Communicating across cultures


Each week, in a modest suburban home, English Language Partners brings three cultures together.

The Palmerston North home is where Trong Nhan (Edward) Nguyen from Vietnam, tutors Bhutanese refugee Ranga Lal Magar in English and the quirks of Kiwi conversation.

It was by happy accident that Edward became involved with English Language Partners. “I was walking to my restaurant job earlier this year and saw their sign outside.”

He walked in and signed up as a volunteer tutor and was soon matched up with Ranga Lal.

Home tutor English lessons

Edward arrived in 2014 and studied at IPU New Zealand. He had secured an IPU scholarship, and over three years completed a degree in English teaching, majoring in Language studies. He now has his TESOL Certificate.

“I knew nothing about New Zealand and remember when I arrived, everything was new – the language, the culture, the food…”. Edward says because he was here with some school friends from Hanoi and they were all young, it made it easier to settle into their new life.

“At first, I thought I was quite good at English and communicating. That was until I started working part time at a restaurant where they spoke very quickly and with a Kiwi accent!”

Through that personal experience, Edward says he can readily identify with how Ranga Lal feels as he tries to learn a new language and integrate into a new culture.

We are both getting better and better every week!

Edward says his role as a volunteer ESOL home tutor has been very valuable, as it has enabled him to put the theory he learned at IPU into practice. “Up until then, I had only tutored as an intern. I discovered quite quickly that tutoring a real person is very different from just learning about it.”

Ranga Lal’s son Yad, who interpreted for his father during the interview, says he is very proud of how much confidence and independence his father has gained from his weekly tutorials. “He now checks the post and knows who has sent mail, and is able to use his ATM card.”

Ranga Lal first started learning with English Language Partners a couple of years ago, soon after he arrived in new Zealand. When it became apparent his wife would require fulltime care, he was unable to leave home to attend classes. He was happy to be offered an in-home tutor and hasn’t looked back.

Edward says, “As an Asian, I have been brought up to respect and learn from my elders. It has been quite an adjustment for me to now be teaching someone older than my father.”

The unlikely pair have discovered that one of their best learning tools is to put labels on everyday objects with the English words written on them. “Ranga Lal can then associate the English word with the object and continue to practise the word, even when I’m not there,” says Edward.

At the start of every session they review the previous week’s exercises, then introduce new phrases and words.

With minimal schooling and a life as a crop farmer back in Bhutan, Ranga Lal has had to learn how to learn. He says he enjoys the sessions with Edward, but admits his age can make it hard for him to retain what he has learnt at times.

Yad says he knows his father secretly practises words and phrases during the week. “I have found lots of scraps of paper with things written on them around the house!”

Edward says he has learnt from Ranga Lal too. “He reminds me when I speak too fast and our time together has highlighted other ways I can improve my teaching.”

We are both getting better and better every week!”

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