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TBI Blogs: How You Can Teach English to the Underprivileged & Change Their Lives for the Better

With something as simple as teaching English to your household help or underprivileged people around you, you can help bring about positive change in society. Read on to find out how.

You can give back to society in a lot of ways. You can volunteer to build houses for the poor, sweep the streets as part of ‘Swachh Bharat’, distribute ‘party-leftover’ food to the homeless, take part in protest marches for causes close to your heart – the list just goes on.

But there is something you could do that could have more sustainable impact than any of the above activities. You don’t even have to go out of your way to do it. It can all be done at your very home. What is it? It’s nothing but teaching English.

I am going to tell you why teaching English, in the present times, is the most sustainable good that you can give back to society.

Social media factor

The days of traditional media (newspaper, TV channels) coverage are gone. They just cannot cover 1.3 billion Indians. Look around. Now it’s all about personal media. People are voicing their concerns through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and gathering like-minded people to support their causes from across the globe. You can find an Indian, a Chinese national, and a Mexican championing the same cause. How is that possible? It’s simple – they speak the language of the internet, i.e. English, and know how to use social media.

The penetration of these social media channels is very deep (Twitter has 22.2 million users, Facebook has 142 million, with 90 % using mobile to access it). But Indians who really have concerns that threaten their very existence are not able to speak for themselves through these freely available social media platforms. Why? Because these Indians at the bottom of the pyramid don’t even know enough English to form a 140-character tweet. Without English, these people perpetually wait for external journalists to cover their stories and build traction around them.

But the brighter side of the story is that the mobile penetration is very high in India, i.e. around 70 % of the Indian population has mobile phones. Some studies say that there are more mobile phones than toilets in India. This penetration is only expected to grow. I am sure that five years down the line, even the simplest phones will allow Facebook and Twitter accessibility. So social media, like mobile phones, will eventually prevail amongst the folks at the bottom of the pyramid. You can already see signs of this, can’t you?

So we must empower these people who always get the raw deal – who are at the receiving end of corruption – with one skill that can empower them to voice their concerns directly without a facilitator. The skill is nothing but the ability to speak and write legible English.

Direct jobs

Knowledge of English can open up new and significantly better job avenues. This can translate into a significant increase in cash streams for people from underprivileged backgrounds. But Uber, Ola, Swiggy, Zomato, and the like – the new-age employers – expect even their most blue-collar workers to know how to use their applications, send SMS updates to customers, do Google searches, and write occasional emails. Without a working knowledge of English, doing these activities becomes very difficult.

Therefore, for these door-to-door delivery, cab service, and similar blue-collar roles, the point of selection for these firms is often based on English skills.

The knowledge spread

If you teach kids English, the language skills will spread to the parents, and if you teach the mother, then it will spread across the family in the fastest possible manner. You must remember that teaching a person does not mean that your impact is limited to that person. It always spreads. The effect is always multiplied. The whole family learns English because one person in the family is being taught English.


In today’s age, ghettos are slowly disappearing, and the haves and the have-nots are living closer to each other than ever before. They are next-door neighbors sometimes, particularly in the cities. Because the aspirations, needs, and social norms for these two groups differ considerably, friction is bound to arise. Friction arises between these communities mainly because they don’t understand each other. In other words, they are not “sensitized” to each other’s social norms. That’s why scenes of eve-teasing, catcalling, and physical violence are still not uncommon in the urban landscape.

Well, you can play a special role here. By teaching a have-not person English, you can also sensitize him to the lifestyle and social norms that the middle-class (which is of course English speaking) follows. He will listen to you more than anyone else on this topic. Why? Because you have gained his trust through your teaching efforts. I told my student, who was a mess worker then, about drinking with caution, the importance of female empowerment, and peaceful negotiation. He just listened, and gradually started following what I advised. It works!

Now you know how powerful a change teaching English could bring. But think about this – India lacks 12 lakh teachers in its schools at present. What about teaching illiterate adults? No government would ever be able to arrange enough full-time teachers to teach the more than 287 million illiterate Indians.

That’s where we, the English speakers of the country, will play a decisive role. We can pitch in to teach the illiterate children and adults, who the government couldn’t reach out to, in our spare time, can’t we?

But then, who could be your first student?

Charity begins at home. If you can teach your maid, security guard, or laundry boy for a few hours a week, then that’s best. But if you can’t, then just Google “volunteering opportunities in <your city>”. You’ll find so many NGOs in the education space who would be glad to give you a chance to teach English to underprivileged children and adults on weekends as a volunteer. Teaching English to an adult or a child will be equally fruitful, but in slightly different ways. You’ll know what I mean once you start teaching.

Naturally, now the question arises – what should you teach?

Well, if you are an existing English teacher, then nothing is better than teaching what you already know.

But if you aren’t, then you can follow my article series on teaching English from scratch. It will give you “bite-sized” teaching content and guidelines. You see, I created a curriculum for teaching English based on six years of experience volunteering as an English teacher, and host that on Volunteercurriculum.com. Here, I will regularly post crisp 3-hours-to-teach lesson plans from that curriculum. These lesson plans (in the form of articles) will tell you what to teach, how to teach, and how long to teach.

Motivation page

Before I end this article. I want you to open a Word document and write down all the motivating factors that drive you to teach English to someone in need. Your motivation will be truly your own, and will be different from that of any other teacher. Just this one page. Doing this has some big advantages. What you write here will continue to motivate you even when you are about to quit. It will be your guiding light. I have been adding stuff to my motivation pages for years, and it’s so fascinating to see how reasons (to teach) change with time, but the drive remains the same. That’s all for now folks!

About the author: Raghav Nyati is the founder of Volunteercurriculum.com, which provides English teaching content for volunteers.

To learn more about volunteering and teaching English, visit the Volunteer Curriculum website.

Featured image is for representational purpose only. (Source: By GMR Akash [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Volunteer Curriculum: English curriculum for volunteers.