Knowing your strengths


When Hardy Hko arrived from Burma, he quickly realised he needed to learn English to successfully start a new life.

That was 12 years ago. Today, Hardy not only speaks his adopted language with ease but, as a recent addition to English Language Partners’ ESOL Home Tutoring programme, is helping others in the Burmese community too.

The key to both learning and teaching the language, he says, is self-confidence – something he works hard to instil in his learners.

Having studied English at university back in Burma, Hardy’s Kiwi linguistic journey began with study at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), where the first step was making the most of written texts.

“Sometimes when the teacher spoke to me I couldn’t understand, so the first thing I had to do was learn to read before they could teach me,” he says.

“Because I had textbooks I could prepare. When I wanted to ask a question in class I had to write it down first and then practise at home by myself in front of the mirror and record my voice also, and then the next day I’d ask the teacher,” he says.

“When the teacher understood me, it made me happy and was encouraging.”

After mastering the essentials of the language, the next step was learning English in the workplace. Hardy got this opportunity with work experience organised by AUT that led to part-time work at a local business.

Once working, he enrolled in English Language Partners’ English for Employees programme.

“I got a good chance to learn English because I had workmates and I asked them to teach me, and they were good Kiwis and happy to teach me. We would speak together at lunchtime and go to the shops together and after a year, my English had improved and we were having good conversations together,” he says.

But Hardy recognises that not everybody can study fulltime or learn English at work.

In his wife’s case, it was North Shore’s ESOL Home Tutoring programme that helped most. “Some people do not have a chance to go to class; at that time my wife had a very young baby, my first born.

“She told me how much her English was improving, so I knew the value of the home tutor and can see it’s necessary for new migrants or refugees.”

When he was approached to become a tutor himself, Hardy was, despite being a little nervous, more than happy to give others the benefits he had seen his wife receive. “I realised the value because my wife’s tutor would do things like take her to the shopping centre, and my wife would tell me how happy she is and how her English has improved.

So when Birgit [North Shore centre manager] told me she thought I could also be a home tutor, although I had doubts, I promised her I would do my best.”

Manager Birgit Grafarend-Watungwa, who approached Hardy, says he has lived up to that promise.

“I worked with Hardy when he was vice-chair for the Karen Association. With Hardy, it’s a true partnership, it’s about how we can work together to better support his community,” says Birgit.

“That’s why I encouraged him to do the volunteer training himself. He’s very committed, works hard at translating and is a great link to the community I would like to work with. “He’s an excellent spokesperson and a pretty incredible listener which helps, as he listens to the whole Burmese community,” she says.

Hardy credits his own experience of learning and training for his success as a tutor.

“They do not just teach how to teach, they also teach us how to learn from the learner: about their culture, how to talk to them, what we notice, and what we have to take care of,” he says. Through teaching one evening a week at a local church, Hardy has identified reoccurring themes.

“What I did learn from them is they never have self-confidence, and that’s a big problem. But before I teach them I sit down and speak with them in our own language and I learn from them. I ask them why they want to learn English and I tell them ‘know your strengths’”.

As Hardy learns more, he has the opportunity to convey their views to English Language Partners through the national Ethnic Advisory Group (EAG) he serves on.

The EAG comprises representatives of different ethnic groups from all over New Zealand and meets four times a year to inform English Language Partners of issues to help its member communities thrive.

With people like Hardy, who know the importance of both listening and communicating so well, the Burmese Karen people can rest assured they are well represented.

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