Working with learners whose first language is not English

Learner at Clarion Futures digital workshop

Image : messy graphic with text Biggest Issue

Lack of confidence in their own ability to learn

Teach digital skills alongside language skills

  • Wider needs & challenges of setting up in a new country
  • Finding the right time for a digital skills intervention
  • People with ESOL needs can have literacy issues in their own language, so it is not a solution to produce translated written materials
  • Being able to have diverse teams of Digital Champions with a range of spoken languages
  • Avoiding technical jargon

Image: Jigsaw graphic of what to teach: Translation software; Voice-control apps; C.V writing; Maps & streetview; Local services

Jigsaw graphic of Top tips for Digital Champions : Tailor support ;Build trust ;Plain English; English + digital; Repeat learning; Visual materials

Image: Jigsaw graphic of top tips for projects: Partnership working; Translation tools; Extra DC training; Location location location; Develop visual learning materials; Individual sessions

Partnership working
– Learners can have multiple support needs, so partnership working can be key
– Existing projects have worked closely with job centres, citizens advice and local colleges
– Use existing ESOL courses and teach digital skills at the same time

Translation tools
– Understand when your project is able to support people with multiple languages, and when it is more appropriate to signpost to other partners with a specialist offer
– Peer-to-peer support can be provided by people who speak the same language
– Translation software can be used by Digital Champions and learners to communicate
– Recruit volunteer Digital Champions, so you have diverse teams with multiple languages

Extra training for Digital Champions
– Provide Champions with clear boundaries training (as learners can have multiple levels of disadvantage)
– Provide Champions with information on signposting to other services
– How to add a third person to a phonecall (e.g. to allow a translator to join a call to a GP or benefits appointment)

Location location location
– Delivering sessions in a community space, can help develop English language skills
– Delivering with a local health partner can enable the set-up of welcoming spaces (e.g. HealthWatch in England)

Develop visual learning materials
– People may have literacy issues in their own language, so it is not necessarily a solution to produce translated written materials
– use standard Easy Read formats, or other visual/pictorial formats for materials

Individual sessions
– Tailored 1-1 support may be required
– Repetition of learning is likely to be required, adapting the pace as required


Research, Reports and Publications

Always remember that learners may not be typical of their group and may have multiple additional needs => Look at the other guides for tips and resources

Many thanks to our partners Clarion Futures and Three (London Islington) who contributed to developing the learning on this topic