The challenge of learning Englishes for refugee professionals


This week the BBC ran this article on a subject that is very close to my heart: the language training of refugee healthcare professionals.

The article covers the variety of English that refugee doctors have to learn. This includes not only formal academic English for the IELTS exam and medical English for their profession, but also dialectical English in locales where they will be working.

This presents an enormous challenge for refugee doctors and learning to cope with the flexibility of language in three discrete registers can take up valuable time that arguably could be better spent keeping up with developments in their specialist area.

There is no magic wand here, but if we consider the adjustment to different styles of English that is required, an adjustment which is necessary because other L1 English speaking patients are not asked to make, then we must again recognise the Sysephean task that refugee doctors are confronted with.

Training refugee costs 1/10 of the cost of training doctors in the U.K. yet we confront them with barriers such as an English test on unconnected global topics with ever increasing requirements for doctors and other healthcare professionals, followed by two Professional Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) tests. Perhaps a combined test of language and professional knowledge with combined training would support refugee doctors, the NHS and patients more efficiently and effectively.

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