It's the first night of our ESOL Home Tutoring Course run by English Language Partners. We are a group of volunteers of all ages who would like to be friend and teach English to a new immigrant or refugee. I'm a little nervous and wonder what I have let myself in for.
As we introduce ourselves, it becomes clear that quite a few of the volunteers are immigrants themselves. These volunteers have already gone through the difficult hurdles of learning English, finding a job, and settling into a new country, and know firsthand the value of having a helping hand from a fluent English speaker.
The class meets once a week to complete our 24-hour course. Our enthusiastic tutors are well prepared and provide us with plenty of teaching ideas and interactive activities. They assure us that at the end of the course we won't be left to our own devices – we can keep in touch with them and the English Language Partners website provides lots of good teaching resources such as worksheets, as well as further training opportunities.
At the end of the course we are all keen to meet our learners. We'll visit their homes once a week to teach them for an hour or two. My learner Harpal is from India. I travelled to her home state Rajasthan a few years ago, so I'm especially interested to meet someone who was raised there.
In her home country, Harpal was a qualified kindergarten teacher, responsible for a large of number of young children. In New Zealand, she works at a takeaway restaurant. Harpal would dearly love to find a more stimulating job, but this can only happen if her English improves. I'd love to think that I can help her on the way to reach her goal.
I show Harpal a NZ government career website that provides instructions on how to write a CV, along with examples and templates. Together, we make a start on Harpal's CV.
The laptop turns out to be Harpal's favourite learning tool. Her family don't subscribe to a newspaper so I show her where to find the news on the web. She is keen to learn how to email so that she can keep in touch with friends and relations in India.
The NZ school system is something of a mystery to Harpal. We explore her daughter's school website to look at the different subjects her daughter takes and check out the school's other activities and newsletter. Next we we practise writing an absence note on the word processor. Harpal finds it difficult to write in English and a seemingly simple task such as writing a note for school can be a real trial for her.
There's always time for a chat during the lesson. I enjoy hearing about Harpal's culture, her extended family, temple visits and festivals. We both love cooking, so I bring her a pile of Foodtown magazines and we talk about the best places to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and groceries and the kinds of meals we cook for our families.
After a few weeks, our volunteer tutor group gathers for a final session and we share our stories. It's great to see everyone again and there is an excited buzz. All of us are still feeling our way, but whether our learner is an 80-year-old grandfather with no English at all or a young Mum at home who feels very isolated, we all feel we are making a difference. Much of what we do involves building our learners' confidence – encouraging them to take small steps such as making a telephone call, arranging a doctor's appointment, joining the library or catching a bus on their own. Our learners are very appreciative and friendships are blossoming.
It makes me feel good to think that we are playing a small part in helping a refugee or a new immigrant to feel at home here in New Zealand.
If you would like to find out more or are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, visit The English Language Partners website here. They run courses throughout New Zealand.