The Linguist

The Linguist 56,3 – June/July 2017

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist Vol/56 No/3 2017 FEATURES We have funding for one full-time member of staff but we have an incredible community of volunteers Q. What is Chatterbox in a nutshell? A. Chatterbox is a venture where refugees are trained and given opportunities to become language teachers. We're aiming to create a pipeline of quality, effective teachers in languages like Arabic, where there is a huge increase in demand, but also to encourage trainees to get into other skilled jobs, whether they want to progress into the booming online language-learning market, teach in universities or explore other language-sector jobs. They may find that the increase in confidence and boost to their CV allows them to go back to their former profession. It is a travesty that most refugees don't get to use their skills. Q. How did you come up with the idea? A. My mum is the spirit of Chatterbox and the primary inspiration. She was a civil engineer from Afghanistan, and when she came here I think she could have used her skills to benefit the UK, her family and herself, but there were many barriers preventing her from doing so. No one believed she was as qualified as she was saying. She began losing her skills, losing her confidence and getting sucked into low-level, underpaid work that inhibited her job prospects. After a decade, she went back into education, and she used her language skills to become a language support assistant in schools. The idea for Chatterbox came about in the summer of 2015. This was the summer that the little boy Alan Kurdî was found facedown on a beach in Turkey, and it caused a momentous swell of emotion and a will to do something about the refugee crisis. There was a number of impressive initiatives to help refugees in the UK but they missed the insight that the refugee population in the UK has high levels of education and training. Some had gone into language teaching, interpretation or translation, and Chatterbox encourages more people to view languages as a way to achieve stimulation and fulfilment in their career. Q. What services do you offer? A. We started with the minimum viable product so, at the moment, the fully developed service is conversation practice. We currently deliver this to students at SOAS, and individual clients who purchase on our website, and we're looking for other universities to partner with. In the early research that went into Chatterbox, we found that one of the areas that university language students were saying they weren't getting enough help with was conversation practice. Chatterbox tutors are given training on how to be effective conversation partners – things like how to correct someone without knocking their confidence. Q. How is Chatterbox funded? A. Our first legal form was a limited company and that was so we could take on investment from Bethnal Green Ventures, which funds 'tech for good' ventures – ideas related to technology and social good. However, by the end of the year, I am going to set up a charitable foundation. This model ensures that we have the flexibility of a limited company in terms of trading, but also that we lock in our social impact work. It's a classic social enterprise model in that we charge both universities and individuals for our services, and we pay a wage to the tutors. A very small proportion of the fees covers overheads and the rest gets invested back – at the moment into the business but soon into the charity. My goal is to make Chatterbox sustainable so that we are not beholden to anyone for funding. Last year there were huge cuts to support services for refugees at a time when they were most needed. Q. Who works for Chatterbox? A. So far, Chatterbox has only received enough funding to have one full-time staff member, and that's me, but we have an incredible community of volunteers and about five core volunteers. They help with things like the technical development of our online platform, developing the language skills tests, marketing. When interviewing refugees, we have volunteer academics and postgraduate students who test their capabilities in their native language. With further funding, we will build the capacity of our team. We are now recruiting Thebig idea Mursal Hedayat on the inspiration behind social enterprise Chatterbox, helping refugees use their languages © JOANNA HAMER

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