English is passport to a place in society

By Ian Herbert
Friday 08 February 2002 01:00

The intricacies of the English conditional tense were not the only challenge facing Ali Namegoshaye Fard, a 30-year-old Iranian asylum-seeker, in his Manchester classroom yesterday. Judging by the copies of The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald, American literary appreciation lay ahead.

He said it would all be worth it if it won him acceptance. "You are trying to show the British people that the foreigners are not as dangerous as they think, and you actually may be lovely," he said in a language beyond him when he arrived in Manchester seven months ago.

But there is a 300-strong waiting list for places on English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) courses at Manchester College of Arts and Technology.

From Agron Gashi, a Yugoslav who wants to talk Manchester United in the pub, to Alexandra Gonaldi, an Argentine who wants a proper identity ("I think I'm not the person I really am when I speak English"), incomers seem desperate for cultural acceptance.

Marina Parha, who heads the department, had five staff teaching five classes of 18 when it was established last May. Now she has 23 staff and 19 classes. It's not the young immigrants who worry her most but those who have no incentive to go to class. Often, the problem is finding a childminder of the right nationality (many will only employ their own) and paying for it when there's no child support allowance until asylum is granted, which can take four years. Yesterday's classroom told the story. Mostly men and not an Asian or African woman in sight.

Ms Parha has even had language students trained up as childminders to liberate the women. But there's still no solution to the problem of the two dozen 15-year-olds they must turn away annually – rejected by schools because it is too late to teach them but too young for further education colleges.

Citizenship classes were no more important than British racial tolerance for asylum-seekers, said Mr Fard, concluding, with an impeccable demonstration of his new-found conditional tense: "Maybe if they understood us, we could start to learn from the heart, not as an obligation."

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