Community matters

Michele Frankeni 14 August 2018

The biggest barrier to communication is the inability to speak or read in the same language.

The English language and literacy skills of migrants can range from excellent to poor and access to formal programs can depend on the type of visas they have been given.

Suzanne Daroesman, trainer and project officer for Melbourne’s Jesuit Community College, says the college offers a pre-accredited course in English, titled Language for Life. The course, offered in a number of places mainly in the north of Melbourne, helps migrants start on a learning pathway.

Suzanne says, however, there is a need for a program for asylum seekers who are not able to access mainstream English or other education programs. ‘The visa system can be quite complex, and some people are not eligible for any education programs. In response to that, we started off a course for asylum seekers in partnership with Brimbank City Council.’

For two hours a week a group of asylum seekers will gather at the Brimbank library for lessons in practical English. ‘The lessons are taken by volunteers and we try to do things at an individual level. That however, depends on how many participants and how many volunteers we have at a session.

‘We have a wide range of people. There are those educated and literate but not English, and people who are not literate in their own language, much less in English. We can have some people who have very low levels of literacy and what they need is something quite different from someone who has learned English before.’ Two rooms are set aside at the Brimbank library. One is for women with small children (under five). While the mothers learn English, the children can play. 

‘We try to have someone who can look after the children separately, allowing their mothers to concentrate on what they’re learning’, Suzanne says.

Nursery rhymes and songs everyone can sing are a good way of learning English and sometimes the classes, depending on the talents available, there may be impromptu singing, she says. The second room is set aside for adults without children.

Suzanne says there is another program in Preston, north Melbourne, that operates in a similar way and is run by the Jika Jika Anglican parish. Australia’s migrant population tend to come in waves, Suzanne says. At the moment, the programs are helping mainly those who are Tamil (Sri Lanka) and Iranian.

‘We do a whole bunch of things, but the standard lessons are mainly the language around health, going to the doctor, telling the time, going shopping, catching transport. They are designed to be practical lessons.’

Rosie says she attends the program every week, sometimes bringing her grandchild. ‘It is good here because the teachers are kind – they speak slowly and explain everything,’ she says. ‘Today I brought my learner’s book as I’m trying to get my driver’s licence. My teacher is helping me to understand because some of the words are new to me. Sometimes I need information and I know that here I can ask.’

The English Language Support program began in 2014 and runs once during school term and school hours. This program is looking for both, English language tutors and child care tutors. Both roles will focus on improving English language acquisition.

As a volunteer in the English Language Tutor Support Program you will assist people new to Australia, one to one or in a small groups, to develop practical day to day English skills through English conversation. As a child care tutor you will teach English to the children through play, nursery rhymes and stories which will enable parents to concentrate on their work with a tutor.

New volunteers will be joining a team of a current volunteers in a welcoming and engaging learning environment.

Please contact our Volunteer Coordinator for further information: on 03 9421 7610 or 0439 630 933 or email jssvolunteer@jss.org.au

Pictured: English language student Rosie gets help with her licence application.