Sajid Javid recently revealed that 770,000 people living in England cannot speak English or can speak it hardly at all. In Islington, over a third of residents were born outside the UK and more than 6,000 cannot speak English or cannot speak English well. However, across the borough, people who are teaching English believe that more needs to be done to help.
Despite controversially announcing in 2016 that more Muslim women should “learn English” to avoid radicalisation, David Cameron’s cuts to funding for ESOL [English Speakers of Other Languages] classes have made fewer and fewer options are available to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Islington.
One of the few places available is the Islington Centre for English. It is a private college on White Lion Street that offers English classes to anyone over the age of 16. While students are mostly European, they welcome all nationalities.
Reflecting on Sajid Javid’s recent comments, Tim Shoben, the school’s director said: “that figure is extremely high and it is shocking that such a vast number of people are living without the tools to fully participate in British life.”
He noted the benefits that learning the language has to migrants: “Without English you can’t fully integrate. I think it’s sad. There’s an awful lot of untapped potential in people who could be capable of so much. Language is the key to happiness for many people”
“We’ve found that people really enjoy being able to get their point across when learning. If you’re not able to share your opinions or talk about yourself, you’re in a prison. We teach real English that people use in everyday situations so they can do that.”
Tim believes the figures that Sajid Javid quotes are real. He said: “It’s not a complete surprise. I know, having been a teacher in the ESOL system, that a lot of Muslim women don’t get much help and are perhaps not encouraged to work for various cultural reasons.
“That can’t help the situation if you’re not encouraged to get a job, if you’re not encouraged to gain university qualifications. It can’t be any huge surprise that you’re not learning the language because you don’t have the opportunity to do so.”
People who live in Islington who want to learn the language can also go along to Speak Street. Speak street is a pop up cafe that holds free English classes for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Their latest series of classes continues this Friday from 1:30pm to 2:45pm at South Library. These classes will run up until 29 March and you can find more information for future classes on their website: speak-street.com
Founder Joanna Bevan recently celebrated the initiative’s birthday. She is looking to expand the business with a £10,000 grant through Lloyds Bank’s social entrepreneur programme.
“There is a great demand for accessible English classes” Joanna said, in light of the recent figures.
“I know that there are a lot of people who are struggling. I know there have been cuts to other ESOL classes that were available. Our classes are classes people can drop in and out of each week, they’re not formal so they’re more accomodating”
Joanna believes that not enough is being done to help people who want to learn: “There needs to be more community based classes, not just to help people with their English but also to help them meet people. It also makes it more sustainable, so when we’re no longer coming to them they can keep learning.”
Facts and Stats
Of Islington’s residents were born outside the UK
Of Islington residents don’t have English as their first language.
Cannot speak English, or ‘cannot speak English well’.
Of the Polish population in the borough cannot speak English or ‘cannot speak English well’.
Where can you learn English in Islington?
16 – 18 Cross Street, London, N1 2BG
020 7354 9946
020 3637 9668
Next meet up: March 23 at South Library, Islington
28-42 Blackstock Road, N4 2DG
020 7700 9333