Before arriving from Thailand, Nopphawan Young, now living in Levin, knew little English.
Her employer, Geoff Lewis, is the owner of the Tender Tips Company, which supplies premium fresh asparagus to the international and domestic markets.
Geoff recalls Nopphawan first arriving here to be with her husband Percy Young, who already worked for the company.
“Initially, there were a lot of issues for Nopphawan; getting used to a new country and community, developing new relationships and establishing her new life.”
Each season, Nopphawan would work at the asparagus packhouse, and it was her loyalty and strength of character that shone through.
Geoff says Nopphawan has high expectations of her own performance and high expectations of others to step up to the mark.
“Right from the beginning, we recognised her strong personality. She is very hard-working and has an understanding of what makes the business work. She senses that if the business succeeds, then she succeeds.
“Her biggest challenge was her ability to communicate and we recognised it was a barrier to her furthering herself in the business.”
He decided that the best solution was helping Nopphawan develop her language skills. Geoff met with David Harris, manager of English Language Partners Horowhenua-Kapiti to find a way to help Nopphawan with her English.
Tender Tips paid a tutor for a set timeframe; enabling the process to happen. David contracted Margaret Spark to teach Nopphawan for four months. They met together for five hours each week, spread over two days.
Nopphawan had spent six years speaking ‘pigeon’ English, so when Margaret met her they both knew there would be challenges.
“I had a booklet on Thai culture which outlined difficulties relating to speech. They don’t have a lot of the phonic sounds that we have and they speak in a very clipped, direct way.” She was able to draw on her teaching experience to identify different strategies.
Nopphawan had accepted a new work role which involved speaking to newcomers in the packhouse. Knowing the names of the machinery and the associated skills required became very important.
“To break a habit of a lifetime in four months was always going to be difficult, so we concentrated on getting the sounds right then we built up a language bank of what she would need in the packhouse,” Margaret says.
David believes other employers in Horowhenua could benefit through English Language Partners in finding the right mechanism to help improve communication for their employees.
Workmates at the factory now call Nopphawan ‘Number One’ mainly because they struggle to pronounce her name, however her nickname is also indicative of her senior role.
Geoff says he can see how she has hugely improved in her ability to communicate. “She still has trouble with some sounds, but has surpassed our expectations. The outcome for the factory has been superb,” he says.
“We have been very pleased with the support we received from English Langauge Partners. They worked hard to deliver the outcome for Nopphawan and us that we both needed. They were extremely willing to be part of the project and to help Nopphawan become a success in this work opportunity.”
Writer: Colleen Sheldon