Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Education  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Creating informal English learning opportunities

Resources and tips to help with language learning outside of the classroom.

As refugee families are learning formal ESOL in the classroom, you can play a vital role by encouraging them to make use of all the great ways they can improve their English skills through more informal routes at home.

The following suggestions are both practical and easy to incorporate – while also helping to change things up a little for the family!

  • Encourage the family to listen to the radio in English. CBeeBies Radio is especially great for both adults and children looking to further their language skills.
  • If the family have a TV in their home, and can read in their own language, see if you can help them add translated subtitles to encourage them to watch English language programming. The mournful looks and dramatic reactions of EastEnders need no translation!
  • Heart and Parcel host online cookery and ESOL learning.
  • Go on virtual tours of museums around the world.
  • Read stories to the children in English, play board games and join together for activities with the family – these things can also be done online through Zoom and Facetime should you not be able to meet in person.
  • The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) have published films from a resettled refugee in the UK about how adapting to life here has been (these are in Arabic with English subtitles). The family you support might find these interesting.

There’s more than one way to learn!

There are a wealth of online apps and resources that can be used to help families learn from home. We all learn in different ways, with some preferring games and quizzes and others learning best with mind maps or YouTube videos. Give the below resources a try to see which form of at-home learning is most suitable for each family member.

  • Memrise is an app to help learn English, starting with simple words and phrases.
  • GoConqr helps students learn key terms by using mind maps and flashcards.
  • Wordflex is an app designed specifically for an iPad offering crosswords and word games, while helping the learner expand on their English vocabulary by using ‘word-trees’.
  • BrainPOP can help a learner get to grips with the various elements of English grammar, as well as different forms of writing. It uses visual examples to showcase how and when to use the appropriate grammar in writing and introduces the learner to several different styles of writing, ranging from writing a formal business letter to how to write poetry!
  • BBC Bitesize offers simple to follow English lessons, incorporating games and short films.
  • British Council provide online English classes for all ages and abilities, led by qualified teachers offering advice and guidance. Tutors are available 24/7 and you can sign up for the first lesson for £1!
  • Toy Theatre offers several interactive educational games to help learners read, write, count and spell in English.
  • Learn English with Cambridge have a YouTube channel is which they post videos on self-study tips, English idioms and how to prepare for IELTS for more advanced learners.
  • Global Storybooks Portal is a great website which allows parents and children to read and listen to stories together, with accompanying visual images. 
  • Made with Music host a YouTube channel in which parents and children can learn about a range of things, from counting the spots on a ladybird to learning about the colours of a rainbow – all through the medium of music!
  • The Manchester ESOL Advice Service offer a ‘Learn English at Home’ section, in which learners can access resources and activities based on their English level.
  • have created printable colouring pages which can be dropped off to a family’s home, to encourage learning via educational colouring sheets such as ‘colour-by-numbers’ and ‘connect-the-dots-alphabet’ – as an additional benefit, research suggests that colouring can be a meditative experience, lowering stress and anxiety levels, and even helping to replace negative thoughts with more peaceful ones.

Encourage learning at home

The benefits of reading daily, even for 20 minutes, are numerous. They include improving vocabulary as a reader is introduced to new words, reducing stress as reading helps us feel more relaxed, as well as allowing a parent and child to bond as they read together.

The Department of Education 2012 Report states that reading for enjoyment can improve a child’s academic attainment, with reading for leisure being more important for a child’s academic success than their social or economic background – even more reason to encourage refugee families to incorporate reading into their daily lives!

Books for young children are also great for adults learning English. Encourage the family to take advantage of their local library or help them pick out suitable children’s books from charity shops and start a mini library of their own at home.

Here are some things to bear in mind when encouraging reading:

  • Suggest family members keep a vocabulary list of any new or unfamiliar words.
  • Keep a dictionary at hand and help them hunt down the word.
  • Go through these words together and discuss their meaning.
  • Practice making new sentences with the words from the vocabulary list.
  • Groups who have welcomed families have found that alphabet posters on the walls of children’s bedrooms help adults as well as children.
  • If they find reading to be difficult, then help the family member not to feel discouraged. Pearson have some useful resources to help with literacy and phonics, including a phonics progression chart to help you keep track of the individual’s reading development.

It’s the little things

Often, we learn by incorporating little things in our daily lives and doing them repeatedly. The benefit of learning this way means that we don’t feel overwhelmed. Families who have left their homes and loved ones behind may feel the stress of relocating to a new country and getting used to a new culture. For this reason, as the family focus on their ESOL studies, doing tasks that don’t involve them having to sit in front of an open book or a computer screen can be a less pressurized form of learning.

Try these tips below to incorporate little ways of learning:

  • Ask the family to write their shopping list in English – a great way for them to learn the English names of products they purchase (while also building up their confidence to ask shop assistants where certain hard-to-locate supermarket items may be!).
  • Sticky notes on household furniture – help them write the English names for household items onto sticky notes and then place them on the correct items. Not only will this help them to familiarize themselves with the English names of the items, but also help with their spelling and writing. A little game could involve periodically removing all the sticky notes and then setting a timer as they try to place the right sticky note on the correct item, with the aim that this should take them less time each time they do it, until they no longer need the sticky notes at all!
  • For families with young children, look for games or toys set around a shop; and encourage families to play together. Not only will children learn the names of food in the UK, but play-money is a great way to improve numeracy skills too.
  • Tongue Twisters – these are a great way to help family members improve their pronunciation of English words, and they can also highlight which sounds learners may be struggling with. If family members get stuck on the same sound repeatedly, then that lets you know that is a sound they need to work on. Try any of these 50 tongue twisters to see which ones family members can do, and which ones require a bit more practice.
  • Practice British ‘small-talk’ – we’ve heard from families who have been resettled through Community Sponsorship that learning how to chat to neighbours or people in shops has helped them to improve their English and feel confident. The British Council have a great resource on every day conversations.

Long term goals

Learning a new language is no easy feat; it’s hard, time-consuming, and easy to feel discouraged, especially when progression may be slow. For this reason, encouraging family members to have realistic expectations and a plan for what they want to achieve is a good way to keep motivated.

Studying towards a qualification is a good driving force for keeping motivated with both formal and informal ESOL, as it sets a goal for the individual. This can include studying to pass a theory and driving test in the UK, taking on an apprenticeship in hairdressing, or even completing a food hygiene and safety course as a first step to opening a business in the food sector one day.

Whatever the goal, make sure it’s realistic and achievable in a number of small steps – it can be very difficult to achieve something with one giant leap! And encourage family members to use these goals as motivators for ESOL study, both in the classroom and at home.