June 30, 2022

How can you support your EAL staff by unlocking your English?

One of the (many) talents of an EAL teacher, is being able to modify their English to meet the level of their learners. This is why English teachers, trainers, and coaches can help learners with any first language and any level – even beginners!

When I started training EAL employees in the UK, I noticed that although they understood me, they still had problems understanding some of their colleagues, and even their managers! It became clear that many native speakers could really benefit from knowing how to modify their English in order to ease communication within multilingual teams.

This week, I spoke to our trusted partner, Shelley Purchon from English Unlocked, who does just this!

She helps teams working with EAL clients and colleagues to modify their English. This valuable service not only helps to overcome language barriers but also ensures everyone feels included.

Shelley Purchon

Shelley, what inspired you to start English Unlocked?

I had this idea for years before I acted on it. I was working in FE colleges teaching English to people from around the world, and my students understood me just fine. But if I took them to the library or the canteen, they usually struggled to understand what my British colleagues were saying to them. I realised that I had a skill which wasn’t common sense, and that other people needed to be shown how to use these techniques.

How did you learn to unlock your English?

Just like you did Sarah – through teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). I did that for over 20 years, sometimes with students who had very little English and I couldn’t speak their language. So the tips I share with my clients are very practical because they’re from real life experience. All good EFL teachers speak this way, I’m just sharing the tricks of our trade with people in other professions.

If you can’t speak the other person’s language, the least you can do is unlock your English.

What kind of organisations do you work with? 

Most of the people I’m helping have conversations with asylum seekers and refugees, sometimes via an interpreter but sometimes not. For example teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers.

What problems do your clients face before working with you? 

They want to provide the same level of service to all their clients, regardless of language ability, but they feel out of their depth when that client has a low English level. Often they need interpreters and so in addition to the English Unlocked communication training I provide training on how to work effectively with interpreters, and how to use Google Translate.

How do your clients benefit from your services? 

Quite often my clients want to be understood by people who are learning English but they lack awareness of how they sound. My workshops build their confidence by giving them the chance to have a go at understanding another language. By listening to another language they work out what helps them understand it and what gets in their way. The techniques I share for unlocking your English are quite simple, but they work.

Do you help your clients reduce their use of interpreters?

Not at all, that wouldn’t be right. If you need an interpreter you should get one, end of story.  What I do is equip my clients with three skill sets that complement one another – unlock your English, work with an interpreter, or use machine translation. I show them how to do all three well, and help them make an informed decision about which of these alternatives to use in any given moment.

Does your training also help organisations to support their ESL employees? 

Yes. When staff get better at communicating with clients who are learning English they get better at speaking to their overseas colleagues too, as this testimonial from a Filipino nurse illustrates-

“I do hope this wonderful course will be rolled out elsewhere to improve not only staff-to-patient but also colleague-to-colleague communication. I am at the point now where I can understand my colleagues but reflecting 4 years back when I was new in the country, I would say that I struggled a lot.”  James Jeremiah Gacis, Project Lead (Nursing and Midwifery), Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Public services are not the only employers which can benefit – it gives companies a competitive edge when doing business overseas if staff can unlock their English when required. It also improves inclusion and retention of ESL staff.

What’s the next step if our readers want to contact you?

Send me an email!


I’d love to start a conversation with you, and if you’d like to know more check out our website

Shelley Purchon

Director of English Unlocked.