Students improve English language skills through volunteering

Barbara Buckley, manager of the PDSA store in the Royal Mile, and Heriot-Watt University English student Mohanad Abdulkhaleq.

A new volunteering module is being offered this semester by the English section in the School of Management and Languages at Heriot-Watt University.

The module, entitled "Culture in the Community", is part of the English section's popular Foundation Programme, which has been supporting international learners at the university since 1997. The programme has attracted more than 100 students this semester, with students from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Italy and Taiwan opting for the volunteering module.

A variety of charity shops, including the British Heart Foundation in Wester Hailes, the PDSA in the Royal Mile, and the Marie Curie Foundation in Nicholson Street, are supporting the university and helping to arrange placements for the students.

Ghadeer Baghir, a student from Saudi Arabia, admitted to being rather shy when she started work at the British Heart Foundation but has now started to see the full benefits of the placement. "I think that volunteering has helped me to develop my English language through practice with people working in the shop or with customers," she said. "When I first came to Edinburgh I could not talk to people in the street but now I am able to do it."

Fellow Saudi Arabian student Heba Althubaiti explained how she has developed some important insights during her placement: "I think it will help me a lot to deal with other areas of society such as those who experience poverty or disease.

"The important thing is that the placement will provide me with communication skills and help me to manage my time better. In this way the experience has a broader meaning."

David Finn, Academic Director of EAP at Heriot-Watt University, is confident that more international students will volunteer and engage with their local community as the programme gets better known.

"The important thing about the module is that the students see the wider benefits. "As well as opportunities to practise their language, they can get to understand the local culture better and develop skills which will make them more employable in their futures," he said.

Find out more about our English language programmes.