English Language Speaking Support for Ukrainian Students

Newcastle students are remotely tutoring their Ukrainian peers through the Peers at the National University of Water and Environmental Engineering

Rachel Taylor
19th February 2023

Road rage, vegan diets for dogs and scuba diving were just some of the topics discussed during the English Language Speaking Support Programme for Ukrainian students last year. As part of Newcastle University’s partnership with the National University of Water and Environmental Engineering (NUWEE) in Ukraine to support long-term research and educational collaboration, the Language Resource Centre set up the programme to improve Ukrainian students’ confidence in their English speaking ability.
A session involved the following, twenty-four hours prior to the live event, an article from Open Access Government and two short videos from How It’s Made were sent to the students for preparation. Students were divided into teams A & B and each had to transfer information to the other team for an open discussion led by the PAL leader. This was simplified later as the situation in Ukraine worsened and NUWEE students, lacking access to electricity or internet, could not always attend.  Sessions were then adapted to a general discussion of the topics. The PAL leader used the TEAMS chat channel to clarify vocabulary items.  The sessions were ninety minutes, once a week for six weeks.  
The NUWEE students were dedicated and enthusiastic throughout the programme and the PAL leaders displayed great professionalism. Five PAL Leaders shared details about their experience:
Why did you apply?  
Harry: Everyone is worried about Ukraine and the programme provided the Ukrainian students with a break from thinking about the war.  
Grace: Currently taking the TEFL qualification online, the programme provided an opportunity to apply knowledge and gain teaching experience.  
Did you apply any skills from your degree to your role as PAL leader? 
Grace: I was aware of the difficulties that arise when learning a language and so knew what type of questions to ask - I focused on open ended questions.  
Did anything surprise you? 
Emily: How keen the students were! Even if they hadn't done the prep they really wanted to be there. 
How did the programme benefit the Ukrainian students?  
Leah: My student’s confidence snowballed. By the 4th or 5th session, their confidence was amazing and they became more comfortable with taking the time to pause and think. Also, the Ukrainian students made friends with each other. They lived near each other so would help each other if they missed a lesson.  
Scarlett: The students picked up new vocabulary and different sentence structures. Students were nervous to speak at the start, but by the end were freely talking.  
How did taking part benefit you? 
Leah: Cultural awareness. During lessons, I asked myself if a topic could be interpreted in a different way and tried to steer away from things that could be insensitive.  
Emily: I realised the differences between teaching English online vs in person. I’m taking a TEFL course and there is a module on teaching online. Trying to get students to interact is more difficult on zoom, so I found ways to encourage participation, for example, by sharing links, sharing screens, and using icebreaker opportunities.

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The Language Resource Centre supports and facilitates independent language learning for everyone at Newcastle University and offers a variety of language practice sessions led by fluent-level students. These sessions are intended to provide an informal and relaxed way to practise your language skills with support from fellow students. These range from Conversation Groups (1 hour, intermediate and advanced levels) to 1-to-1 sessions (20 mins, any level: beginners to advanced). 
If you are interested in finding out more about Peer Assisted Learning at the centre or any other language learning opportunities, please email language.resource@ncl.ac.uk
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AUTHOR: Rachel Taylor
Second Year English Literature with Creative Writing student.

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