Evening class announcement 3: Yiddish Singing!

Drinking songs! Songs of Struggle, Resistance & Defiance! Contemporary & Traditional songs to sing on the Streets and at Gatherings:

Yiddish is the language that was used to reach the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe as the secular social justice movement was formed.

Come together at the London Action Resource Centre (LARC, formerly a school, a synagogue, and where some of the major yiddish publications were produced at the turn of the century) in Whitechapel where tradition and activism combine to transform the present. Supported by the rich multi-cultural history that surrounds us in Whitechapel, these workshops will transform your experience of singing and what it can do for you individually and as a collective voice.

All who are interested welcome. This is a very relaxed class and whilst a passion for singing helps, it’s also totally inclusive of people who don’t have a background in performance or Yiddish.

Teacher/facilitator: Rachel is a singer, song-collector and workshop facilitator with many years of experience researching and performing various strands of Jewish vocal repertoire, specifically Eastern European Yiddish folk song, as it relates to Jewish diasporic identity.  As well as performing throughout the UK and in New York, Montreal and Toronto, she teaches choirs and workshops, and facilitates music therapy sessions for people with dementia.

 

Mondays 7-9pm, LARC (62 Fieldgate Street, E1 1ES, Whitechapel), 25/09-11/12 and 15/01-26/03
~~No prior knowledge of Yiddish (or singing) required!~~

You can book for the full course in advance, or drop in and pay in cash.

Student registration for 2017-18 opens on Sunday 17th September. For any inquiries email babelsblessing@gmail.com!

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Evening class announcement 2: BatMitzvah

When Babel’s Blessing started in summer 2015, it was the brainchild of Jewish activists; inspired by our own families’ experiences of migration and being a minority in the UK, we wanted to use the knowledge and skills of our community to support other migrants and minorities of today.

One of our first courses was a big experiment: could we reproduce the experience of bar/bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, for adults? With radical politics and gender equality? With humour and weirdness and an acceptance of all students’ different levels of knowledge and experience of Judaism? With proper Torah reading in an actual synagogue?

It turned out that YES WE COULD, and it was a life-changing experience: so we’re bringing it back this year!

This is a course for adults who did not have a bar/bat mitzvah, didn’t like theirs, or did it in the wrong name/gender. Through this course, you will explore Judaism, including festivals, rituals, texts and history. You will learn to read from the Torah and talk about it, culminating in a ceremony at the end of two terms. This is your chance to explore Judaism on your terms, with no preconditions about beliefs, background or practice.

 

Wednesdays 6.30-8.30pm, South London Liberal Synagogue (Prentis Road, SW16 1QB, Streatham), 04/10-13/12 (with a week off on 08/11) and 24/01-04/04 (with a week off on 28/02).

Student registration for 2017-18 opens on Sunday 17th September. For any inquiries email babelsblessing@gmail.com!

Evening class announcement 1: Bengali/Sylheti

For two years now we have been running English classes at Praxis Community Projects in Bethnal Green, where many of our students are migrants from Bangladesh. We think it’s about time we also helped the local English speakers to speak one of their neighbours’ languages, so this year we will run a beginners’ Bengali class at Praxis.

Our teacher Ruksana says:

If you need to communicate with the Bengali or Sylheti community through your line of work, or just out if interest, join me at Praxis Community Projects for some Bengali lessons!

I am a native speaker Bengali/Sylheti teacher, and I can help if you are new to the language or if you are improving. I cover basic, everyday phrases that will be useful to you and build up vocabulary lesson by lesson.

Each lesson, I will share interesting information about the Bengali culture such as weddings, rice growing, drying mangoes on the roof!

 

 

Mondays 6.30-8.30pm, Praxis Community Projects (Pott Street, E2 0EF, Bethnal Green), 02/10-11/12 and 15/01-26/03

Student registration for 2017-18 opens on Sunday 17th September. For any inquiries email babelsblessing@gmail.com!

Announcing our courses for September 2017

ARABIC

Arabic is the most popular Semitic language, with 721 million people speaking it around the world. Giving the dramatic changes and developments in the Middle East, a lot of people are showing interest in learning Arabic to be able to follow the political, social and human rights developments and well as communicating with the Arab refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who escaped their countries seeking peace and stability.

We will be running weekly beginners’ and improvers’ classes in central London.

 

BENGALI

For two years now we have been running English classes at Praxis Community Projects in Bethnal Green, where many of our students are migrants from Bangladesh. We think it’s about time we also helped the local English speakers to speak one of their neighbours’ languages, so this year we will run a beginners’ Bengali class at Praxis. More info coming soon!

 

LATIN AMERICAN SPANISH

Why study Latin-American Spanish? Of the 469 million people speaking Spanish in the world, more than 418 million are in Latin America and in the United States. Latin America is a place with a splendid variety of accents and slangs that make this a rich linguistic experience. You will connect with cultures and slangs from 19 countries throughout Central and South America. Latin American Spanish has a beautiful and soft pronunciation that makes it much easier to learn… and it’s much easier to understand ‘standard’ Spanish pronunciation once you know a Latin American accent than vice-versa!

We will be running weekly beginners’ and improvers’ classes in central and south-east London.

 

YIDDISH SINGING

Drinking songs! Songs of Struggle, Resistance & Defiance! Contemporary & Traditional songs to sing on the Streets and at Gatherings. Supported by the rich multi-cultural history that surrounds us in Whitechapel, these workshops will transform your experience of singing and what it can do for you individually and as a collective voice. All who are interested welcome. This is a very relaxed class and whilst a passion for singing helps, it’s also totally inclusive of people who don’t have a background in performance or Yiddish.

The Yiddish singing workshop will run weekly in Whitechapel. For this course you can choose to book in advance or drop in and pay in cash.

 

BATMITZVAH

Announcing the glorious return of the Babel’s Batmitzvah course! Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, which usually takes place when a child is 13 but can be done at any age. It involves studying Jewish history and theology, learning to read Hebrew, taking part in research and discussions, writing your own response to a biblical text; and ends in a ceremony at synagogue, with family and friends coming together to celebrate your learning. Did you miss out on this as a teenager, or did you have a Bat/Bar Mitzvah but didn’t enjoy it and would like to do it again? Maybe you want to explore your Jewish heritage, or you’re trying to decide if converting is for you. All are welcome!

This course will run weekly in central London, and finish with a synagogue ceremony and party in central or east London.

 

FEES & BOOKING INFO

All our courses run from late September to late March, in two terms of 11 lessons each with breaks for school holidays.

For all classes except the Yiddish song workshop, you will need to book and pay at least part of the fee in advance. This can be done when our booking app goes live in mid September.

We operate a sliding scale fee system, depending on your financial situation each 2-hour class will cost you:

£10 – Student (total course cost £220)

£15 – Standard (total course cost £330)

£20 – Supporter (total course cost £440)

All profits from these fees go towards running our free English classes for refugees and migrants – so the more you pay, the more people we can support and teach!

There will also be ONE place in each group reserved for a person who can only afford £5 per class, they will be asked to do around 30 mins-1 hour per week volunteering for Babel’s (eg. arriving early to help the teacher set up, photocopying worksheets, promoting us on social media). This place cannot be booked via the website/booking app, please email us.

#RefugeeWeek post: Teaching ESOL in Initial Accommodation

Some of our ESOL teachers this year provided weekly drop-in classes for people living in short-term accommodation for asylum seekers. Here are some reflections from one teacher’s report.

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From October 2016-March 2017, I was the main ESOL teacher working with Babel’s Blessing to teach English to residents of an Initial Accommodation Centre in London. During this time, I delivered 21 lessons of approximately two hours each. At various times over this period, I was also ably assisted by three volunteers.

The sessions were held in a local church hall. It proved to be a challenge to convince many residents to leave the accommodation itself for the Church Hall – especially during the winter months (when at times the Hall was not heated) – and sometimes the key wasn’t available.

Student numbers and nationalities

Over these 21 sessions I have records of teaching 77 students. This statistic does not include all of the people who participated in the classes, for a variety of reasons: some residents refused, failed or were incapable of completing a registration form, and there were also a lot of children for whom such a task seemed unnecessary and onerous. A closer, unverifiable estimation for the total number of students who attended would be at least twice the officially registered number, possibly more. At times we had more than 20 learners (of all ages) in total. An average attendance would be somewhere between 5-10 learners.

The students came from all over the world, from places such as Kurdistan, West Africa and China. Among them were people who had lived all or most of their life in the UK, including children who had been withdrawn from school with their families, as well as the occasional EU national.

Although I did not keep a record of student ages or gender, I would estimate that there was a pretty even split between male and female, and that most adult learners were between 16-39 years old. There were also a large number of children, often of primary school age, but also a few secondary school age children.

Lesson content

I quickly realised that this would not be a ‘standard’ ESOL class for many reasons. Most learners only attended one class (although a handful did return, and one resident – an IT engineer from Iran – consistently attended over a 3-4 month period and is still in contact with me). The student numbers, levels and needs were impossible to predict, making lesson preparation a real challenge, and the students who did attend generally represented a broad spectrum of age groups (from young children to middle-aged adults) and English/educational levels (on occasion, native level speakers would work with functionally illiterate, absolute beginners in English).  

In addition to this, the students had many concerns and worries (as detailed above), and were not usually emotionally or physically prepared for a lesson. Most learners were only informed of the classes when I knocked on their door or encountered them in the building, which meant that they had to make a quick decision on whether to attend.

Bearing in mind these challenges, I generally conducted a rapid needs analysis at the class’ beginning in order to identify the students’ levels, before moving onto a broad-based topic which would allow for learners to progress at their own pace. I would often ask students to choose which topic was the most interesting for them. Recurrent themes included education (in which we discussed and defined the concept and talked about our educational histories, before listing what measures we can all take to further our own mental and physical education), health and wellbeing (including listing body parts and common ailments, roleplaying a doctor-patient conversation, and discussing some of the particularities of the NHS and issues asylum seekers might have therein), immigration to the UK (watching a BBC Newsnight video about different refugees’ stories of life in the UK, before students told their own travel stories and we discussed how our future might look), British history and culture (talking about the political structures, form-filling and bureaucracy, colonialism and multiculturalism, etc), storytelling (drawing cartoons of a particular period in the students’ lives which they want to recount, or of a future dream which they have), the local area (mapping and listing its facilities), politics and media (trying to discern the reliability of some media sources, following some rather bizarre rumours and a certain Presidential election last November), and others.  

With native English speakers, I tried to focus on other skills they needed to develop: for example, many residents from former British colonies were confident speakers, but needed help in their reading and writing abilities. Other, more literate students required a cultural or historical orientation, or perhaps critical thinking skills.

With the children, I focused on arts and crafts activities, such as building model animals with straws, creating cards and decorations for Mother’s Day/Christmas/Chinese or Iranian New Year, origami, as well as learning short spoken phrases in English for personal introductions, likes/dislikes, etc. Older children were often keen to participate with the adults.

Student Feedback

The project presented numerous challenges, to which I had to quickly adapt, improvise and invent, but I am confident that the majority of residents who encountered me genuinely learnt something, either relating to the English language, British cultural norms or British bureaucracy. The students gave overwhelmingly positive feedback to the classes, herewith a selection of student comments when asked “In today’s class, what did you like?”:

“I like learning and enjoy class”
“Group discussion about education” “I like teachers”
“I like to exercise during a week and I like more discussion” “Way of teaching, role play and discussion” “Good atmosphere”
“Free to talk”

 

“I like this because I spend good time and I learn some words” “You can help me to learn English and increase my knowledge about UK like culture, market, economy. I want to start business after accept.”

I also gave the residents two opportunities to talk about any problems they have, either with their life in the accommodation, or specifically to do with the English classes. A selection of their answers:

“Pronunciation” “My problem is because I want to go to school” “I had problem understand speak English”
“No problem I love this class” “I have a problem because this class is for 2 hours I want more time” “Accommodation and stay in England”
“Open bank account, my accommodation, bring my family here. I find a job, go to university” “Not this time if I have anything I will ask” “I’m so happy, I love England I wish I stay here”

It is worth noting that most residents either left the ‘problem’ questions blank or wrote “no”; however, in conversation, many mentioned anxieties about their asylum application or immigration status, homesickness/missing their families, and – repeatedly – students who were parents mentioned their worries about their children not receiving an education during their time in the system. This was the biggest recurring issue that was flagged up to me, but we felt powerless to assist. I am aware that the local Borough Council had a policy of not giving school placements to its child residents and clearly there is no easy solution to this, since most families are quickly moved on. There are little to no educational facilities in their place however, and everywhere in the Accommodation Centre you could encounter children climbing up the walls, metaphorically speaking.

In Summary

All in all, I feel that this project has been a success, inasmuch as learning has taken place, despite the many obstacles that presented themselves, and I believe that with further cooperation and coordination between the community of organisations and individuals involved in the lives of the residents, it can grow and continue to flourish.

DESIGN COMPETITION – win £50 or 10 free language lessons!

Babel’s Blessing needs a new logo. “That Bruegel Painting With Some Words On It” has served us pretty well for the last two years but we think it’s time for a change.

We’re launching a competition, open to all artists and graphic designers, to make us a new logo.

Your design must contain our full name: Babel’s Blessing Language School. Beyond that we have no specific requirements, please use your imagination! Have a look around the website and particularly check out last year’s annual report for inspiration and more info on what we do.

The prize for the winning logo is either £50 cash, or 10 free lessons on any of our evening classes starting from September 2017. 2017-18 courses are still in the early planning stages but will almost certainly include Arabic and Spanish.

The deadline is 5pm on Sunday 2nd of July!

Please send images in any easily downloadable format (JPEG, TIFF, PNG etc) to babelsblessing@gmail.com

Latin American Spanish classes running from January!

Want to join our amazing Spanish classes? You can do so from January!

Why study Latin-American Spanish? Of the 469 million people speaking Spanish in the world, more than 418 million are in Latin America and in the United States. Latin America is a place with a splendid variety of accents and slangs that make this a rich linguistic experience. You will connect with cultures and slangs from 19 countries throughout Central and South America. Latin American Spanish has a beautiful and soft pronunciation that makes it much easier to learn… and it’s much easier to understand ‘standard’ Spanish pronunciation once you know a Latin American accent than vice-versa!

How are we going to teach? We use a very practical approach, constants conversation and games within the group and the teacher. In addition, you will listen different audios (from radios around South and Central America) with different accents so you will be able to recognise and understand the multiplicity of accents. As part of our conversations we are going to learn about latinamerica struggles and social movements: political groups as FARC, EZLN will be brought to the class from Colombia and Mexico (not physically!!!), climate groups such as COPIHN in Guatemala, gender issues with Mujeres Creando from Bolivia and more… a variety of social movements to connect with and understand.

Beginners: every Wednesday 7-9pm at Jaz & Jule’s Chocolate House, 1 Chapel Market, London N1 9EZ (Angel), from 11th January to 29th March

Improvers (if you can already hold a basic conversation in Spanish, this is for you!): every other Monday 7-9pm, from 9th January to 27th March

Email us at babelsblessing@gmail.com for more details and to sign up!

New term announced!

We’ve worked hard over the summer and are pleased to announce the classes for our new term! Registration will open on the 7th of September so watch this space.

Languages

Continuing from last year, we have our key Arabic and Hebrew classes. These will be joined by two sparkly new courses: Latin American Spanish and a Yiddish singing workshop! For all the standard language courses (Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish) multiple levels will be available – classes will be formed on the basis of the levels of the people signing up.

Provisional venues and times (more precise details will be released on the 7th with the registration link):
-Hebrew: Sunday evening, East London venue
-Yiddish choir: Monday evening, East London venue
-Arabic: tbc
-Latin American Spanish: tbc

Term dates

The new term will start on the week of the 26th of September. Unlike last year, this time we are piloting a new 6-month term model: we just think three months is not enough! So for all standard language courses the term will go from the week of the 26th of September to the week of the 12th of December (12 weeks), then a three week break, then it will start again on the 9th of January until the 27th of March (another 12 weeks). The Yiddish singing workshop will run for 10 weeks.

Cost

Exactly like last year, we have a sliding scale policy: standard price is £10 per 2-hour class, if you want to help us out a bit more it’s £15/class, and if you are really broke you can come for £5! The money you pay for the classes goes not only to pay for your lovely teachers and our venues (including great projects such as the Common House (www.commonhouse.org.uk), but also to subsidise our free ESOL (English) classes for refugees / migrants / asylum seekers / anyone who wants to learn English whatever piece of paper they have or don’t have. This year we’re planning on continuing our two classes at Praxis (www.praxis.org.uk), which last year were very popular and always oversubscribed. We’d also love to expand our provision for the residents of initial accommodation centres for asylum seekers, serving two venues in South London rather than just one. But to do all this we need enough paying students! So pick a language and come learn with us, and tell your friends 🙂

Get our amazing end of year report

It’s amazing how quickly a year goes by.

Only this time last year a few friends sat round with nothing but an idea: a language school that people actually wanted to go to. A place where newcomers to London could learn English their own way without fear of judgement and talk about the things really going on in their lives. A school where people could connect with the languages of their ancestors like Yiddish, Hebrew and Arabic in a way that felt modern and revolutionary. A place where activists could learn sign language.

It needed to exist. So we made it happen. You made it happen.

In our end of year report, we cover what the school’s done, who we are, how we’ve spent money, how we’ve made people’s lives better.

From here, the main thing we want to do is grow. We’ve had such a fantastic year and we want to see this school get even bigger, bring in more people, help more people make new friends and expand more minds. If you’d like to be a part of this, or know somebody who would, or you just want to see what we’ve been doing, email babelsblessing@gmail.com to get your free copy of our report.