Just to know their language | ELPNZ

Just to know their language

28 January 2017






When Teresa Gergis arrived in New Zealand, she found that having learned English since she was six didn’t always equate to being able to communicate.

Teresa and her husband George moved from Egypt with their two sons Ibram and Keroles. Teresa has taken every opportunity to improve her communication skills – with a little help from English Language Partners. 

Teresa and George both have degrees in agriculture and, for some time, George had been looking for opportunities overseas.

Teresa and her family first settled in Hinds, a small town in mid-Canterbury, where George worked on a dairy farm. Teresa was busy with her two young boys, and like many migrant women in her position in rural areas, had limited opportunities to practise and improve her English.

Although Teresa had learned English at school in Egypt, and worked for a short time as an English teacher in primary schools, English is her second language. She found that ‘classroom’ American English was very different from New Zealand English on the farm.

“I struggled totally for the first year, with idioms, slang, the accent, just everything. So I looked for someone to help me, and I found an ESOL teacher there.” 

A move to Oamaru, in northern Otago, followed, and Teresa looked for work but was unable to find roles in her field. “I decided I had to choose something I loved to do, not just something for work, so I chose cooking.”

Teresa worked at Subway in Oamaru, and then took on a job at the Whitestone Cheese factory. Then the family moved from Oamaru to Timaru.

George’s work has taken him around the central South Island – he’s now driving trucks – while Teresa has settled into Timaru life.

“When we got settled in Timaru, I went straightaway to see about an ESOL home tutor, and got AnneMarie Ford. She was lovely. She’d read things to me, explain things, we’d read the newspaper together; she’s really helpful.”

Living in an urban area has made a big difference.

“When we came to Timaru, my English improved fast, because I was dealing with people every day. I try to talk to people everywhere, try to open a conversation, to just talk.”

The move to Timaru also gave Teresa the option of adding to her qualifications. She took a hospitality course at South Canterbury Community College, and worked as a cook – at Bidwill Hospital, local cafes, and at Radius Elloughton Gardens rest home.

A move to Strathallan Lifecare Village followed, and support from management saw her able to reduce her workload in order to enrol in a one-year cooking course at Ara Polytechnic in Timaru, from which she graduated as a qualified chef with top marks. 

In 2016, on Anne Marie’s recommendation, Teresa joined English Language Partners’ class, which aims to help people improve their workplace English.

“I’m always looking for any opportunity to study my English, to improve my communication, improve everything – my reading, listening, everything.”

The course involved weekly group sessions of two-and-a-half hours. Teresa says the teacher, Phyllis Barltrop, was lovely and very helpful.

“She’d explain things, like some idioms, new information about New Zealand, or things happening in New Zealand, and work on different grammar aspects.”

The course also included the language of official forms, and of subjects like the weather or farming – such as explaining dairy farming’s ‘Gypsy Day’. 

Teresa loves her work with elderly people, and says the course has helped her communicate better with residents. 

“Just to know their language, their way of talking… there’s a type of question that was confusing me, like, ‘You wouldn’t be able to open the window, would you?’. Ones where you’re not sure if the answer is yes or no, because there’s a positive and a negative, so it was helpful to find someone to explain it.

“I realised most of the elderly use this kind of question and it was hard for me to understand; it confused me but I’ve become more confident. That alone has made it easier for me.”

What next for Teresa? For now, a priority is the family, but she already has an eye to the future, exploring the option of returning to her background in science when the children are a bit older

With ever-improving communication skills, a new qualification to add to her CV, and rapidly-growing sons, Teresa is busy and happy.

“I enjoy my life in New Zealand, especially in Timaru. The people are really friendly, I really like Strathallan, and I love dealing with the people around me. They’re lovely, they’re very kind. This is my home.”

More about our programmes: www.englishlanguage.org.nz/learn-english