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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


10 recommendations for adult migrants and refugees trainers

by Claudio Boet

Are you teacher or trainer? Are your learners recent migrants or refugees?

Take a look at our New Start project handbook for trainers  at and learn about the 10 recommendations that you should never forget:

1. Don’t hurry with migrants and refugees. They need time:

Have you ever realised how difficult it is learning new things when you are an adult?  Migrants must learn in a very short period of time: geography, thousands of new names (streets, cities, areas, metro stations etc.), new habits and procedures (from buying train tickets to applying for asylum etc.). It is very stressful for them.

2. Don’t take for granted that they understand:

Check first if they know what you are talking about. Go step by step and make sure that they understand. Checking for understanding is a skill which must be learned by educators. It is not enough to simply ask someone if they understand. Embarrassment or a willingness to please might lead someone to say “yes” when in fact they do not.

3. Avoid Eurocentrism:

Show respect for their identity. Don’t ask them to forget their past. Show clearly that Europeans respect their feelings towards their home country.

4. Language is really a barrier:

Be aware that even migrants and refugees, who can be advanced learners of a host country language, might have difficulties in understanding the meaning in a classroom. Speak slowly, try to improve your diction, avoid double meaning sentences, avoid jokes, avoid idiomatic language and use a plain and simple vocabulary.

5. Go straight to the point:

Migrants and adult learners are not children at school. They need to learn fast and gain competences to help them in their daily life. 

6. Foster participation:

Sometimes due to language barriers or due to participants’ shyness it is difficult to have participation in the classroom. Try to use triggering techniques such as using testimonials, videos or other resources to emerge emotion, encourage engagement and willingness to speak.

7. Show real interest:

Be empathic. Listen to the migrants’ and refugees’ opinions with interest. Ask for more details from them when they speak. Try to understand their point of view. Many of them have experienced very shocking and sad situations. It is key that they feel understood and important as individuals.

8. Don’t judge opinions:

Even undesired or unacceptable opinions from a European point of view are welcome. Accept them as an exercise of tolerance. Use them as an occasion to show how things are understood in Europe in the classroom, but never censure or judge the opinions.

9. Encourage co-operation between learners:

Sometimes the best trainers are the migrants themselves as they know the difficulties they face when learning. Try to encourage the work in groups and in pairs as much as possible. The classroom can be also a good starting point to make friends.

10. Taboo issues:

Traditions, gender and religious issues may be difficult to approach in the classroom. Try a step by step approach using different training resources that are helpful for self-reflection. Don’t impose opinions and don’t put pressure on learners. Try to make them understand that tolerance is not sharing beliefs but respecting the different beliefs of others. Show the red lines that could have consequences for them resulting in breaking the law of their receiving country.








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