Tackling isolation with English language learning
‘I’m not depressed any more. I have friends. I go out of my house. This class has made the difference: learning with fun and friends!’ – Learner
Not only are socially isolated individuals more prone to depression, loneliness also increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. Cases of clinical dementia among the socially isolated are higher by 64%, and loneliness is also associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and having a stroke. With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine how much wider the benefits of being involved in the Creative English programme are for our learners (and volunteers) than simply improving their English!
In order to capture some of the ways in which Creative English helps learners to become less socially isolated, we started to ask learners how often they leave the house at the beginning of the course and comparing it to how often they leave the house at the end of the course. Of the 1000 learners who responded, 60% went out of the house more as a result of being a part of the project. Of the 265 learners who never went out at all, 87% had started going out more by the end of the course. This is an amazing increase, and the ripples will be felt far and wide. Given that the NHS has recently announced that it is becoming more prevention-focused, it’s right that the spotlight should fall on projects and initiatives that are – directly or indirectly – helping with this. Learners who are less isolated will be less likely to need treatment for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and will be more likely to access information about other things happening in their locality, from programmes that help them into the workplace to exercise classes to services their children can access. For example, one of our volunteer facilitators trained as a fitness instructor when she realised that there was a need among her learners, and a hub in East London organised a class trip to a Zumba class at the local library.
Learners also make friends and meet up with each other outside of class, forging the lasting bonds that will help to maintain their wellbeing. In my own class in Redbridge, Maria and Ludmila are two long-term learners who have developed a strong and endearing friendship. Maria is Pakistani, Ludmila is Moldovan. English is the language they have in common. They live close to each other, and will often go for spontaneous trips to the park together with their toddlers, who are also the same age. When Maria’s newborn baby recently went through heart surgery, she found that knowing she had a friend to talk to really helped.
We have always known that Creative English does far more than helping learners speak English. Now, we are rapidly reaping the evidence.