New Language From a New Local: Chatterbox Trains UK Refugees in Language Instruction

Chatterbox is training up refugees to become tutors for their native languages.

Chatterbox, a social venture based in the UK, is training refugees to become language teachers.

Author Ana Galán Herranz, 01.16.18

Chatterbox, a social venture based in the UK, is training refugees to become language teachers.

The UK is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled war and persecution in their home countries and are looking for a better future. But, despite their high levels of education and their ability to speak (often several) different languages, many of them often struggle to find a job. The main reason for this is that European institutions often do not recognise qualifications acquired outside the EU, meaning refugees are unable to find a job in their professional field.

“Despite having above average levels of education and training, compared to other minority groups, refugees have significantly lower employment rates, including significant underemployment in work that is typically very unsociable, doesn’t really lead to other work that is higher skilled or more rewarding and is very low paid,”

Mursal Hedayat told Pioneerspost.

She lived it first hand: her mother fled Afghanistan during the Afghan Civil War in 1994, along with her and her sister, and ended up in the UK. Her mother, an engineer with years of experience and speaking four languages, spent the next years struggling to find a job and working in low skilled ones. To help other skilled refugees find a job, Mursat founded the social enterprise Chatterbox 2016.

How Chatterbox is Getting the Conversation Started

Chatterbox is a startup that gives refugees the possibility to use their language skills by training them to be language tutors. After they complete the training course, they can start offering lessons both online and in-person.

Chatterbox already employs more than 60 refugees, all from different professional fields – vets, architects, lawyers, actors – and from countries as diverse as Syria, Iran, Congo, North Korea. They work between eight and ten hours per week and are earning the London Living Wage per hour. After a successful trial at SOAS University of London, the organisation is ready to move on to Edinburgh University next, with plans to spread to even more universities throughout the country in the future.

And Chatterbox doesn’t just benefit refugees, of course. It’s also helping to solve the huge language skills deficit in the UK that has been estimated to cost the country 48bn pounds a year.

As well as offering a whole range of languages – from Arabic and Persian to French, Hindi and Turkish – language teaching is also a great way for tutors to exchange knowledge with their students about their native countries and their cultural backgrounds, improve interculturality and tolerance and destroy social prejudices by creating better understanding between cultures. It also helps the tutors to escape social isolation and instead create connections while at the same time gaining valuable professional experience in the UK.

Every three seconds a person is displaced from their home because of war. Chatterbox isn’t the only social enterprise focusing on developing long term solutions for refugees. There’s 1951 Coffee Company, in California, is offering refugees a barista traineeship, Kiron University which is using digital solutions to help refugees gain access to higher education, and Berlin’s mimycri is working together with refugees to produce bags from the rubber washed up on Greek beaches from refugees’ broken boats.

Though European recognition of foreign qualifications remains the ultimate goal, Chatterbox is providing a practical and widely-applicable solution, by training refugees in a skillset with immediate application in their new homes.

For the ultimate online guide to how you can support refugees, right here and right now, check out our Act Now article: 5 Simple Online Ways That You Can Support Refugees

5 Simple Online Ways That Help You Support Refugees Right Now

Want to show solidarity with the world's refugees, but not sure how? Your computer, tablet, or phone could be a pretty good place to start.

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