9-year-old Kateryna* arrived in Bristol with her family, having fled conflict in Ukraine in June 2022. She was referred to Jacari by her school teacher as she didn’t speak any English and needed extra support to help her learn the language and adapt to her new life and school. Jacari was able to quickly match Kateryna to a volunteer, Natalie*, who is an Education student at the University of the West of England. Natalie was an ideal match for Kateryna as she speaks Russian.
In a recent interview with Kateryna, during one of her lessons, we discussed the impact of Jacari’s tutoring on her English language skills. Picking up English as a new language has understandably required some effort. Staying on track with schoolwork and growing her confidence and language skills posed a challenge at first.
Approach to tutoring
Matching Kateryna with Natalie has significantly accelerated her development and self-confidence. Currently studying at University to be a primary school teacher, Natalie uses creative teaching techniques during lessons to help Kateryna with her speaking and writing skills which continue to improve.
“There has been a massive improvement in her speaking and writing skills since we started working together. I can see she takes the lessons to heart and is committed to getting even better.” (Natalie)
An “above average” fluency in Russian helps Natalie smooth things along and gives Kateryna the confidence she needs to navigate the learning curve. The 1 to 1 sessions have given Kateryna the opportunity to express herself better and benefit from a tailored learning structure that targets her strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
During the interview, Kateryna’s mum contributed a few thoughts of her own. She remarked on some notable differences she noticed in Kateryna’s language skills since she started her sessions with Natalie.
“I noticed that she will try to use English more often and associate her words with what she gains from Natalie’s lessons. She is more open to having discussions in English which she didn’t always like to do”. Kateryna’s Mum
Natalie and Kateryna work on speaking, writing, vocabulary, and grammar exercises during their sessions. The lesson plan is a nod to Kateryna’s love of word association and game-based learning activities. Learning is not strictly serious business; however, there’s always some fun to be had. Kateryna spoke excitedly and at length about some of the crafts she makes during lessons with Natalie.
“I enjoy the crafts during our lessons. We make many fun characters. Pinkie Pie is my favourite!” Kateryna
Pinky Pie, a female Earth pony and main character of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is a particular favorite of Kateryna’s. The cartoon character has served as inspiration for several cutouts and makes an appearance at lessons too!
The craft-making, however, isn’t just for fun alone. It allows Kateryna to experience and explore the English language from a different perspective. This allows her to approach peer conversations with more gusto and thrive in her social circles.
A thriving friendship
More important to observe was the natural friendship between Natalie and Kateryna. Spending time with them shows how much work has gone into creating a safe space for Kateryna to thrive. The arrangement is not dissimilar from a mentor-mentee relationship. Mum agrees and says Kateryna looks forward to her sessions with Natalie.
“She is always excited when it’s time for the lessons. Even today, she kept counting down the minutes until lesson time.” Kateryna’s mum
Visual aids play a central role in the sessions, and Natalie mentions trying to link each lesson to the previous one to simulate a continuous journey. This helps keep Kateryna grounded and allows her to know what is coming next and how it relates to what she has already learned.
“I try to link lessons together to create a seamless chain of knowledge that she can easily trace back to different points in her development.” Natalie
One only has to see the radiant smiles present during lessons to understand the impact that the tutoring sessions have on both the tutor and the tutee. Kateryna is now getting the help she needs outside the classroom and is well on her way to mastering the English language. She won’t be slowing down anytime soon, and that is a Pinkie Promise.
*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes