Documenting Higher Education and Voluntary Sector Collaboration for ESOL Provision A piece by veronika merkova

Mike Chick, Senior Lecturer in TESOL/English

In autumn 2014, the University of South Wales (USW) and the Welsh Refugee Council (WRC) decided to collaborate in an attempt to provide additional ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes for migrants in Cardiff who were on such waiting lists and thus unable to access ESOL classes.

The partnership made sense, since the USW TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) department had a large number of trainee ESOL teachers, as well as experienced tutors, while the WRC had good contacts with the local refugee communities and unused rooms. The project has brought together undergraduate English language teacher trainees and international migrants eager to learn how to communicate in English. The trainee teachers are students who have been studying TESOL modules as part of their undergraduate degree. In their final year, each TESOL student is required to teach at least six ESOL classes and these sessions now form a central part of the English language provision at the refugee council headquarters.

It may be interesting to note briefly here that there are, of course, two official languages in Wales – English and Welsh and many of the teacher trainees do speak both languages. However, since English is by far the most widely spoken language across the UK and thus the most useful for the migrants, it is, naturally, the first choice for nearly all the refugees who arrive in Wales. The venture was a step into the unknown for both organisations and began with the launch of a weekly class of English which any refugee or asylum seeker unable to access formal ESOL classes was eligible to attend. Fifteen learners turned up for that first class – with many more turned away due to lack of space. Nevertheless, the experience alerted us to the demand that existed and we quickly realised that far more people were in need of language classes than even the WRC had anticipated.

Indeed, in little over eighteen months, the provision expanded rapidly. The previously empty rooms at the WRC headquarters are, at present, the location for six English language classes with over sixty refugees and asylum seekers attending lessons each week. The collaboration has meant that the TESOL teacher educators were able to advise on a syllabus, guide the organisation of classes, help recruit suitable teacher volunteers and so on.


"This collaboration, has, without a doubt, been the most rewarding and satisfying project of my career. It has taken my professional life into a different direction and it is one which I intend to follow as long as I can. Bringing people together, breaking down barriers and stereotypes and helping folk share their cultures and build new lives - that's hard to beat."

Mike Chick,Senior Lecturer in TESOL/English.

Salah Mohamed, CEO at Welsh Refugee Council.

"The refugee council was established in 1990 and I have been working here for twenty years now. I started off as a support worker and changed different roles until I became the chief executive four years ago. We have a very good mixture of different ethnic backgrounds the average is 40 to 45 different nationalities. It’s a very rewarding job. As a refugee myself I am more related to their situation and I want to help people."

"We get people that are in different levels, some with high academic background, so we try to support them to work in universities or go after a degree. We have several volunteer teachers that are Mike's final year students. It helps to maintain the balance and it also raises awareness because some of the students never came along to any asylum seekers, when they come here people think they are aliens. Is increasing their experiences and knowledge about what is going around them."

"Mike is just teaching on Wednesday but we managed to get volunteers and the average intake has gone from five to about eighty to a hundred a week, so it is a very successful project."

"It started as a small partnership project a couple of years ago and I remember it started with about five refugees and asylum seekers once a week and I think with Mike's help and the spread of the word we are doing about four to five sessions a week."

Salah Mohamed, CEO at Welsh Refugee Council.

"My dream is to learn English and speak properly, I want my kids to learn English and to have a degree when they're older."

Foda, learner.

"I am really enjoying my classes because I am learning English. They do help me because I am already getting better. What I want to achieve is to have my family here and to be in work."

Renda, learner.

"I enjoy the class because I get to learn new stuff every lesson and made new friendships.They help us practice speaking English with each other, help us learn new words and how to write difficult words."

Foda, learner.

"I am enjoying the classes because I learn new words and get a lot of information and I have fun with my friends. I hope to speak English fluently and to study in college for a teaching assistant. I hope I can get a good job for my kids, I hope my kids earn a degree in what they want. I am also hoping to travel and see my family."

Suhir, learner.

"I enjoy the classes as they help me to improve my English, form a sentence and with the vocabulary. Also, we learn how to spell and say the words and that's very helpful. My dream in Britain is to learn English so I can go to a University and have a degree and a job in the future."

Rosiana, learner.


"I’ve been in Cardiff for a month now. When I went to Link House they send me here and I’ve been coming here for a month now and I come here every day Monday to Friday to different classes."

"I watch series on the BBC and I try to practise English. I like learning English and it’s very important for me because it’s like a key, it opens a lot of doors."

Khaled, learner.

"I’ve been from London to Exeter and finally it’s been a month that I am living here waiting for an interview for an asylum. I have to wait a month for the interview and then one month after the interview but after that I want to apply for a PhD in Sociology. I am a writer I wrote many books about Kurdish society and Kurdish problems and now I am trying to translate my books."

"On Friday I have my test for ESOL. I like learning English and I want to be able to be a teacher here. I think I can do that after a year and with some qualifications. I want to stay here, I like Cardiff, it’s not crowded. I don’t like the big cities. I was born and lived in a village, so I like this city."

"I was a teacher and I used to teach sociology. I like this class because Mike’s method is really really good. I like that we have activities and it’s always a happy class, very friendly."

Khaled, learner.


"I come in three times a week to Mike’s class and Niki’s, in Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They help us with so many things, how to get around the city. I am going to go to the Cardiff and Vale college from November to register for English classes. From the start of the classes there have been so many different people but now we are the regulars and we see so many of the same people. Even when I go to Cardiff and Vale college for classes, if I am free, even for one day, I will be coming because it’s nice, it’s more personal. It’s about how to live in the UK and in Cardiff."

"Mike is like a father, wonderful personality very energetic, he gives us energy. We all might have a situation, but he brings us up. That’s why I come to this class, I forget my problem and everything. I leave everything home. This class is not boring."

Fatima, learner.

"I’ve been in Cardiff from September, but I’ve lived in Portsmouth before since February but after staying a month in Cardiff I finally learned English. Cardiff is friendlier and a smaller community. I go out more and practice speaking more."

"I enjoy the class because I have met new people and I learn new information every lesson. They help us communicate with others and practice English by speaking a lot. My dream living in Wales in to learn English and to be a fluent English speaker. I want to get a good job when I learn English properly because I wont be able to be happy living here without knowing English."

Omar, learner.

"I like the classes because I learn new things and the language as well as the culture. I like that we have four trainee teachers so we get more attention and help. One day I want to be a professional football player."

Hamza, learner.

"I prefer this class from all of the others I've been to. This is my fourth time here. They help us with the certificate we need and with how to find a job. The ESOL classes are more suitable because they are better for beginners. What is better in this class from the others is that the teacher helps us with our daily lives it’s not just lessons about grammar and vocabulary but about every day stuff we need."

Joseph, learner.

Rhian Webb, Senior Lecturer in TESOL/English.

"We run a minor in TESOL Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. In the first year of undergraduate’s studies they learn about awareness of the English language, so they have one module in grammar to understand prescriptive grammar and the meta language of the rules of use, the rules of syntax."

"In the second year the undergraduates, do a course called peer teaching. They learn teaching methodologies and then they teach their peers. They design lesson plans and lessons and their own teaching materials, and they learn how to adapt books. In one of the modules they do a more in-depth analysis of the language."

"When we come to the third year we have a practicum, and this is where each undergraduate student has to do six hours of live teaching with real second language learners. We’ve been doing this for about six years, and it’s always quite difficult for second language learners to come to class and be taught by students."

"Syrian refugees were re housed in Rhondda Cynon Taf so all of a sudden we have refugees that live in Treforest in Pontypridd in the valleys. They are more local so all of a sudden we have two groups of refuges, some in Rhondda Cynon Taf and some in Cardiff . In the third year is the undergraduates students do their practice in Cardiff and some do it on campus with me and with the resettled Syrian refugees."

"The good thing about it is that our third-year students are able to teach so their experience is real, and the Syrian refugees need as much English input as possible and by coming to lessons which are free of course is a win - win situation."

Rhian Webb, Senior Lecturer in TESOL/English.

Josh - Trainee teacher.

"I remember when I was doing my practice and they were watching and smiling, whenever you ask them a question and they are engaged they answer back to you it's rewarding."

"I was talking to one of the boys today about football, we support the same team, so we have that connection, but even without that you have a connection because you are teaching them English and they are learning English so you have that connection."

"It’s just people being people, there is no barrier."

Josh, trainee teacher.

"Higher education institutions are in an exceptional position. They have the knowledge and resources to assist those most in need and, crucially, can do so while improving the quality and breadth of education offered to their own students."

Dan, Trainee teacher

"I still haven't had a lesson but I think from sitting with them and helping them with activities has been eye opening. It was nice to be able to sit down and go through the tasks that my peers worked hard to create for them to do. It was nice to participate, joke around and play around. It’s something I didn’t anticipate I would enjoy as much as I did."

"Hearing about having to do the teaching thing was terrifying. I was expecting to do it as some point I just didn’t expect it to be so soon, three years have gone really fast. I was more concerned having to be up there and teaching, that was my primary concern coming in at the start of this year. I wasn’t worried so much about the dissertation, or literature modules or whatever else, it was the standing up and teaching, that’s what always worried me. After taking part and watching these guys throughout their lessons, just engaging myself with the learners themselves, I am relieved. I thought it would be so much more intense but it’s casual and friendly, they make it really easy to teach."

"I thought it would be so much more intense but it’s casual and friendly, they make it really easy to teach."

Dan, trainee teacher.

Vera, Trainee teacher

"It’s bit of a challenge because everyone is a different level so some of them may not know how to read, some of them might not know how to pronounce the words correctly so you have to keep in the back of your mind when you prepare the lesson what to include and what not to include for the different levels that we have in the class room."

"I had a really nice moment when I was teaching last week, they really liked the listening activity. It was a Halloween themed lesson and when we finished the lesson they told me they really liked the activity because they learned new words and they were interested to hear the song again, they also did the exercise on their own."

"They are so kind as well, they brought us tea for the lesson. One was Syrian tea and one Sudanese. It was interesting to see that they want to show us their culture"

Vera, trainee teacher.

"As educators, this project represents, by far, the most satisfying endeavour of our careers to date. Our involvement demonstrates that organising student learning in such a setting, in this case teacher education, can facilitate a broader, transformative educational experience, and promote opportunities for the consideration of hugely important, critical educational concepts."

Carlotta, Trainee teacher.

"First time I taught, after the class, some of them went to Rhian to let them know that they really like the class and that they are learning a lot and that was really special. I also gave them some worksheets to do at home and of the learners did it in class, they were so keen, it was really nice."

"I think they are very comfortable with us, always showing us pictures of their children and they are so open to us. At the beginning we were kind of scared because we didn’t know what to expect but they are so nice, so open, so relaxed."

"It’s a bit intimidating just to teach in general but actually the refugees are really nice, they really help you through the lesson so it’s really nice to teach them, they have so many questions, it really makes it easier."

Carlotta, trainee teacher.

Heather, Trainee teacher.

"They are lively and have really good characters. We have the Syrian refugees and we have a girl from Thailand and it’s great learning about their cultures as well.

"The fact that they immediately opened up and wanted to share means that there is no cultural barrier there, if anything it means that they are enriching everyone experiences."

"I think whenever any of us can get the learners to laugh that’s a really good moment, because it shows that they are engaging, that they are enjoying the lesson and that’s one of the best things you could probably provide them with as well as obviously teaching them the language."

Heather, trainee teacher.

"In describing a cooperative project between a human rights charity and a university teacher training department, we wish to draw attention to the significant educational impact that can result from collaborative projects and highlight the role they can play in removing barriers to integration"

Bet, Trainee teacher.

"It’s nice if they ask questions, million questions. If they ask something it means they interested. You are the best person. I’ve come here and observed for three times and we had some teaching practice with our peers, but it was nothing compering to this, this is much better. This is real. I am very grateful."

"Mike is so great, very practical and he makes people laugh that’s why I do my practice with him. I live in Treforest but I chose to do my practice here because think this is more real."

"I’ve come here and observed for three times and we had some teaching practice with our peers, but it was nothing compering to this, this is much better. This is real. I am very grateful."

Bet, trainee teacher.

Roz, Trainee teacher.

"If we didn’t have this place WRC, or the classes that Rhian does on Thursday in Treforest, I am not sure what we would do as part of our degree, we might have been doing moc classes on each other and our colleagues and maybe the international student classes."

"Today we started by getting to know everyone first and everybody’s names, where they are from and sometimes how long they’ve been in the UK. It breaks a bit of ice to begin with and then we are doing the lesson on stuff that’s meaningful to them, like how to get a job writing a letter and stuff like that. Some of them today highlighted the fact that they don’t know how to register for an ESOL class in Cardiff and Vale college. So we took 5-10 mins of making sure that everyone knew how to do that. It’s stuff like that we need to make sure they know how to do, because English is the only way to get to where they want to be."

"This place has a high turn over rating. It could be different every week and you have to treat each lesson as if it is the first one. There is always so much to get out of a lesson and so much they wanted to know as well."

"The way Mike starts a lesson is by giving everyone a degree of power to bring up and ask about anything they want to know and that’s what we want really. Mike is really friendly and for him is so easy to break the ice and I want to learn how to do that."

"It’s a lot, but It’s a lot of fun to be a teacher and working my way up to my career. The refugees are so much fun, they are wonderful people they just so willing to learn and they just want to know everything about you and about where they are they are so lovely and so chatty, so keen."

Roz, trainee teacher.

To the honor and the loving memory of Bethan Roper, Volunteering and Partnership officer at the Welsh Refugee Council.

"I am responsible for recruiting and managing all the volunteers at the welsh refugee council and I’ve been at this role since august 2017 but I’ve worked with the welsh refugee council on and off since 2013. I’ve known Mike since he started working with us in 2014."

"I had quite a lot of meetings about how the project is going and I know Mike’s got lots of opinions about education, so I am always asking him for advice. I know the project is really valuable because it’s a very popular class. and also for the trainee teachers that he brings in with him to teach. He shared some of the feedback with me in the past about how it’s opened their eyes to what’s really going on and meeting people they never would have an opportunity to meet usually."

"A couple of the teachers who were here to teach with Mike then went on to became volunteers to teach separately from Mike so I got to speak to them myself and they found it incredibly valuable and all said, Mike and the other volunteers, that this group of students it’s brilliant compared to other group of students that you’re trying to teach English to, because they really want to learn, they are eager and so keen."

"In the same kind of vein, he is probably a really good teacher to the university students that he brings and so he is able to pass that expertise to the class."

Bethan Roper, Volunteering and Partnership officer at the Welsh Refugee Council.

Chick, D. and Lewis, I. (2018). Higher Education and Voluntary Sector Collaboration For ESOL Provision | Welsh Refugee Council. [online] Welshrefugeecouncil.org.uk. Available at: https://welshrefugeecouncil.org.uk/resources/research/higher-education-and-voluntary-sector-collaboration-for-esol-provision [Accessed 10 Dec. 2018].

Special thanks to Yumna for helping with translation.


Veronika Merkova

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.