Mei Ying’s son John Wang invited her to his home in Palmerston North to help look after her grandchildren. Since 2008, she visited three times from her hometown Xian in China. Each time was for nine months and, in 2011 she gained permanent residency.
John initially took on the responsibility of teaching Mei Ying basic English, by providing her with a huge list of common words to learn. He would teach and test her on the weekends. “I had recordings on a Walkman, and I would listen to phrases and repeat them out loud,” Mei Ying says. However, within five months, John said, “You need to go to school now.”
So Mei Ying enlisted the help of English Language Partners (ELP) and had a volunteer home tutor for an hour each week. This wasn't enough for this keen learner, so she also attended two local church English language groups, and, in totalshe was studying an average of five hours a week - not bad for a retiree with grandchildren to look after.
“When my English improved, I went to the Manawatū Multicultural Centre and went to classes for three months.” Not stopping there, Mei Ying enrolled at Queen Elizabeth College to study English for two years and in 2021, she graduated with a NZ Certificate in English Language (Academic) L4 from UCOL.
In 2022, she returned to ELP to further her education online.
Throughout her learning journey, Mei Ying says English Language Partners has been a constant support. “Jess Yap, the centre manager, has always urged me on and helped me find new options for future study.” She also credits her son for his support. “Studying was sometimes hard, but he made sure I kept going.”
Her home tutor was the catalyst for a new group of friends, inviting her to a craft group that meets weekly at the library.
“I can practise listening and speaking and learning to read knitting patterns in English!”
She excitedly admits that she now ‘thinks’ in English and understands more and more when listening to the radio or television.
Mei Ying still speaks Mandarin at home with her husband.
“He thought at my age it was too late to learn English, but I enjoy learning a new language.”
She says being able to communicate has made everyday life easier in her adopted country.
“I am not afraid to go into a shop or deal with a tradesman. I know I can communicate.”
It is obvious the 71-year old’s appetite for learning will not be fulfilled any time soon.
“The more I learn, the more I want to use it.”
Story & photos: Leigh Dome.