Patricia is Malaysian Australian and a retired teacher. She used to teach English in Malaysia to Chinese students and enjoyed the experience so much decided to teach English to refugee and migrants arriving in Townsville, Australia. As a result Patricia has been volunteering to teach English language at the Townsville Multicultural Support Group building for the past twelve years.
One of the challenges is that Australian’s do not speak book English. For instance, people might say, ‘Let’s kickstart this idea,’ or ‘Let’s fold up this meeting,’ which can be confusing for people learning English. Another favourite is the saying, ‘I’m over the moon!’ which, for people just learning English, doesn’t translate easily to ‘I’m very happy!’
She remembers one of her students recounting a moment in the supermarket car park after three months of being in Australia. He was walking to his car and a friendly Australian said, “Hello, how ya’ going?”
After considering responses and the different modes of transport available, such as walking, bus and car, he replied, “I’m going by car.”
Today, this story still invokes laughter when they remember it.
New refugees and migrants may feel intimidated so Patricia uses body language and humour to connect with students. She believes it’s important to relax her students so they can prepare themselves to learn. She has a jug of water in the room and teases to pour the water over someone’s head if they make a mistake, which makes everyone laugh, although no one’s ever gotten wet and everyone learns from their mistakes. It’s this unified experience combined with humour that helps strengthen the relationships and trust in the classroom.
Patricia encourages refugees and migrants not to be afraid to speak with their local Australian neighbours. Just say ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. For Australian locals she asks that you please say hello or at least acknowledge the presence of a refugee or migrant; a simple ‘hello’, warm smile or friendly nod of the head is sufficient.
If you see a young refugee or migrant boy pushing trolleys in the supermarket car park saying hello or acknowledging their presence will make their day.
Thank you to Michael Bromage for helping us tell Patricia’s story, this story was made in collaboration with ABC Open: read these stories and more on ABC Open.
Photo by Michael Bromage.