1.   Where can I find the Council of Europe’s toolkit for volunteers providing language support for refugees in my language?

It’s on a special website at www.coe.int/lang-refugees. The 57 tools and other materials constituting the toolkit are available in seven different languages: English, French, Dutch, German, Greek, Italian and Turkish. You can find the language you are looking for in the bottom half of the homepage, or through the boxes on the right-hand side.

2.   What does the toolkit website contain?

There are 57 different tools in the form of guidelines, activities, reference lists, as well as other materials. The tools are organised in different sections, which can be accessed via the tabs at the top of each page of the website. These can be consulted online and downloaded in Word or PDF (see also question 6 below).

When you click on a section there is a detailed description of what it contains on the next page, and there is an easy way of moving from one section to the next on the right of that page. You can also find a quick summary and list of all the tools in the ‘resources’ section and in the leaflet which can be downloaded in English or French from the homepage (green box on the right).

3.   What does the ‘introduction’ section contain?

This section is in four parts and has 13 tools which provide important general background information, such as where refugees in Europe have come from and how they reached Europe (tool 1), and how to recognise and deal with unfamiliar cultural or ethical issues which may arise (tools 3 and 4). Some information is also provided on four languages spoken by recent refugees: Arabic, Kurdish, Persian and Somali.

The tools in language learning offer valuable information to help volunteers prepare their thoughts about providing language support. They offer insights into the challenges faced by refugees as language learners with basic levels of language proficiency, and into how progress may be achieved through positive planning and preparation.

4.   What kind of tools does the ‘preparation & planning’ section contain?

This section has 20 different tools which all deal with the practical aspects of preparing for and delivering language support to a diverse group of refugees. It is useful to read through the tools and do some of the activities before starting language support, and volunteers can also return to the tools at intervals when organising language support sessions. 

The tools in Some points to think about include information and activities about providing language support in diverse and challenging situations. Needs analysis is a useful starting point to help volunteers to find out what the refugee learners can already do in different languages and what their immediate language learning needs may be. In Planning content there are three tools to help volunteers to decide what to do in their support sessions (see also question 7).

5.   What kinds of activities are in the ‘activities’ section?

This section has five headings and 24 tools beginning with important advice on getting started in your initial meeting with refugee learners.  The other headings deal with vocabulary, which is a key part of language learning, and thinking about language learning, which encourages refugees to think about their language abilities and their approaches to learning.

The next group of tools is a set of 15 theme-based scenarios for language support focusing on carefully selected situations typical of the real-life challenges faced by refugees. These include, for example, communicating by phone or buying credit for a phone, using health services, buying clothes, finding accommodation and using post offices and banks (see also question 9). In Mapping journeys and interacting with the host community there are three other tools for use in language support activities. Like all other activities in the toolkit, these can be altered to suit local situations or limitations.

6.   What is in the ‘resources’ and the ‘about the toolkit’ sections?

This section provides fast access to a complete list of all 57 tools in the Toolkit. There is also a glossary of terms used in the toolkit, some of which may be unfamiliar, and a set of four website directories. The websites listed, which contain information and resources related to providing language support to refugees, are in English, French, German and Italian, and brief introductions to each website are provided in the directories. Finally, there is a selection of links to the Council of Europe’s work relating to refugees, and to the work of other key international organisations.

'About the toolkit’ provides information about the piloting carried out in Italy as well as the development of the toolkit. It also contains a summary report of the launch organised in November 2017 at the Council of Europe, as well as a list of all contributors. 

7.   If someone working with refugees wants to find out about their language background and level, what tools could they use?

In the ‘preparation and planning’ section, under Needs analysis there are seven different tools for this purpose.The first of them, tool 24, offers useful advice to volunteers about how to approach the task of finding out about individual refugees’ needs and priorities, and what needs to be borne in mind. The other six tools are not designed to be used in a series – it would not be practical to use them all. The best way is to look through each of these tools and to decide which one or two of them will be most useful in the context. For example, tool 25 is useful guidance for volunteers in finding out what refugees can already do in the target language, and what they think they urgently need to be able to do.Tool 26 can be used with refugees who have low literacy in the Roman alphabet, and tools 27 and 28 provide ideas for finding out more about all the languages that a refugee knows.

8.   How should volunteers prepare for sessions in which they are using scenarios in the ‘activities’ section?

In the ‘preparation and planning’ section, also under needs analysis, tools 29 and 30 suggest ways in which volunteers can decide what kind of language support refugees need, and which situations they already need to use the host language in. Then, under planning content, there are three very useful reference lists of situations, communicative functions, and expressions which volunteers can use to help them choose which situations to focus on, what refugees will need to be able to do with the language in those situations, and what expressions would be essential or most useful in those situations. Volunteers may prefer to print these lists and keep them available for reference. But they need to be careful not to try to cover too much in one session, and to come back to the same situations and expressions in future sessions. Volunteers can then look through the list of 15 scenarios in the ‘activities’ section and choose one which seems especially useful (but see question 9).

9.   Should volunteers work through the scenarios and other activities one after the other?

Depending on the context, all the scenarios may be useful to refugees, but it is probably better to be selective. Using the information that they have found out while using the tools for needs analysis, and looking through the lists for planning content (see question 8), volunteers should first choose the scenario which they believe will be most useful, urgent and interesting to the refugees they are working with.In the following session they can select another one that they believe will be especially useful, and so on.

Of course, it is possible that certain situations are important to the refugees, but there is no scenario related to it in the toolkit. In this case, it may be possible for the volunteer to invent a scenario by following the examples of scenarios provided.

10.  Can the scenarios be changed or adapted to meet the specific needs of a group?

Yes, of course. In fact, it will often be necessary to change them, so that they fit the context better. For example, pictures are provided in many of the scenarios as ideas for volunteers, but they will probably want to find pictures that are specifically relevant to the country or city where they are working so that they are more meaningful for refugees. Also, very simple dialogues are suggested in the scenarios, but if there are refugees in the group who already have more than elementary proficiency in the host country language, these dialogues can be made longer and adapted, or additional similar dialogues can be invented by the volunteer or the refugees. To make adaptation easier all tools can be downloaded in Word format and then can be easily changed.

It is important to remember that, like almost all the tools in the toolkit, it is not intended that the scenarios should be given to refugees in printed form. They are for the use of volunteers. Of course, certain parts of them may be reproduced for use in language support activities.

11.  I am coordinating a group of volunteers who give language support to refugees. Which tools could I use to orientate them to this kind of work?

All parts of the toolkit are designed to support volunteers in preparing for and providing language support to refugees, but an orientation session for volunteers could focus on just a small number of tools.For volunteers who have no prior experience of working with refugees it would be a good idea to begin with tools which invite volunteers to think about some key aspects of their role, such as tool 10, as well as tool 11, which is an activity to encourage them to reflect on what refugees bring to the language learning situation and the constraints that they may experience. Then tools containing background information, such as tools 1 and 2 about the political situation and the rights of refugees in relation to their legal status may be helpful. Tools 3 and 4 introduce important and sensitive ethical and cultural issues which volunteers need to be aware of before they begin.

Moving onto the detail of providing language support, tool 12 offers advice to volunteers on how to ensure that language support sessions are positive, constructive and effective experiences for refugee language learners. Several other tools offer guidance on specific aspects of language support. For example, it would be good to introduce volunteers to tool 17, which provides some challenging tasks showing how difficult it is to read and write in a new language, and to tool 24, which suggests how they might proceed during their first meeting with refugees, and the kind of information that they might need to gather about refugees’ needs (see also question 7). Tool 18 discusses the types of resources that volunteers could begin to collect for their language support, and tool 19 focuses on some non-challenging activities which will help everybody feel more relaxed and will encourage each person to participate, so volunteers could usefully discuss these with their coordinator and each other.It would also be good to go through the introduction to scenarios with volunteers and ask them to plan a session involving one or two scenarios so that they understand how they work.

An orientation session might also draw attention to Tool 23, which encourages volunteers to adopt the habit of reflecting on language support sessions and identifying the positive and less successful outcomes of the sessions before thinking about how adjustments might be made in future.

12.  Does the Council of Europe offer any kind of orientation or training for volunteers working with refugees?

At present, no direct or online training or orientation is provided by the Council of Europe Language Policy Programme. However, the European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML) in Graz may consider the possibility of providing such support in the future. However, the ECML is subject to a Partial Agreement that does not involve all of the 47 Council of Europe member states. Enquiries can be made via e-mail.