Ukrainian Refugees Cast Around for English Language Classes

There were eight students in the room in Wesley House, a community building at the back of Methodist Centenary Church in Ranelagh.

One man looked over his glasses, as he followed the lesson. A small boy sat quietly.

“What about you?” read the letters in faint black ink on the whiteboard.

Until the Russian state invaded Ukraine, Natalia Shvets and Oleksandra Yarmoliuk, the two English language teachers at the front, had taught English at a big school in Vyshhorod, on the edge of Kyiv.

On Saturday, they were leading their first class for fellow refugees who have fled to Ireland and are now trying to get around, work out how to make a decent living, or just talk to those around them.

Fifty Ukrainian refugees had wanted to attend the English class. But Shvets and Yarmoliuk hadn’t wanted to mix those with a good grasp with beginners. And “some of them were very far”, says Shvets.

Running more classes isn’t an option right now. “This room is usually occupied for different things,” said Shvets.

Even before Ukrainian refugees arrived in Ireland, asylum seekers and refugees had said they were struggling to access free English classes, with most dependent on community groups running sessions.

From 25 February to 25 March, a little over 12,000 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Ireland, say government figures.

A spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education said on 22 March that it would shortly share information on free English classes at local colleges for adults and Ukrainian refugees will be able to find details on the government’s website.

Starting Over

“Mum, it’s too much for me to translate,” said Dina Romaniuk on a Zoom call last week, laughing to her mum Tetiana who was speaking in Russian.

Romaniuk lives and works in the United States. Her mum had been living in Ukraine alone, working as a product manager in banking.

Romaniuk looked into bringing her to the United States but couldn’t right away. On 14 March, her mum made it to safety in Trim in County Meath, where she lives now with a host family.

Even before her mum made it to Ireland, Romaniuk began worrying, she says. About her mother’s job prospects, and starting anew at 60 with little English.

“Maybe she can learn English to the point that she can speak comfortably but would that be enough for her to find a well-paid job?” said Romaniuk.

“Leaving her in a country where she is totally dependent on government money and without good opportunities to work, it’s very stressful,” she said.

Her mum can say basic things. Like, “Nice to meet you”, which she says with a broad smile during the Zoom call.

But she struggles to understand English spoken with an Irish accent, she says, via Romaniuk. “The way they pronounce the words, the way they call the things differently, it’s very difficult for her.”

Off Course

Since her mum arrived in Ireland, Romaniuk has tried to enroll her in an English course.

She and her mum made a Word document listing all the details of anyone who wrote back to them.

Someone from the community project Fáilte Isteach said they run conversation classes twice a week. There are conversation classes in the local Baptist Church “from time to time”, another reply said.

Romaniuk says she was hoping for an intense course held regularly to pull up her mother’s English and set her back on the path of a decent career.

“I’m not even talking about very well-paid jobs in the corporate world, but at least some office jobs, maybe some administrative positions,” she said.

“Right now, the only option is working at nursing homes or cleaning floors,” says Romaniuk.

A spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education said it will be delivering free courses through its 16 Education and Training Boards.

The department plans to assess the competency and English language needs of Ukrainian refugees, they said.

“The local college will identify appropriate language and additional learning supports to support Ukrainians wishing to develop their English language competency as part of their social, economic and cultural integration into local and wider Irish society,” the spokesperson said.

Romaniuk says she hopes it happens. “The good thing is that my mum has a host that she can ask for help,” she said.

The Department of Children and Equality has placed a little over 6,200 Ukrainian refugees in temporary accommodation, it said in a press release on 25 March, including more than 2,770 in hotel rooms.

At the class in Ranelagh, Shvets, the English teacher, asks a small boy if he likes playing with his friends.

“Yes, I like playing with friends,” said the boy.

“Yes, you like playing with friends very much,” Shvets said.

Just as she turned her head to move on to another topic, the boy spoke up again. “But in Dublin, I don’t have any friends.”

“Not yet,” said Shvets. “Not yet.”

Filed under:

Author:

Shamim Malekmian: Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at [email protected]

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Sheila Lynch
at 30 March at 14:25

I’m a retired teacher living in Ranelagh. I’m very happy to give English classes

Jack Travers
at 21 April at 23:04

Hi. I am a TEFL/TOSOL CERT. I have only taught online. Is it possible to teach English to refugees while earning income?

Understand your city

We do in-depth, original reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.