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.’’