Free English classes for Ukrainians: ‘My English is not good enough to work in the Netherlands’

19 Jul 2022

Some of the refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine have now improved their English, thanks to crowdfunding and additional funds. Vox spoke to three of them about their experiences. ‘Many of the students are highly motivated.’

An English language course is definitely not a novelty – and, at least in recent years, an online one isn’t either. But the Radboud In’to Language course that took place for the past six weeks has taught a special set of students: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, up to eighteen Ukrainian refugees met online to improve their English – crucial for communication in their present home in the Netherlands.

Diverse classroom

Three of the students tackling the different English listening, speaking and writing exercises are Nadiia, a web analyst, Peter, a retired journalist, and Anna, a sales manager.* All of them had to flee their homes in Vinnytsia and Kyiv because of the war and have landed in the Nijmegen area – some of them, like Peter, with their families. Others by themselves.

Now, they have come together with other Ukrainian refugees to improve their English in a classroom where the students’ age ranges from the mid-twenties until early retirement. Since the beginning of the war, more than four million refugees have left Ukraine and found shelter in other European countries.

‘Right now, I’m using a lot of English’, says Nadiia. ‘There aren’t a lot of Ukrainians where I live right now, so if I want to talk with someone, I have to speak in English.’ For her, even things like doctor’s appointments or getting new glasses are difficult because of the language barrier.

For Anna, everyday communication is not the issue, but finding a job is: ‘My English is not good enough in order to work in the Netherlands, so I want to improve it – and the course has definitely helped with that.’

A temporary home

‘I think in order to really speak in English, you have to think in English as well’, says Peter. For him, grammar is the most difficult aspect of the course right now: ‘The words are always at a different point in the sentence – in Italian, in French, in Ukrainian and now in English again.’

‘I never planned to be here, but it was necessary’

But he is very thankful for the Radboud course: ‘I never planned to be here, not even half a year ago, but it was necessary. ‘People are polite to us and I think they understand how we feel’, Peter says. He thinks that their stay in the Netherlands will be temporary. ‘But nobody knows.’ A few days ago, his grandson graduated from a Dutch high school.

Wendy Naylor is teaching the three Ukrainians and their classmates. She’s been working with Radboud In’to Languages since 2021 after living and teaching all over the world. ‘Many of the students in this situation are highly motivated’, she says. ‘But what I noticed about this group is how kind and supportive they are of each other.’

Another course?

The online course took place between the end of May and mid-July. However, whether there will be a second course is still uncertain. ‘It is hard to plan’, says Naylor, ‘but I’m hoping to support the students in setting up a study group themselves so they can practice together independently, in case we do not have the funding.’

‘What I noticed about this group is how kind and supportive they are of each other’

Originally, Radboud In’to Languages aimed to fund the language course through a crowdfunding campaign. Having failed to meet its intended goal of 7000 euros – only 1500 euros was collected – the course was mainly funded by Radboud Fonds. The money covered teaching hours, preparation, feedback, facilities and the course material.

As of now, people can still donate to the project. A potential future course, however, has not been discussed with Radboud Fonds, according to René Vermeulen from Radboud In’to Languages. It is currently unclear how additional funds, raised by the crowdfunding, will be put to use.

* The full names of the three refugees are known to the editorial office

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