From November to March 2020, I carried out a placement at Multilingual Manchester, fulfilling the role of Conversation Session Facilitator. Multilingual Manchester work with a range of people and organisations, aiming to promote language diversity in the city of Manchester and beyond. One of project areas is the recruitment of student volunteers to assist people living in Manchester who speak a language other than English as their first language and need some extra assistance in learning English. Conversation sessions are currently held at two different day centres in Manchester: the Chrysalis Family Centre in Moss Side and the Cornerstone Day Centre on Denmark Road near the university.

ESOL session at The Cornerstone Day Centre, Manchester. Photo: Stephanie Connor

The main objective of my role was to coordinate and support the delivery of regular English conversation sessions for centre users. The sessions were delivered each Monday afternoon, and there were usually around 4-5 student volunteers as well as me. Usually, there would be about 10-15 learners, so I would aim to assign a small group of learners to each volunteer. The majority of learners were refugees or asylum seekers in the process of applying to university courses. They therefore needed to obtain a certain level of English in order to pass their English entry exams.

The Cornerstone Centre – a ten-minute walk from the main university campus – is a remarkable organisation. It was first founded in 1991, although the current day centre opened in 2002. It is part of the Caritas Diocese of Salford and is a registered charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged and vulnerable people.

During my time spent coordinating and taking part in the conversation sessions, I worked with a range of learners from different countries. I worked closely with individuals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Turkey and Syria, and I learnt something brand new from each person I worked with. The appreciation that these individuals showed was incredible, providing me with the urge to continue helping out at the centre following the completion of the placement.

Each week we would have a different set of questions prepared to facilitate conversations with the learners. For example, one week we discussed the topic of ‘family and friends’, and another week we discussed ‘education and work’. The aim was to instil confidence within the learners in order to make them feel more comfortable to talk in English, whilst also correcting any mistakes, so as to guide them in the right direction.

My overall experience of carrying out this placement could be described as enriching, absorbing and generally fantastic. I was able to gain first-hand experience in a work sector that is extremely relevant to the MA Linguistics course I am currently studying on, whilst also developing some key knowledge of the connection and communication between the university and the local community. Unfortunately, the placement was cut short due to the COVID-19 crisis, however, I will be more than keen to revisit the centre as a volunteer in the near future and continue to help out with the conversation classes!

Stephanie Connor is a student on the MA Linguistics. She took part in the SALC Work Placement module organised by the ICP.