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Learning the lingo . . . (From left) Claire Oh, of Korea, Hanae Takeuchi, of Japan, tutor Linton Winder, Sanghee Jo and Harry Jeon, both of Korea, practise their conversational English skills. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Speak English? You’re qualified.

Confident Kiwi Conversations, an initiative for people to practise their English language skills in a comfortable environment, is calling for volunteer teachers and students in North Otago.

Lead volunteer Linton Winder said there was no need to have any qualifications; it was all about getting involved and helping people adapt to the language and culture.

“Anyone is welcome who wants to help people with conversational English,” Mr Winder said.

“Most of us just talk about anything for the session, and answer questions people might have about New Zealand phrases or slang.

“It’s fun, too – I laugh more during this hour than I do most of the week.”

Newcomers Waitaki network co-ordinator Christine Dorsey said there had been a gap in North Otago for a free service for non-residents who wanted to learn English.

“If you have residency, you are eligible to get English assistance for free from Literacy North Otago,” Mrs Dorsey said.

“That’s a great service. However, when people arrive in New Zealand they are usually on some kind of visa, and that is usually when they need the help, and they might not be able to afford classes.”

To get residency, people had to sit an International English Language Testing Systems test and, from next term, the course would have a trained tutor who could prepare people for that test, Mrs Dorsey said.

“For most people, the focus is on learning basic English and being able to understand Kiwi slang,” she said.

Other towns in New Zealand had offered the service, so it was good the gap had been filled in Oamaru, Mrs Dorsey said.

“What blows me away is that newcomers who arrive here are such a positive thing for our town – they go to groups, take on roles of responsibility, go to lots of community events and a lot volunteer in places around town.”

A lot of everyday terms New Zealanders used could be confusing to foreigners, Mrs Dorsey said.

“[For example] ‘Turn up around six tomorrow, keep an eye out for Bob in case he is a no show’ could make perfect sense to a New Zealander, but not to someone who learnt English in a formal setting.”

At present, the group, which has been running for six weeks, has eight tutors and 12 students, with plenty of scope for more of each.

Mr Winder, who hails from England, arrived with his wife in Oamaru last year after an extensive search for “the nicest town in New Zealand”.

He said he found the Newcomers group helpful, and decided to volunteer his services to the language group.

“Even if you are a native English speaker, you still have to get used to Kiwi culture, idioms and phrases,” he said.

“It helps non-native speakers to know that everyone finds it hard.”

Mr Winder said a lot of students had a good understanding of English, but struggled when talking in a more general sense.

“We have two people who work in a shop, so they are very good at having a quick chat, but struggle with wider conversation, so the classes help in a non-challenging, supportive way to practise those wider conversations.”

Student Sanghee Jo, who works at Gold Fox in Oamaru, said she enjoyed how quiet and peaceful New Zealand was compared with her hometown of Seoul, in Korea.

Miss Jo said she was enjoying the language classes and had been noting down terms she had heard during the week that did not make sense, even when translated to Korean.

“I was watching Shortland Street for my homework and didn’t know what ‘to pull rank’ or ‘swept off her feet’ meant,” she said.

“We have small groups here so I get to ask all these questions – in Korea, there were 40 people in my class.”

Classes are held at 5.45pm on Tuesday nights at the Ara Institute of Canterbury campus in Oamaru. Prospective students and tutors are encouraged to contact the Newcomers Waitaki or meet at Ara on the night.

Ara Institute is lending the rooms to the group free of charge.