British Red Cross encourages language learning with refugee teachers

By Mark Richard South, IFRC

Getting people talking, that’s the aim of a new partnership which has seen the British Red Cross team-up with a refugee-led language learning start-up. As part of the AVAIL project, the British Red Cross is working together with Chatterbox to connect language learners with teachers coming from refugee backgrounds.

Through the Chatterbox platform, language learners can pick from more than ten languages – including Arabic, Persian, French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese – to learn and practice online with trained native speakers.

“Too often the skills of people who are refugees go unrecognised and unused when they arrive in a safe country,” explained Fiona Harvey from the British Red Cross. “Working with Chatterbox we are recognising people’s skills, helping show that the talents refugees arrive with are an opportunity we can all benefit from, and also strengthening connections between refugees and people in their new communities.”

As well as tapping into existing skills and providing a flexible option for employment – often a challenge for refugees arriving in the UK – Chatterbox also provides an opportunity for refugees and language learners to interact and know more about each other, and each other’s cultures, in a natural environment.

The project is also helping key workers – such as police officers and health workers – to learn languages commonly spoken by refugees.

Supporting the development of these language skills not only benefits the learners in their day jobs, but also makes services more accessible to refugees more widely, and enhances the value of refugee languages in the workplace – further contributing to overall integration and understanding.

“Getting people communicating, understanding and empathising with each other is a key part of integration,” added Harvey. “Whether it’s online or in person, simply chatting together really can make a world of difference.”