Everyday people achieving remarkable things

by Nicola Sutton, English Language Partners

Celebrating the remarkable people, all across New Zealand, who set out to learn new skills alongside an already busy life, is one benefit of running the Festival of Adult Learning Ahurei Ākoranga.  Thang Shalom Innkuan is one such learner.

“Back then, ‘I didn’t know how to do anything. No friends, just my family, I didn’t have a car, anything.'”

Thang grew up speaking Zomi and Burmese and came to New Zealand with his wife and children as refugees from Myanmar in 2012.

He had some experience painting in Myanmar but found a lot of differences between the industry there and in New Zealand. After studying at Weltec, Thang got work with a Kiwi company but realised he needed help with English.

Studying in the evenings with English Language Partners has given him new language and confidence to speak.

Thang says, “Maybe tonight I learn [new vocabulary] in our class, and tomorrow, I use some with the Kiwi guys. Every day I work, I write in my work plan. I’m writing everyday, but the spelling is not always correct.”

Cultural differences in the ways Kiwis communicate at work have also been a hurdle. Thang has leant New Zealanders sometimes offer criticism in a less direct way than people in Myanmar. “For example, if I paint here, but it doesn’t look good, someone will say, ‘This is okay’. My feeling is, ‘It’s okay, but it’s not really [okay].” Thang says his classes have explained these subtle differences in meaning, as well as everyday vocabulary he needs on the job.

With three of Thang’s four children at primary and secondary school, both generations growing English skills reinforce each other. “We’re reading together, doing homework, or times tables.” Thang is looking forward to completing his apprenticeship. “Yeah, I’m determined. I want to plan for my future.”

Thang also has a great employer. Shaun Chait from Pure Painting says employers can often raise voices or talk in pidgin English with workers who have English as a second or third language, but treating Thang like any other workmate has been their approach. “We speak to him in New Zealand English.”

Shaun encourages other employers to see English as a skill, just like any others. He says it should not be a barrier to employing people.

The Festival of Adult Learning is a UNESCO initiative supported by adult and community education providers and the Tertiary Education Commission. Libraries, community groups, and adult education providers across New Zealand run events and celebrations of ordinary people making remarkable efforts to learn new skills.

You can learn more about The Festival of Adult Learning Ahurei Ākoranga at https://www.aceaotearoa.org.nz/events/festival-adult-learning