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Language classes for refugees


It’s one of our core principles to support refugees in regaining their autonomy and independence. Being able to communicate with others is one of the most basic prerequisites for that process. So, we didn’t think twice when we recognised the need for language classes in Northern Greece – our German lessons are aimed towards families waiting for reunification with their relatives in Germany. We also offer English lessons for individuals who would otherwise be unable to get access to any other language programme.

#Guten Tag, wie geht es dir? – German lessons

Last November, our long-term volunteer Lille participated in a teaching training run by our cooperation partner Sven Weiss. Since then, she has been giving German lessons twice a week to several families waiting for family reunification in Germany.

She’s divided the participants in small groups who take turns in practising writing on a whiteboard, learning vocabulary or working on grammar exercises with pen and paper. They learn how to use the Latin alphabet, practice the challenging German pronunciation and are also getting used to writing from left to right in German. It’s not always easy for them with classes taking place on the living room floor rather than in a proper classroom setting.

But it’s definitely worth the effort, seeing the improvements some of the participants have made in just a few months: “Some of the children didn’t even know how to hold a pen correctly. But they have all made significant progress,” Lille told us. All pupils now have a basic vocabulary and are even starting to use full sentences. It’s successes like these that give us reason to celebrate.

Many refugees are forced to wait for months or even years for their family reunification. They are not legally permitted to gain employment and with the huge language barrier, there’s hardly any opportunity for social interaction or access to meaningful activities. It’s an aggravating factor for psychological issues in many refugees which often leads to depression and lethargy. Lille continues: “In the beginning, some of the families forgot about their appointments and didn’t prepare for the next lesson. So, I started sending out little reminders on the day of the next lesson.” In that regard, the classes are not just about learning a new language, but also about finding a way back to a structured daily routine.

For single mothers and their children, the German classes are an opportunity to use their waiting time in Greece in a productive manner. As much as the classes are about the German language, they are also used to convey a first impressions about their new home country, provide opportunities for social interaction and support the kids’ motoric development. Once they arrive in Germany, they will probably have to wait a little while longer – it currently takes another three months on average to be admitted to an official integration course. So, starting with German lessons gives them a little head start in Germany and helps them to find their way into social life.

#What’s up? – English lessons for LGBT groups

Our long-term volunteer Anoushka from Manchester, who has been an incredible support for us, started giving English lessons last year to a group of (mostly male) refugees from Syria who identify as LGBT and sought refuge in Greece. We are offering this service specifically to vulnerable groups, providing the opportunity to extend their English skills in a safe, non-public space. This will hopefully increase their chances on the job market.

Twice a week, Anoushka meets with her pupils to teach English on a beginner’s and intermediate level. She, too, highlights the importance of this educational offer for refugees, which is as much about language learning as about developing social skills for these young men. The classes are a chance to improve their English skills, but also to express their personality and identity in a safe environment. Their learning progress gives them confidence and motivation to become more proactive – some of them even started studying outside our lessons with language learning apps on their phones. Having witnessed the lethargy and waning initiative among many refugees who otherwise occupy their time with waiting for many months, it’s a very welcome development. It also gives us the hope to be able to continue this crucial service for refugees in Greece.

It’s not just a question of buying pens and paper, but being able to provide the time, planning effort and labour for these individual classes. And we can definitely say it’s worth it! But we need your support in order to continue with our work.