Making new connections is the key
Hugo says he comes from a family of migrants, which was one of the motivations behind the idea of Speak. His father, though Portuguese, grew up in Zimbabwe and came to Portugal as an adult. His mother, also from a Portuguese family, grew up in France. He heard the family stories about the challenges of being an immigrant, adapting to a different culture and making new connections.
Those connections are key to successfully integrating into a new community.
“We measured impact last year,” Hugo says, “and we found that after 12 weeks with Speak, we are breaking down the social isolation of migrants. They are making new friends that help them build CVs, find jobs, take care of their children, translate important documents, get access to health care systems… and that’s really powerful.”
A direct impact on thousands of people
Since the company took its present form in 2014, it has steadily grown. The government of Portugal has made Speak its primary programme for the integration of immigrants, and some companies are using Speak to help new employees adjust to their communities. The programme is also growing through a franchise model, whereby organisers set up a Speak operation in their cities, creating jobs for themselves in the process.
Last year, 3,000 people used Speak for at least 18 hours. This year, the company hopes that 6,000 people will use Speak. The programme is running in 20 cities and seven countries.
Large Speak operations have taken root in Turin, Italy, and Utrecht, the Netherlands, among other places. The next steps are to expand Speak’s programming beyond the initial 18-hour offering, as well as continuing to grow the company.
It is gratifying to see Speak bring people together at a time when political tensions over immigration are often in the news, Hugo says. “We’re using the motivation of learning the language to help people form long-lasting relationships in the community,” he adds.
He cited the example of a group exercise in one of the language sessions. The group is split into small groups for two minutes to express three wishes. “What’s cool is when the group comes back together — people of different backgrounds, colours and religions — they end up understanding that everyone wants the same things: a family, a chance to travel. We have so much in common.”