surprised the teacher, who found it difficult to know how to respond. One learner was very angry when money was mentioned, because he had none. Another insisted on ‘ordering’ a forbidden glass of wine.
It had been intended to teach at least 8 sessions but in the end the project finished after 6, because there was no sign of the difficulties being resolved. When JN attended to explain this to the class members, they were most disappointed. One said sadly, ‘M has had enough of us. It’s because you mucked about.’ A second replied, ‘No, I didn’t [pause] Yes I did.’ Two students, one of whom had been the most difficult to manage, had make remarkable progress in Spanish and could express themselves accurately and fluently, albeit in specific situations. A third said, ‘I’ve never been to school. I surprised myself that I could stick at something.’ The Director told JN he was very happy with what we had done in difficult circumstances.
It is evident that teaching a group such as this can be a challenging and frustrating experience, which requires great tact and determination. There is also a need for those managing it to support the teacher both practically and emotionally, at each stage. MC-A reported to JN after each session and we tried to resolve each problem as it came up. It was hard to judge how long it was worth continuing and how much more could be demanded of the teacher.
The culture of the organisation was not something we had experienced before and we were unable to find out enough about how the organisation was run, particularly its informal structure. We also needed to know more about to relate to the learners and how their problems could affect their learning. JN spoke to Remar, a similar organisation in Scotland, who appeared willing to help us achieve this, but they did not, in the end, respond to this contact. The project also underlined the importance of having the support of the senior management of an organisation in achieving success.
The fact remains, however, for those who took part, this was clearly an experience which taught them not only some Spanish, but also something about their potential as language learners.