Like father, like son - but who’s teaching whom?

Udsaw learning reps have helped a young man escaping persecution build up his English skills. Helping him support his family and engage with people in his new home.

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In 2015 a young family moved to England from Sri Lanka, looking for a better life, free from the fear of the civil unrest within their own country. As a Muslim in Sri Lanka, Ali (who prefers not to give his full name) lived in fear for the safety of his family and himself and successfully sought asylum in the UK.

Initially, Ali could not speak or read any English but his son was at school and came back each day with his homework. Pretty soon he was teaching his father to speak English.  Ali managed to learn enough to get by and got a job in the local Evington Tesco Metro store.

Ali said:

I promised myself I would do my best to provide for my family, and I became a shift leader at the store.  Yet I knew my chances of promotion were limited unless I could improve my reading writing and speaking English.”

That’s where Usdaw MULR Shelley Middleton came on the scene.

Shelley said:

We were holding a Checkout Learning day event at the store and Ali came along to find out all about it and what was on offer. He asked a lot of questions and told me that his first language was Tamil.”

He explained that he had only been speaking English for three years and that his son had been teaching him but now wanted to do a course to improve his English and gain a qualification. When I told him we were planning to set up a course in the store, he signed up right away”.

Ali attended the enrolment and assessments sessions in September and started the course the following week. It was clear that Ali was eager to learn and quickly soaked up everything like sponge. 

Course tutor Michael Veary explained

I was very impressed with Ali’s enthusiasm and commitment to the course and I know he started reading daily newspapers to try and further improve his skills.”

By week three he told me how he was now helping to teach his wife, by going through his course work with her”.

Although Ali was still at the beginning of his journey and course, he hoped it would lead to advancement within Tesco.

Shelly said:

This course is just the first step he plans to do a maths and ICT course, once he has completed his English course.”

The learning journey has made a huge difference to Ali’s life, as he explains:

When I first started learning to speak English it was my son who was reading books to me and who taught me how to speak. Now I am starting to read those same books to my son at bedtime.”

When he comes home from school his first question is if we can both sit at the kitchen table and do our homework (even when I don’t have any). But I still take that time with him; my wife and daughter have also started to join us. Starting this course has helped bring my family together and I really love this time.”

Stories like Ali’s are one of the reason’s the union learning reps get some much from the role. Shelley said:

Listening to what Ali has got from his course brings a smile to my face for two reasons.”

It shows how learning cannot only bring enjoyment and fulfilment to the person learning but also to those around them. And it shows how a little bit of knowledge can be shared and turn the person from learner to teacher”.