For many people who come to the Cardinal Hume Centre to learn English improving their ability to understand and speak the language is a vital step to securing better jobs and integrating into their communities.
However, the learning team at the Centre believes that gaining new skills should be about more than just practical necessity. And so, throughout the year, they run a number of additional projects, days out and activities to inspire their students.
In May this year the School of Advanced Study from the University of London devised a Shakespeare Project for the Centre’s ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The project ran for nine sessions across a three week period. Academics delivered mini-lectures on a Shakespeare play, supported with tailored ESOL materials. The plays which were discussed included Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest. The lectures were followed by group discussions and the final element of the project gave students the opportunity to deliver presentations on a literary figure from their own culture in a speed conversation setting.
As part of the project the students also got the opportunity to visit Senate House. Michela Pomati, who is the ESOL coordinator at the Centre, was really impressed by the warm welcome they all received, saying:
“The students were initially quite nervous about going to the University and interacting with academics. But the University staff really put them at ease and made them feel comfortable. The School for Advanced study paid for the students travel as well as providing breakfast and a hot lunch and all of those things contributed to a very welcoming atmosphere.”
The project was coordinated by Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Maria previously taught ESOL classes at the Cardinal Hume Centre before she embarked on her PHD. As such, she is passionate about the importance of ESOL classes and about giving non-native speakers of English a chance to learn, grow and discover. She was keen to express how much the academics got from the students and at the end of the project she said:
“I think it is important to say that the academics have benefitted a lot from working with all of you. You have given them different perspectives on their research and different ways of looking at their work that they haven’t thought of before. For me it really has been a two way relationship, both the students and the academics have been receiving a gift here.”
The focus on sharing stories and learning from one another was a really important part of the project and the students chose interesting and diverse literary figures as the subjects of their presentations. The presentations which are included in the links below speak about writers from Afghanistan, Syria, Bolivia and Algeria, highlighting the diverse backgrounds that the students themselves have.
One of the participants, Jules, felt very thankful for being given the opportunity to learn:
“I liked this project because before this I saw a picture of Shakespeare and I wasn’t sure about who he was. Being here has given me the opportunity to learn about him. I’d like to learn more and do more projects again.”
The project also allowed students to discuss key themes in Shakespeare’s work. Fouzia felt that the theme of discrimination was particularly prominent in Othello, saying:
“This was happening 400 years ago in Shakespeare’s time, but in many countries there is still discrimination against women, religion and skin colour. Othello made this point quite powerfully.”
Fouzia went on to say, “It was very helpful, this project. It has helped us to improve our conversation and our listening skills. It was wonderful. I would love to take part in a lot more projects like this.”
This project has been an amazing opportunity to make academia more accessible to different audiences and through it the Centre hoped to raise people’s aspirations beyond just improving their language skills. The success of the project and overwhelmingly positive feedback that students gave means that the Centre hopes to run further projects with the School of Advanced Study, with students expressing an interest in discussing contemporary writers in the future.