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Spoken English Classes – assists new arrivals gain confidence speaking English and provides work experience opportunities for volunteer facilitators.

Dedicated volunteer, Pushpa Acharya, taking the class on a typical Saturday morning.(Photo courtesy of ABA)
Dedicated volunteer, Pushpa Acharya, taking the class on a typical Saturday morning.(Photo courtesy of ABA)

What?

The Association of Bhutanese in Australia (ABA) has established weekly Spoken English Classes run for and by members of the Bhutanese community in Western Sydney. The classes began in 2012 and have the dual aim of assisting new arrivals to gain confidence in speaking English and providing work experience to volunteer facilitators who are seeking employment for the first time in Australia.

Who?

The Spoken English Classes are targeted at members of the Bhutanese community with limited English and others with carer duties who find it difficult to attend formal English classes such as the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) or Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program (formerly LLNP). Around 30 participants, mostly women, and 14 facilitators have been involved in the classes.

Why?

A significant number of people within the Bhutanese community have recently settled in Australia having never had the opportunity to go to school and with limited English. Many community members, particularly older women or carers, struggle to attain basic English through the AMEP and SEE Program. Many lack confidence to speak in classes where they may feel intimidated by those with more advanced English or education levels. The ABA Spoken English Classes provide people with an opportunity to gain confidence speaking in English through a more informal and supported learning environment.

Involving community members with teaching experience, advanced English skills and who can speak the participants’ native language also provides an opportunity for facilitators to gain valuable Australian work experience that can be used when applying for jobs.

How?

The 3-hour Spoken English Classes are held every Saturday from 9am-12pm.

Classes are held in the classrooms of a Job Services Australia and training provider, MTC Australia. MTC Australia has provided these classrooms and other facilities as in kind support for the initiative, as many of the participants are also clients within the SEE Program. The ABA has not received or applied for funding for this initiative.

A committee of four people have developed and administer the project. This includes delegating responsibility to different people for administration, coordination, developing curriculum and public relations.

Successes

The Spoken English Classes are a great example of a service provider-community partnership, with ABA working in partnership with MTC Australia.

The classes are a vision of community empowerment; helping people to help themselves. The founders intentionally did not set out to apply for funding, thinking: “Let’s do it ourselves”. This has also meant that the initiative can be innovative and adapt and respond to changing needs and experiences along the way.

Every Saturday facilitators and participants “come home with a sore throat” from laughing and talking. Seeing people relieved from stress and isolation and gaining confidence is one of the greatest successes of the initiative.

Some participants from the class have subsequently obtained their driving licence and a few of the facilitators have found employment.

Challenges

Getting people to volunteer as facilitators and have clarity about the value of volunteering.

Being able to show the value of running classes on a weekend, particularly in engaging a service provider to agree to allow access to their facilities outside regular hours.

Keeping participants motivated about why they should come to these English classes. We try to show the benefits and that English will help them to meet people and not feel so lonely and isolated.

Advice for others

Just do it! Start first with what you have and evolve as you go. Don’t worry about funding at the start. Start small, start today and then see if you can develop it.

For more information, please contact:
Email: Om.Dhungel01@gmail.com (Om Dhungel, Association of Bhutanese in Australia (ABA) Sydney)