Learning English

three crumpled yellow papers on green surface surrounded by yellow lined papers

Published by: Teresa Norman

Published on: 5 May, 2020

English proficiency is often a key factor in facilitating social integration within your new host country. Listen to the experiences of fellow migrants who also share some language learning tips.

We have asked so many people what helps make a life in the UK and always one of the top recommendations is to learn English. Our research report, Moving Matters’ showed that poor or little English means that some people rely on family members (often children) for support.  The report also highlighted that low or little English can be a barrier to seeking support.

So,  there are lots of reasons for improving your English, you need it for finding a job. Some employers e.g. the NHS will ask you to sit an English test before you are invited for an interview. You need English for making friends here and if you can understand the language, you are much less vulnerable to exploitation. 

We have learnt that people have many different approaches.  We heard Dr. Moses Woldelassie at the TGIUK event at Making Migration Work describe his strategy of copying out articles from newspapers and this clearly worked for him as he spoke so beautifully.  Kitty in our recent podcast advised people to watch the English channels and Katana in a blog said her strategy had been to watch t.v. with the subtitles on.  We have here a very moving story of how Johann learnt English, through the friendship he made in the mines in South Africa so maybe you could take a lesson from Johann and make it a fun activity between you and your friend.

Johann’ s story

I did not speak a word of English until I was 17/18 years old. Even though it was compulsory at school, where I grew up, most children learned it just enough to get a mediocre pass mark in exams and hardly ever to be used it as a spoken and written language.

It was only after I took a job in the mines and started working with other nationalities that I met my by then best friend Rauol, or ‘Frenchie’ as we nicknamed him. He came from the Seychelles and could only speak French. One great thing about Southern African mines is that they taught people a hybrid language called ‘Fanagalo’, made up of many African words, as well as many French, German, Portuguese, Afrikaans and English words and sentences. This resulted in people being able to communicate safely with each other, no matter where they came from. A bit like Esperanto from 1887.

‘Invented at the end of the 19th century, in many ways it presaged the early online society that the web would bring to life at the end of the 20th. It’s only ever been spoken by an assortment of fans and true believers spread across the globe, but to speak Esperanto is to become an automatic citizen in the most welcoming non-nation on Earth.

So, outside of work, Raoul and I used our common second language Fanagalo, to teach each other English which we needed in social settings and life outside of work. We were just young boys then and needed to be understood by our terribly elusive female companions. The experience instilled in me the drive to master English and although I have some bad grammar habits and I don’t always appreciate my accent, I will always be grateful to Frenchie, the friendship and the journey we went on together. Sadly, Raoul died in a car accident a few short years later but I still talk about him to my family who, of course, knew him.

I shall forever miss him, but also remember him for his gift to me, learning to speak English!    

Tips from Kosta and Fatkma

Kosta remembers a Polish friend of his at university writing any new words she had learnt on post-it notes. She then stuck them on the wall of her room so that she was constantly looking at them. Kosta would learn a specific word and then he would notice it in a song.

Fatkma says that the British Council website is very interactive and keeps your attention all the time. They have online courses with many different options including Business English or English for the workplace and these are free.  You can also practice English language tests on the site.   https://www.learnenglish.britishcouncil.org

More Recommendations

Futurelearn has some interesting and informative courses, including language courses. Their mission is to help people learn a new language, explore new cultures or even discover work and travel opportunities. You can find them here:


We now have a number of online tools that can also help.  An article in the Economist (April 18th-24th, 2020 p69) makes the following suggestions:

Dualingo has short lessons and fun games  https://www.duolingo.com/

Babbel – an inexpensive subscription services gives more structured lessons and real-world material https://uk.babbel.com/

Busuu- focuses on networking with other users https://www.busuu.com

Memrise – uses spaced repetition to make sure words are clearly remembered https://www.memrise.com

The journalist (The Economist never tells you the author) also suggests keeping a journal. It makes you write clearly the words you have been mumbling.  They also recommend graphic novels for a realistic conversational style and to use Google Translate on Chrome.

Finally, what about joining TimePeace on Slack for some live, free online conversation? https://www.timepeaceapp.com

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