How ESOL courses are empowering new and expectant mums in Bradford

A Better Start Bradford delivers ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses for new and expectant mums. To find out more about the project and its impact, we had a chat with Emma Rose, who delivers the ESOL for pregnancy and infants’ courses. We also spoke with two mums about how Emma and the ESOL courses had helped them.

Better Start Bradford's ESOL for Pregnancy/ infants language courses are delivered by Shipley College in Bradford, both are run over six weeks.

  • ESOL for Pregnancy equips expectant mums with the language skills they need to help them through their pregnancy. It is delivered either online or face-to-face in the community.
  • ESOL for Infants is a face-to-face, stay and learn model with a focus on children and parents reading and learning language together.

Mum of three, Lidia Rosanu, talks about how her third pregnancy was so different to the first two thanks to ESOL for Pregnancy. Mum of one, Naima Haiba, whose first language is Arabic, talks about the isolation she felt before ESOL for Infants came into her life and changed things for the better.

Interview with Emma Rose, ESOL Lecturer at Shipley College

Emma Rose

In our ESOL for Pregnancy sessions we teach English vocabulary related to the pregnancy journey. This enables mums to talk to their midwife, doctor, and other healthcare staff with confidence, get ready for the birth of their child, and make informed decisions about their birth plan, as well as forming friendships with other expectant mums.

We make the ESOL for Pregnancy sessions as inclusive as possible, by running them online and face-to-face in the community, with a mixed model of digital and paper delivery. Everyone attending receives a workbook to bring to the classes, this is accompanied by discussions, videos, and a ‘word-wall’ (an interactive worksheet) to consolidate their learning. We also ask that mums download Google Translate and WhatsApp to their phones so they can watch videos and engage with interactive elements personalised to their first language.

In ESOL for Infants, parents learn from a workbook focusing on the books that they read together with the child, starting with ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’ Each book is broken down and, to use the example of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we focus on saying the days of the week, learning the foods that the caterpillar eats, and we even include a recipe for them to try at home.

By looking at pictures in books with their children, learning and saying the names of things out loud, and making up their own stories, the confidence of the mums grows. It is great to witness their development with each session. We also encourage them to read not only in English, but in their mother tongue too as it’s important that families continue to speak to their infants in both languages.

Have there been any challenges in delivering the pregnancy and infant focused ESOL sessions?

Before the pandemic, we were only offering the ESOL for Pregnancy as face-to-face sessions. When the pandemic hit, we adapted the course so that it could be delivered online. This increased the accessibility of the courses, and in-turn, it increased their popularity.

The benefits for mums

I have seen so many benefits to mums who have taken the course. I remember I was delivering an ESOL for Pregnancy session at Womenzone community centre and I was genuinely worried about one expectant mum, who I knew was having challenges in her home life. I saw her a few years later at an ESOL for Infants’ class and she was really engaged in the class and so was her little boy. The transformation in her confidence was powerful to witness.

I have also taught three mums at the West Bowling Centre, who have now gone on to do accredited ESOL courses in English and have all completed level one within a year. One of the mums now runs her own Stay and Learn sessions for babies and toddlers – it is just amazing!

A mum’s experience – Lidia

When mum of three, Lidia Rosanu, was pregnant with her first child seven years ago, she lived abroad. She moved to England by the time of her second pregnancy, and she needed an interpreter at her midwife appointments. Thanks to the English she learned at the ESOL for Pregnancy course, she didn’t need an interpreter at all for her third pregnancy.

Lidia’s ESOL story

I had been going to the ESOL for Infants class with my son to prepare him for nursery school. It was a very nice time for us both with quality time together and he got to play with other children. It also gave me the opportunity to exercise my English and to listen to different stories.

I was also pregnant with my third child, and Emma Rose told me about the ESOL for Pregnancy classes. I decided that it would be good for me to learn more English words and the centre is very near to my home, so it was convenient.

It was great for me to learn English words related to my pregnancy and I found out so many new things. I didn’t need an interpreter at all when talking to my midwife. I also found out about the other help available through Better Start Bradford, such as the Bradford Doulas, who provide support for pregnant women for six weeks before birth and six weeks after birth. Once I found out about this, I told other mums about them. I had not heard of a doula before, and this kind of help wasn’t available in my country.

Emma was the best English teacher for me, I like her vibe and how she runs the sessions. I am very thankful because I had chance to learn English at a good time for me.

A mum’s experience – Naima

Mum of one Naima Haiba, 36, speaks Arabic as her first language. Her little boy Junaid, 2, was a lockdown baby and with no family in Bradford, Naima felt very isolated. This was until she heard about a Stay and Play group at the West Bowling Centre. She went along and met Better Start Bradford Neighbourhood Worker, Ludmila, who introduced her to the programme and the ESOL classes. She signed up for the ESOL for Infants six-week course.

Naima’s story

Naima Haiba

We absolutely loved the ESOL course and Emma Rose, the tutor, was so good with all the children and mums. We used a workbook that had children’s books in it, and she showed us how to pronounce and understand all the different words in those books, so we could then read them with our children. We also got to take away books to carry on the reading at home such as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Elmer the Elephant, and a book about Eid. We learned so many new words.

I loved learning English so much that I also signed up to do the accredited ESOL course and I now have Level One English. Everyone tells me that they can see a big difference in my confidence and my personality, and I am forever recommending the ESOL course to friends.

As my confidence grew, we also started going to the Stay and Play Group at the Mayfield Centre, Junaid loves messy play. I have made so many friends through being part of Better Start Bradford.

I remember being so shy on that first day when we went along to our first Stay and Play session and met Ludmila, and when I started the ESOL for Infants course with Emma. It was my lucky day when I met these women. I am happy all day – I was so unhappy - no one with me, a new baby, I didn’t know what to do – it was so hard. I wouldn’t go out if I hadn’t got a reason. Now I am out all the time. No matter how tired we are, we always go out!

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.