Malcolm Reed runs a One to One class for a learner with impaired hearing. We spoke about his experiences volunteering, British Sign Language, and advice for learning a language.

When did you start volunteering with SAVTE?

It would have been about five years ago, now, maybe four. 

Did you do much volunteering before then? 

Yeah, I have got quite a background in volunteering and I have been working with the Citizens Advice as a volunteer for 30 years. Further back in my life I did a fair amount of volunteering, so yes I have done quite a bit of volunteering in my time. 

What drew you to ESOL and what led you to teaching in the ESOL environment?

Partly through my work with Citizens Advice – many of the people we’d see would have refugee status. One of the obvious things is how vital language skills were for people, because they would come in and they would find it very difficult to explain the issues that they had come in with. So it was clear it was something that was very important, but it made it more obvious when working weekly with people who have these difficulties. I also have a background in teaching – I enjoy teaching people. So I saw the obvious combination of working with the refugee community and using what I see as my teaching skills.

How did you come to volunteer with SAVTE? 

From time to time I would trawl through the Sheffield Voluntary Service website, just for ideas, because I had just finished doing some voluntary teaching work on the Wicker, so I was looking for something to fill that gap. Obviously I knew about SAVTE already, and I thought that would be a pretty obvious thing for me to do. I really enjoy teaching, and I missed it. I wanted to carry on with it in some way, and SAVTE just fit perfectly with what I felt my interests and my skills were.

What do you find most satisfying about volunteering?

This sounds a bit pious maybe, but there’s this thing about wanting to give things back into the community. I have counted myself as pretty lucky throughout life. I think I am in part of the blessed generation really; I have been supported well by the state, I got a free education, I guess I have been fairly comfortable throughout life. It just felt right, to volunteer generally, to give things back to the community – particularly after I retired from paid work – I should be useful, I’ve got to make myself useful somewhere. There’s that side to it. But also it’s very satisfying personally you get a lot of buzz from working with learners who, for the most part, give a lot back, and are very grateful. It’s great to see them make progress in any way. You feel good for them but also you feel good for yourself. Pat yourself on the shoulder. That’s an important part as well, feeling good about yourself. So, it’s that combination of feeling that I’ve got some worth, I can do something that makes a difference, and feeling that I owe something to the community that I live in. 

What do you like about Sheffield?

I have been in Sheffield for fifty years. I like it because it’s a city but not a real city. It’s a manageable place. I have been here a long time, so I have built a network of friends. It’s a friendly city; everyone who has lived here for any time knows it’s basically a big village – I think that’s how people visualise Sheffield. It’s an easy-to-live-in place. When you go to other big cities, they have got more buzz around them but can also be quite oppressive. It feels like the size of other cities is too much – beyond human dimensions, whereas Sheffield never feels like that. Wherever you go it’s got this small town feel. And obviously the people I’ve met and build up relationships with are important. I have a mixture of feelings, but mostly I like Sheffield – It’s been attractive enough for me to spend fifty years here.

British Sign Language recently became an officially registered language. Do you have any feelings about this? 

I felt pleased. And I was surprised it hadn’t got official recognition already. Why not!?  It’s a widely used language, so I am pleased it was done but I was surprised that it hadn’t been recognised at that level before. I suppose the practical side is that there will be more language support available for people that are principally signers – it all seems very positive. Deaf people and people with hearing impairments seem to be getting a higher profile. Which I think is good because it’s a large community, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I started working with Aymen. I hadn’t really thought too much about it – obviously I came across people with hearing impairments, but hadn’t really thought about them as a community and the needs that signers would have.

We do a lot of helping people learn in SAVTE. Helping learners pick up language skills, and people develop their linguistic confidence. Would you have any advice for anyone that was going to learn sign language? 

I don’t feel I am in a position where I could give people advice with that. I try and pick up some sign language when I am working with Aymen. I am pretty poor at it! I am a bit dyspraxic, things that involve hand movements – I have difficulty copying hand movements from people. And then because I don’t use it I forget. Like any language, sign language is the same, you have to practise the things that you learn. Whilst I am teaching I pick it up and I practise it whilst I am there, but because I don’t practise with anyone during the week, I have pretty much forgotten it and I have to brush up before I get back in. So that would be my advice, as with any language you have to keep practising otherwise it just doesn’t stick. 

I think that’s great advice. I think that’s a fantastic lesson for people that are interested in learning any language – just keep practising.

Interested in Volunteering? If you would like to meet new people, learn new skills, and gain confidence and experience, you can apply to Volunteer with SAVTE