Tales of learning English

Story by Liz Allen

Held over from the last language themed issue, WEA tutor Liz Allen tells us about some of her Burngreave ESOL class’s experiences of learning English.

Language Experiences

Ifraax’s story:

“I was an asylum seeker when I came to this country and I stayed in a Wakefield hostel. It was very big and a lot of people lived there but there were some problems. The hostel had bedbugs. They ate me and made me feel itchy! I told the reception staff, but they didn’t understand me because I could not speak much English. When they did understand I was moved out into my own home.”

Eventually Ifraax moved to Sheffield where she found that:

“I didn’t understand English very well and people were not understanding me. The Sheffield accent was hard for me to understand. I was confused but now I am better.”

Fatuma nearly ended up having her baby in a car park. She was in labour but could not explain on the phone what was happening. Then she called a taxi driver who took her to the wrong side of the Northern General. By this time the baby was coming. Fortunately some midwives came to help her and the baby was born in the hospital.

Shumaila spoke about a time when she had difficulties getting home from her job in Barnsley, she had missed her train and it was late. She found it difficult to make herself understood but some people helped her and eventually she got a taxi home.

She had learnt ‘proper English’ in Pakistan but found it hard to understand English people when she arrived here.

Suad had a bad bus journey experience when the bus was diverted and did not go where she was expecting it to. She found it difficult to find out what was happening because she could not speak English very well then or understand what the driver and other passengers told her.

Body Language

Abeer wrote about body language in England and Sudan, where she comes from: “For example eye contact: for English people it is very important to look at the person who talks to you, if you don’t do that some people they think you are ignoring them or you’re not giving them attention. It is the opposite in my culture, if you look too much at people, especially old people they think that you don’t respect them.”

“In both cultures we use our fingers to point sometimes and use both of our hands to explain.

“Body language can express our feelings and show if we are happy or sad. I think this is the same for all the people in the world.”