For many immigrants arriving in New Zealand whose English is limited or non-existent, life can be confusing, overwhelming – and lonely.

Takanini Family Service Centre partners with MIT to host an English course that MIT facilitates, targeting the Indian community.

Most students are older and feel very isolated in their new country. The course starts wherever the need begins and grows as the students’ knowledge does.

Teacher, Navdeep SharmaFamily Service Centre administrator Kyla Scott enthuses, “several students who started with no English at all, now have jobs - jobs they are really proud of too. I hear stories of students now feeling accepted in their new community, finding friendships in the class, learning how to get groceries because they can read the packaging. It’s a thousand things we take for granted.”

The class has been taught for the last five years by Navdeep Sharma, who arrived in New Zealand herself 47 years ago and has been teaching English now for the last 20 years.

The lessons are taught using a mix of Punjabi, Hindi and English, which helps the students understand what they are learning. The students learn more than just the English language, they also learn about New Zealand and Maori culture.

The chatter of students as they work out the correct spelling for crazy English words is punctuated with much laughter.

Mr SainiMr Santsingh Saini is enthusiastic about New Zealand. “We love this place, it is very beautiful and peaceful. I love the cultural festivals and the attitudes of the people, the way they welcome us.”

A shy lady with a beautiful smile, Mrs Gobinder speaks about how difficult life was before she began learning English through the class, three years ago.

Mrs Gobinder“I could not speak, or understand, I needed a translator, even to go to the doctor. It made me feel like I have an inferiority complex – but now, I can do everything! I can go to the doctor myself, no problem. Go to the shops, no problem. Navdeep is a good teacher.”

Mrs Gobinder became a New Zealand citizen last year and her face glows when she talks about what a difference the class has made to her life. Whereas before she was very lonely and isolated, now she has made many friends through the class, and says, “They are like my family.”

Mr Cherenjit Brar joined the class two years ago and had some English to begin with but says, “Kiwis talk so fast! I cannot make sense of what they say, but now no problem.”

Mr Brar and Mr MannOften Mr Brar often goes to the Botanical Gardens near his home and starts up conversations with people passing by. “I like to talk to many people, because many older people, they are lonely.”

The final word should go to Mr Swarnsingh Mann, who has been in the class for two years and will return again in 2021. “I keep going because to survive in New Zealand it is very important to learn more. Learning never ends.”