Paul Cliffe

“The classes are a great networking event.”

Doncaster is home to many former Gurkhas and their families, but some feel isolated because they don’t speak much English. After a chance conversation with a church minister who has Nepalese people in his congregation Paul Cliffe, from POA Learning, set up classes to help Nepalese people improve their language skills and build their confidence. He tells us more below.

Paul Cliffe and Nepalese students

Tell us more about your class.

We’ll have between 15 and 30 people attending – it depends on the weather! Around three quarters of my students are women, aged between 40 and 70. The men are older – my oldest student is 90. Daniel, a young British-Nepalese volunteer, translates for me. Thanks to him, the students have come on a lot faster than we expected. We also have other young volunteers who are down here helping out every Tuesday during the school holidays – it’s lovely.

What are your students learning?

I try to keep it practical, with real-world experiences. We’ll practise filling in forms and learn about catching the bus, going to the bank, asking questions at the doctors. I was shocked when I told my students we were going to learn about going to a café and they told me they never went to cafes because they were scared they’d get the language wrong and they didn’t know what to order. Now they know how to ask for a pot of tea or a cup of coffee and ‘milk, one sugar.’

So it’s not just about English, it’s about reducing isolation.

Exactly. Some of the men live alone so the class is a great networking and social event for them. I’ll do quizzes where I put my students in mixed groups – it’s a good way to get them all talking and break down some barriers. Next we want to set up a community café, which will be another way to reduce isolation.

What are you proudest of?

Seeing how far my students have come. I think they’re amazing – many of them are in their twilight years and they’re still willing to come and learn a language. They have an incredible work ethic. We had a Celebrating Learning event recently which gave me a chance to applaud them, to celebrate their continued attendance and the fact that they can now say hello and talk about the weather – that great British tradition!

Paul Cliffe with student Mary at a Celebrating Learning event