Teaching English to Refugees: An Interview with Zsofia Patil

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zsofia Patil, the founder of Language Corner Delft, a language school offering bespoke private and small group lessons.  Besides managing her own business, Zsofia volunteers as an English teacher, providing refugees in Delft with language skills which could improve their lives.

Barbara: Hi Zsofia, please tell me, how did you get started teaching English to refugees?

Zsofia: As soon as I read Nina Bogerd’s request for an English course for refugee women, I knew it was my calling. Earlier I had worked as a volunteer for Delft MaMa. However, as our daughters got older, we participated in fewer activities offered by the international community, but I still wanted to offer Delft MaMa a bit of my time since I owe them so much: my circle of friends, my network, some of my students. This was a perfect opportunity to volunteer again and actually do what I enjoy most: teaching.

how it all happened

Starting back in October 2019, active Delft MaMa member, Nina Bogerd, asked Sawanet, a local organization providing support to refugees, how Delft MaMa can help them.  It turns out they wanted to practice English with Delft MaMa members.  Nina spread the word and the rest is history.

Stepping up to the plate, Zsofia teamed up with another Delft MaMa member, Candice Lamothe, and offered weekly English lessons to women from Syria and Somalia.  Two men were also interested in joining the class, but in the end, it was women only.

Barbara: How important is it to learn English for your students?

Zsofia:  Most ladies are highly motivated and take the course seriously. Since the end of October 2019, we’ve been meeting every Friday for a two-hour session. During the coronavirus confinement, the classes take place on Zoom and are a bit shorter. Some ladies hope to find work and it’s always an advantage to speak English well. Some ladies have family in the UK and the US to visit and some come for the ‘gezelligheid’.

TEAMWORK TO SUCCESS

As an experienced teacher, Zsofia worked on the formal lessons, coming up with grammar explanations, handouts, and so on, while Candice provided the fun and games, making it ‘gezellig’ for all of them. For example, on a study day when Zsofia was absent, Candice arranged a lovely brunch with the ladies where they exchanged ideas and discussed Canadian and Syrian traditions.

Barbara: What are the main challenges?

Zsofia:  Initially, the main challenge was their different levels of English. However, once we formed two groups, based on their levels, it all went smoothly. Another challenge was cultural: appointment means arriving on time in the Netherlands.

Barbara:  What is the best part of your work?

Zsofia:  The social aspect. Being a private tutor means I mainly give classes to one or two students at a time. I do miss teaching groups, though. I used to teach in a secondary school back home. The ladies are lovely and extremely grateful for the lessons, which of course is really motivating. I often tell them I’m even more thankful for being able to teach a group after so many years.

Barbara:  Tell me about a moment that was really special for you.

Zsofia:  In class we cover various topics to practice conversing. One time we discussed star signs and horoscopes. The ladies surprised me by remembering my birthday and got me a small gift. I was truly touched.

Barbara:  If someone wants to volunteer as a teacher to refugees, what skills should they have? What would be your recommendation for them?

Zsofia:  It is important to adjust the course to their needs and abilities. It is also essential to listen to them when they share their difficulties and hindrance of communicating in English and try to help them feel at ease so they can open up and speak English without feeling inhibited. English isn’t my mother tongue, either. I too acquired it as a second language step by step over many years, which makes it possible to put myself in their shoes and enables me to help them in an efficient way.

Barbara: Thank you for taking the time to share your story with our blog readers Zsofia. Hopefully it will inspire someone to volunteer.

volunteer opportunities

In November 2019, Candice moved back to Canada, so Zsofia is on her own and looking for help.  If you are interested in helping or know someone who would like to, please get in touch.

questions or comments

In conclusion, if you have any questions or comments about Zsofia and this project, please add it below or in your preferred social media post (Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn).

 “We would like to thank Delft MaMa for its support for our plans and initiatives. We also thank Ms Nina for introducing us to Delft MaMa.”  

~ Kinda Zieno, Sawanet member

If you like this post, I recommend reading this article:  REFUGEES IN DELFT: GETTING TO KNOW OUR NEIGHBORS

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Barbara Baptista

Bárbara is an attorney with experience working as a content producer in a Training and Development consultancy. She moved to the Netherlands in December of 2019 and she is contributing to Delft MaMa since January 2020.

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