Fresh Ki­wis learn the lingo


‘‘Life hasn't been so easy for us.’’

The words are small but the brav­ery is enor­mous.

In ac­cents as di­verse as the back­grounds of the speak­ers, the class re­peat the words their teacher calls out. ‘‘They, up, some, can, here.’’ One of the stu­dents gets a word wrong and he laughs at himself. He is 60 years old.

Ev­ery week, peo­ple swarm into Porirua halls and churches to learn the lan­guage of their new home.

Mi­grants and refugees, many are learn­ing to read and write for the first time. Some have never held a pen be­fore.

Karen Knapp teaches the begin­ners class us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of ges­tures, rep­e­ti­tion and pic­tures.

A pri­mary school teacher, she said magic hap­pened in the classes, al­beit slowly.

‘‘Some­times I say the same word so many times I be­gin to won­der if I have it right.’’

Deeb is in his 60s or 70s – de­pend­ing on who is trans­lat­ing – and de­spite be­ing il­lit­er­ate in his na­tive lan­guage he wants to learn English.

He misses Le­banon, but mostly he misses the 11 chil­dren left in the old coun­try. He hopes they will come to New Zealand.

He misses cig­a­rettes, too: he quit a 50-year habit when he ar­rived here.

‘‘The money is too big,’’ a Syr­ian class­mate ex­plains.

‘‘In Syria it’s very small money for Marl­boro.’’

Against a back­drop of laugh­ter and yelling, as­sis­tant teacher Ya­mamah said she knew how hard it was to learn a new lan­guage be­cause she had to do it her­self.

‘‘We start small with the al­pha­bet and num­bers. This class is now up to Mand num­ber 15.’’

She came to New Zealand with her ‘‘very brave’’ mother and sib­lings after her fa­ther was mur­dered in Iraq. Most of the class had sad sto­ries, she said.

‘‘Life hasn’t been so easy for us.’’

Jac­que­line Wil­ton, of English Lan­guage Part­ners New Zealand, is in charge of the chaos and said English was an ab­so­lute must for new Ki­wis.

It could take up to three years to learn enough to get a job, but even those too old for work needed a level of con­ver­sa­tional English, she said.

‘‘Iso­la­tion be­comes marginal­i­sa­tion, which then be­comes gen­er­a­tional.

‘‘Suc­cess­ful re­set­tle­ment is what we want.’’

Back in the class­room, a rowdy group of Syr­i­ans com­pete over who can yell the an­swer first. They’re keen to an­swer for the much qui­eter Colom­bians or at least share the an­swers in loud stage whis­pers.

Most of the class have been in the coun­try for less than a year.

At the end of the table, Deeb is learn­ing about New Zealand money.

He doesn’t speak any English yet and, through a group of trans­lat­ing class­mates, says it’s hard to learn.

‘‘But not as hard as giv­ing up cig­a­rettes.’’

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