There’s an international language that everyone knows ... and it’s helping people from different countries to find common ground in Spalding.
Retired teacher Pam Smith is one of ten volunteers teaching English to people from Eastern Europe, and even China, in a room at St Mary and St Nicolas Church Hall (The Vista).
“I am getting through, certainly with some of these ladies, by making them laugh,” says Pam. “Well, laughter is an international language, isn’t it?”
Hour-long, structured English lessons are followed by leisurely chats – also in English – over lunch.
On one table, the Vicar of Spalding, the Rev John Bennett, is enjoying a spot of lunch and conversation about family.
He launches into a popular children’s song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. New-found friends join in, savouring the words (and actions) as much as the delicious buffet lunch prepared by volunteers supporting the five-week, “Full English” project, which runs to August 25.
Pam taught at the former George Farmer School in Holbeach for 12 years before taking early retirement
She says the sessions give people from other countries opportunites to practise the English they already know, add to their vocabulary and build their confidence.
Gill Thomson taught English as a foreign language before moving to South Holland ten years ago.
She read a newspaper story about the Full English and leapt at the opportunity to teach again.
“This is my third week,” said Gill. “I love it, I absolutely love it. I think the people who come for lessons are leaving with a better knowledge of English and a better knowledge of us. They seem to be very happy to be learning, they want to learn English and they are trying so hard – that’s what I love, I love their enthusiasm.”
Pam and Gill are both great-grandmas, leading busy lives outside the temporary classroom, and are glad their old skills have been dusted off and put to good use.
But there are skills wasting away on the other side of the table, skills brought to this country by migrants that can’t be put to good use until these professionals have a proper command of the English language.
Meanwhile they work in factory jobs, or in the fields, for more money than they would have earned in professions in their mother countries.
Marite, a grandma herself, is building on her little bit of English and we enjoyed a chat at Friday’s session.
Half-an-hour later we meet in town. Marite greets me with a big smile and the words: “Nice day to you.”
It’s a great start ...
East Europeans see their lack of spoken English as the main barrier to them making English friends.
That was the key finding of the Church-funded Community Connectors project when it published its first report in March.
At the time, Mr Bennett called for a “coordinated effort across Spalding” to provide English lessons for settlers and also chances to practise English in a variety of informal settings.
He coined the phrase “the full English” because he wants to see English used everywhere, even on factory floors where Lithuanians and Latvians may converse in Russian and go home to watch satellite TV programmes in their own language.
Mr Bennett says speaking English everywhere will allow neighbour to chat to neighbour, leading to better integrated communities.
“There are all sorts of benefits of becoming good neighbours with one another,” he said. “It’s the foundation for being a good community, a good town, where people work together for the benefit of the whole town.”
Mr Bennett remains hopeful that other groups and employers will pick up the lessons baton, and run with it.