South Korean by birth, Chris says one of the more difficult parts of making the grade in his dream profession was getting his English up to scratch, something that was only made possible by studying with English Language Partners (ELP).
“There are hundreds or thousands [of people] applying for the police, but they say the majority of them fail because they stop contacting them, they pretty much give up on their dream, and after they fail they can’t get back up,” says Chris, who himself was no stranger to setback in his quest to join the force.
“Personally for me, my advice for applicants is just learn how to stand back up, just find a way to overcome the obstacles.”
For 23-year-old Chris, the first step in overcoming those obstacles meant admitting he couldn’t do it alone.
“When you reach a certain English level you need some expert help, you can’t do it by yourself. I tried to do it by myself and then I failed the test again and that’s why I came to Charlie for help.“
His teacher Charles Haywood, ELP’s strategic development manager, says merely by seeking help, Chris demonstrated a huge amount of self-understanding and maturity.
“Coming here for English lessons, it shows that Chris has recognised he can get better. Instead of waiting for it to come to him he’s gone out and sourced it… I think it shows not just an improvement in his written skills but also shows his problem-solving ability and his initiative and his productivity to go out and get things done and not wait for them to come to him. Hopefully the police have recognised that as well.”
Charles says the learning process was short-term and intensive, focusing on teaching Chris how to structure reports and emails and write in police style, rather than on teaching new vocabulary.
“When you’re teaching writing skills it doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out process – you can learn a lot of stuff quite quickly and that makes a big difference, once you know how to structure stuff [and] what they’re looking for in the questions. And Chris is a fast learner,” says Charles.
Chris’s learning has not just been beneficial for him, but has also paved the way for a future programme to teach other aspiring police officers the English skills they need to make the force.
“Chris has been really helpful for us, he was our first police recruit and what we learnt with Chris I have now been able to use to teach three or four others,” says Charles, who drew on his knowledge as an ex-naval officer in crafting the classes.
He says he expects the programme to grow as the police continue to recognise the diversity of Auckland.
“Auckland Council tells us there’s now more than 198 ethnicities represented in Auckland, separate groups – so the police have quite a slow drive I think to recruit bilingual police constables who also understand the cultural aspects. Chris will be great for that.”
Charles says the lessons are “ultra-flexible” and can be catered to not just aspiring police officers, but anyone who needs to get their English to the next level.
“What we teach can be anything, if we don’t have the capability we’ll find it. Timing is not a problem, whenever it needs to happen it will happen. We teach morning, afternoon; we teach evenings as well.”
The pay-to-use lessons have been a new addition to ELP’s core classes, which traditionally offer free lessons for immigrants and refugees.
Currently the organisation can only use the funds it receives from the government to teach permanent residents, but creating another income stream, Charles says, will allow them to also offer free classes to people waiting to become permanent residents.
For Chris though, making it as a police recruit doesn’t mean the end of the road for his English learning – far from it.
“The nice thing is, even though Chris has been accepted for the police, he’s chosen to continue studying with us because, obviously the workload of police college is going to be full on, and lots of written report work required, so we are just continuing and refining and polishing his skills now,” says Charles.
Even though Chris’ career as a policeman is just beginning after “a long journey” getting this far, he says his improved self-confidence and communication skills now mean he can focus more on what’s really important.
“I’ve always wanted to help out the vulnerable. I didn’t want to stay selfish and live by my own stuff – I hate that. I just wanted to interact and help people.”
And his first message to others like him: “Nothing’s impossible. You’ve just got to do it and just make it happen”.
Story: James Fyfe