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English: the gateway to wellbeing

Raising awareness of the need for and value of continuing migrant women’s education and empowerment in London.

On March 25, Wonder attended the HEAR network event “Working Together for Health Equalities” at Amnesty International HQ, where we presented our case study “Learning English: the Gateway to Wellbeing.” Our results showed that English-language education for migrant women empowers them to access health care and improving their well being overall.

Minority communities in England experience the greatest health inequalities in London[1]. Speaking over 300 different languages[2], these communities face serious language barriers that discourage them from seeking primary care and create difficulties communicating with healthcare professionals. Misunderstanding a diagnosis or prescription can lead to incorrectly taking medication or other medical errors. This situation has serious affects. 1/5 of maternal deaths in the UK are women with little or no English proficiency[3] and children of non-English speaking parents are three times as likely to be in ill health[4] than their peers.

To explore the role English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes could have on improving the health and wellbeing of minority women, Wonder conducted a small survey with eighteen local migrant women. We worked in collaboration with our local partner, The Baytree Centre, which provides ESOL classes as part of its activities to promote social inclusion for inner city women and their families. All classes offered include a dedicated section on health vocabulary and health care services in the UK, and allow students to practise mock healthcare scenarios, so they can improve their confidence and ability to communicate with healthcare professionals.

The surveyed women reported that before ESOL classes, many felt their lack of English proficiency made them dependent on male family members and children. ESOL classes provided these women with essential language skills and necessary medical vocabulary, empowering them to speak for themselves and attend doctor’s appointments alone.

When we come here I must go [to the doctor] with my husband. But now I can, my English is not very good, but I can go alone! I feel really good! - ESOL student at The Baytree Centre

The knowledge, communication skills, and independence gained from these classes enabled women to better access available healthcare services, receive and understand treatment and medication, and improve their health and wellbeing overall. We need to keep supporting ESOL classes for migrant women in London so that no one is excluded from necessary medical care. 

[1] Royal College of Nursing. 2014. “RCN Submission to the London Health Commission call for evidence on integrating health care are reducing health inequalities.” Retrieved from:

[2] Kaur, R., Oakley, S., and P. Venn. 2014. “Using face-to-face interpreters in healthcare.” Nursing Times 110(21): 20-21.

[3] Jayaweera, H. 2014. “Health of migrants in the UK: what do we know?” [Migration Observatory Briefing] Oxford: The Migration Observatory. Retrieved from:

[4] Flores, G., Abreu, M., and S.S. Tomany-Korman. 2005 “Limited English proficiencies, primary language at home, and disparities in children’s health care: How language barriers are measured matters.” Public Health Reports 120: 418-430