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How a linguistics student from Ulster University helped a young boy from Iraq

4 July 2019

How a linguistics student from Ulster University helped a young boy from Iraq
Rebecca Conroy

Lisburn native, Rebecca Conroy graduates with a first class honours in Language and Linguistics.

Keen to study in her native Northern Ireland her original plan was to study Speech and Language Therapy at Ulster University. Not quite meeting the entry requirements, she took advice from the University accepting an alternative offer to study Language and Linguistics and couldn’t be happier with her change in career path and opportunities it has presented.

One such opportunity was the ‘Language Made Fun’ project, a joint initiative between Ulster University and Barnardo’s NI.  A play-based language intervention program for primary school children where English is not their first language, the programme aims to support the language skills of newcomer pupils who may be vulnerable to exclusion and educational failure.

It was through this programme in her second year that Rebecca met eleven-year-old Mohammed who had recently moved to Belfast with his family from their home city of Baghdad, Iraq.  Now enrolled at a local primary school, Rebecca’s role as a volunteer was to plan and lead weekly one to one sessions at his new home helping improve his English whilst retaining his native language.

A lesson in the benefits of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone Rebecca, who had initial reservations is so thankful for the opportunity which grew her confidence.  

“At the beginning I wasn’t sure about what I had volunteered for; I am normally quite a quiet person and so I was nervous about meeting new people. After the first session all those thoughts disappeared, and I enjoyed every minute of working with Mohammed and his family. I have learnt so much in addition to my course in terms of families who move here from other countries and about volunteering with Barnardo’s.”

Rebecca wasn’t the only one to find confidence, Mohammed's family remarked how working with Rebecca had not only improved his English but also boosted his self-confidence.

Applying what she had studied to help make a real impact, the highlight for Rebecca was seeing the progress made during the 16-week programme. Something which didn’t go unnoticed,

“Hearing the parents’ appreciation for my time and efforts was so encouraging and has given me more assurance of my abilities.”


Taking this new-found confidence with her as she graduates today Rebecca hopes to embark in a career in communications.


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