These are my thoughts on how to adapt TEFL Courses to mLearning Lessons to help migrants and refugees in learning English.

These are my thoughts on how to adapt TEFL Courses to mLearning Lessons to help migrants and refugees in learning English.

The relationship between migration and the digital is arguably one of the major global developments in the twenty-first century and with the beginning of the refugee-migration crisis in 2015, current migration trends predict an increase in the number of migrants in correlation with an increased high demand for mobile devices and services, such as mobile-phone top-up vouchers and preloaded mobile data sim cards for internet access and connectivity?

What does this mean for migrant education provision, especially English language teaching and learning? 

Mobile phones are crucial for migrant networking and participation in a frame of citizenship.
For migrants and displaced refugees, the modern smartphone is the key to unlocking a new, safer life abroad.
It is through their smartphones that migrants begin to participate in communities, build their individual identities and integrate into the institutional sphere of citizenship, work and education.

There has been significant growth in the development of digital tools and mobile applications catering specifically to the growing mobile migrant population across Europe, with education applications and virtual mutual-aid community volunteer groups being especially popular amongst migrants. 

It is estimated that 51% of refugees are children or young adults, a majority of whom will face long-term displacement and significant interruptions to schooling.
Educational continuity as a priority must take notice of the potential mobile devices have in overcoming the many challenges of providing education and language courses to migrants e.g. the availability of teachers, the lack of appropriate bi-lingual language resources and teaching materials etc.

Projects that use mobile technology to deliver education require careful planning to execute effectively.
A study by Bradley, Lindstrom, and Hashemi involving 38 Arabic speaking migrants newly arrived in Sweden found that mobile apps can be used in the first phases of migrant resettlement and education as the study found that mobile phones are a gateway to fostering learning, developing language skills and easier socio-cultural integrations through learning, interpersonal interaction and creative collaboration.

How does this trend translate into the TEFL classroom and migrant education programmes?

In another recent study by O’Mara and Harris, 24 young migrants with different backgrounds (Vietnamese, Samoan, Sudanese, and Chinese) were enrolled in a programme which utilised a variety of online sites and mobile applications for learning and artistic production.

The study concludes that mLearning and e-Learning applications and services can be used to bridge cultural, gender and educational gaps, especially in the context of educational practice focused on communal and mutual experimentation, learning, socializing and growth.
Adopting such practices will see results such as the study found e.g. 21 Somali female refugees and 248 women, burdened by social expectations and gender inequalities which limited their access  higher education, were able to gather information on scholarships and post-secondary educations through mobile and social networking whilst setting a new precedent for female migrant self-determination and progressive social and educational change.

Where to even begin with adjusting your TEFL lessons to mLearning?

The first step is the acknowledgement and understanding of the nature and aim of mobile language learning.
According to the British Council’s report in 2018 on the future of English in the European Union, the mobility and influx of migrants will create demand for high-level proficiency in English which will inevitably result in many migrants requiring longer-term English language tuition beyond passing their citizenship test.

The report also predicts a decreased demand for evening and weekend, more traditional, TEFL classes and courses and an increased need for flexible, personalised and purpose-specific learning.
Considering the conclusions of this report, published 3 years ago, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and waves of national lockdowns across the globe, it cannot feel more urgent for migrants with limited access to food, funds and friendship in a time of crisis. 

Many migrants are not eligible to attend government-funded classes, and many more are afraid to broach the possibility of TEFL course enrollment in case it brings unwanted extra scrutiny from border police and immigration officials.


This is where TEFL mLearning becomes ever more critical and indispensable.

Individual migrants have specific and different language needs and prior skills which are unlikely to be addressed in a general TEFL classroom. Informal, voluntary language learning facilitated by free online resources, social networking and virtual cloud conferencing over WhatsApp or Zoom, for example, are increasingly taking place across the UK and Europe as national lockdowns have left many migrants isolated and many teachers with free time to commit to migrant and voluntary teaching now that their schools are largely shutdown or operating in a limited capacity for children of essential workers only. 

The developments point to a growing need for flexible, individualised, accessible language learning provision.
Over the past decade, numerous research and development projects as well as initiatives by individuals, companies and NGOs have generated an expanding range of online and mobile applications, tools and services aiming to serve the language learning needs of migrants.

It is important to involve migrants in the development of their mobile learning and to see mobile learning as a collaborative endeavour towards mutual empowerment, support and growth through language learning. Facilitate intercultural dialogue, discourse and debate on current affairs and relevant topics such as political attitudes towards race and religion, equality and social mobility in the UK and mental health amongst Muslim women.

I have had a few migrant Muslim students of mine admit to struggling with issues like depression and anxiety but are prevented from coming forward and speaking out by cultural taboos causing them to feel isolated and alone. 

Mobile lessons should also be tailored to individual language needs and specific to every migrants’ situation. Some young migrants may have aspirations for university education, so english lessons focused on university interview practice and writing personal statements with university recommendations, sanctuary scholarship application support and additional advice throughout the application process.

Other migrants may desire to enter the workforce immediately upon receiving citizenship and so lessons should be planned in accordance to Business English course curriculums with additional guidance on composing resumes, applying for jobs online and attending job interviews or job centre appointments etc. 

But, it is also essential to remember that the indispensability of language learning does not depend exclusively on its application in everyday life but relies also on the cultural and creative aspects of language such as literature, poetry and prose.

An illustrative case study of this from personal experience occurred with one of my students who has a deep love of English literature and expressed interest in leading a book club for Arabic speaking migrants learning English to discuss news articles, novels and translated Arabic language fiction.

Currently, the book group includes 8 members, all migrant learners of English, and beginning to attempt English-Arabic and Arabic-English translations as a group to develop their grammar and vocabulary with every student sharing their study tips, vocabulary memorisation techniques and offering their own explanations, both in English and Arabic, of grammatical concepts and English idioms. 

Mobile learning developments and their expanded provision include the radical, transformative potential of shifting mainstream perspectives and assumptions about learning, what it is for, who it is for and how and where it is supposed to take place.
Language learning should require greater collaborative efforts to define, describe and provide resources for language learning that are relevant, accessible, motivating and engaging.

Living in a world of increasing ‘mobility’ in every sense of the word presents an enormous opportunity for innovative collaboration with migrants to facilitate a voice and a role for them in the development of their education and language learning.
Migrant learners, through their ideas and experiences, are key to ensuring future developments in mobile learning continue to be fit for purpose, supporting English language learning, yes, but also, empowering and encouraging wider aspirations and ambitions for equality, participation and social and cultural inclusion and integration. 







  1. Agnes Kukulska-Hulme. “Mobile Language Learning Innovation Inspired by Migrants.” 
  2. Diana Glazebrook. “Becoming Mobile after Detention.” 
  3. GSMA Report. “A Landscape of New Services and Approaches.” 
  4. Julie Gaubert. “It’s World Day Without Mobile Phones – unless you’re a migrant.” 
  5. Marion MacGregor. “Smartphones: Lifeline or liability?” 
  6. Moha Ennaji. “Logistical Tools for Refugees and Undocumented Migrants.” 


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