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English classes remove language barriers for migrants to Kapiti Coast

Jan 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Diversity, Featured Article, Features, Front Page Layout

LEARNING PARTNERS: Tutor Ruth Munro with Indonesian couple Martini Santoso and Budi Bachtiar.

THERE is more hidden diversity in Horowhenua-Kapiti than people might think – a total of 25 nationalities at last count.

The barrier of language, however, can often prevent newcomers from being “seen”.

Research shows Kiwis are good at the initial hello, but often wary about socialising with newcomers, says David Harris, manager of the English Language Partners (ELP) Horowhenua-Kapiti centre.

Together with four part-time colleagues and 65 volunteers, the centre provides English language classes and one-to-one tutoring for 151 migrants from 25 countries, including Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Romania, Russia and Vietnam.

He says for migrants with limited English, meeting someone who is empathetic, can speak simply and understand broken English, improves their language skills and builds self-confidence.

Mr Harris, (right), believes ELP has a winning formula for helping migrants settle into their local community.

The organisation is often the closest contact newcomers have with Kiwis, especially in small towns where there are fewer migrant networks to fall back on.

Indonesian couple Martini Santoso and Budi Bachtiar moved to the country four years ago to be with their three sons.

Having missed out learning English at school, they knew basic words, but not enough to hold a conversation.

They say ELP was a good place to learn everyday English, get local knowledge and meet other migrants their age to share experiences.

Many of those people are still good friends.

Mr Harris says for older people especially, classes and one-to-one tutoring provide a safe and comfortable environment for both learner and tutor, and friendships often develop as a result.

Learning can range from helping someone understand their child’s school newsletter, to knowing the correct questions and expressions to use when shopping for clothes.

“We tend to use everyday material…in the person’s environment already, to keep it relevant,” says Mr Harris.

Ms Santoso says classes gave her more confidence to talk to people wherever she went – and talk her way into her first full-time job.

“They knew I was looking for a job, and said to me, ‘there is the manager’, and I put my shopping down and asked, ‘is there a job for me?’.

“I thought my English was not enough, but the manager was very helpful. They wanted me.”

Less than six weeks after getting a job packing groceries, Ms Santoso mastered the money till in one day and soon had her own personal customers.

“All customers and staff were very, very nice. They knew me and wanted to help me speak,” she says.

Even when she had a queue at her till, she says her customers still came to her and waited in line to see her.

Statistics New Zealand 2006 census figures show there are 42 Indonesians in Horowhenua.

Mr Bachtiar has bumped into only one fellow countryman so far, but it is not a problem.

The couple say they are happy making friends wherever they meet them, and their Baptist church provides a sense of community for them.

Ms Santoso’s tutor, Ruth Munro, is a “migrant”.

Born in Scotland, Ms Munro came to the country in the 1960s and thought she spoke English until she found locals had difficulty understanding her.

Wanting to give something back to the community she has lived in for more than 30 years, Ms Munro is starting her third year as a tutor, and says it goes beyond cultural exchange.

“You get to know people as real people, not immigrant statistics…and share their experiences,” she says.

As the relationship between learner and tutor becomes more solid, it is easier to build confidence, and she says Ms Santoso can now talk about anything.

Although Ms Santoso admits she and her husband find it all too easy to speak Indonesian at home, TV soaps keep her tuned in to English, even if one of them is Australian.

Neighbours and Shortland Street are “must sees” and Ms Santoso says if she does miss an episode, she goes online to catch up.

Mr Harris says he is always looking for volunteers with a good command of everyday English and what he describes as the “x factor”, the ability to get on with people.

But he says it works both ways. If migrants are willing to assimilate local ways, then locals must be willing to accept other cultures.

The small numbers of migrants make their presence less visible in the region, despite a few Indian and Thai restaurants that have sprung up in recent years, says Mr Harris.

“It would be nice to have scope to showcase the different cultures outside of schools.

“Handled right, we could well look back in 20 years’ time and say thank goodness for the diversity that these [people] bring to our country.”

English Language Partners, formerly ESOL Home Tutors, is the country’s largest organisation providing voluntary and paid, one-to-one and group English tuition and settlement support services for 8000 migrants throughout New Zealand.

For more information about English Language Partners and volunteering, go to www.englishlanguage.org.nz, or phone 06 368 6062.

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