A few years ago I had my first experience of teaching some Bangladeshi ladies English. Lessons took place in a tiny community centre situated in a mouldy two up two down house in Lancashire. The terrace property had been derelect for some time and would have been left to nature had it been for a bright spark at the welfare association wishing to give it a new lease of life. So it became a learning centre and a place where local Bangladeshi groups could meet.
I taught there for twelve months and soon realised the ladies weren't just there to learn English. The house was also a place for them to meet for coffee and get out from under their husbands' and kiddies' feet as they rarely travelled far from their own neighbourhood.
I discovered through chatting that they rarely used English in their own homes and even preferred local shops rather than travelling into larger towns. This meant that their opportunity to rehearse English was very limited. They were housewives not career girls and I learned there wasn't any real motivation for them to aquire English. A certificate didn't come with this particular programme, and so I began to wonder how I was ever going to get them on to a level playing field.
So how did I teach them?
I took up cookery and crafts. I gave the ladies a challenge - With a friend, I would teach them to bake an English Victoria sandwich and they in return had to teach me to make a chicken curry from scratch. A bit twee, I know and not the most original idea but it did the trick. This mini-project got them to focus on giving directions and the vocabulary for kitchen utensils, some ingrediants, timing etc and funnily enough it worked. The craft sessions were simple - just card making but again, it gave everyone an opportunity to relax in this familiar context and get to know one another which the tough programme seemed to constrict and limit. I found out that teaching English wasn't just about verbs and tenses as our baking sessons really broke the ice and afterwards they invited me to a multi-cultural party where I proudly attended wearing a traditional dark green sari. I felt like a princess.
After about twelve months the centre's priorities changed and I moved on. Sadly too as was attached to my ladies and their quiet lives. I enjoyed my time with them and the experience of working with a range of learners, some with absolutely no English and others I just couldn't shut up is something I will never forget.