The University (#2): Lutz Marten, SOAS

“Here at SOAS we have been working with Chatterbox since 2017. Through our joint project, Chatterbox provides extra-curricular conversation classes for our students studying African and Asian languages, where Chatterbox conversation partners support student-led learning projects. Through Chatterbox SOAS students gain access to the rich expertise and experience of the conversation partners, and improve their fluency and confidence in languages such as Arabic, Korean or Farsi. The project provides a unique learning experience for students, and valuable experience of working in a British university context for the tutors.

Students and tutors are enthusiastic about their experience. Working as a language tutor boosts the confidence of the refugee tutors and allows them to make a positive contribution to UK education. It also helps them to become familiar with and access UK higher education. For students, work with the refugees provides them with a unique opportunity to use their language skills in a real-life situation and to get to know speakers of the host culture. One of our SOAS students said: “What I really loved was that the language we used during our session served as a tool to share our life experience” and another said: “Speaking with a native speaker was a huge help in improving my pronunciation and confidence.”

For us as an institution, our work with Chatterbox had a number of positive outcomes. It has increased student satisfaction and success of the students involved in the project. It also fits in well with our wider work on displacement and refugees – which includes scholarships, support, and research – and with our institutional vision. We also benefited from publicity and wider impact Chatterbox has made over the last few years, and we are proud to be associated with the project.

On a wider level, Chatterbox amply demonstrates that refugees and migrants provide value and resources to the UK, and so provides an alternative narrative of refugees: As a positive, creative force who contribute valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge to British universities.

For us at SOAS, and I am certain in other universities as well, working with Chatterbox has been an intensely positive and uplifting experience and has for many of us provided a direct and clear example of the value of refugees and their knowledge, skills, and experience.”

Lutz is Professor of General and African Linguistics/Former Dean of the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at SOAS University, London.