Patricia Liew Shares Her Tutoring Experience

I have been a U3AM Migrant English tutor for more than six years.

While I really enjoy helping my learners to improve their English, a real eye-opener for me is what I have learnt from the migrants in regard to their culture and the challenges they face in settling into Australia.

It is such a joy that I have been able to empower my Chinese learners with better English skills to help them assimilate into the Australian way of life. In return, it has inspired me to learn to speak their native Chinese dialect, Mandarin, in order to establish a better rapport with them.

A significant event involving one of my learners occurred during his stay in a hospital. He had undergone surgery following which he had some medical issues. As the doctors did not speak Mandarin and there was no interpreter available, he had difficulty seeking clarification on his condition. Through my encouragement and support, he was able to feel more confident making his enquiries in English. This incident highlights one important reason for migrants to be able to speak and understand English.

Through my tutoring experience, I have discovered that understanding  a learner’s mother tongue helps me to appreciate their difficulties in learning English. For example, it is not possible to translate word-for-word from English to Mandarin as many expressions in the Chinese language are in a reverse order to that of English. A translation of this English sentence, “I am going shopping at Doncaster Shoppingtown today” into Mandarin would be, “Today Doncaster Shoppingtown I go shopping”. In a Mandarin sentence, time comes before place which is then followed by the action. This sentence structure makes it unnecessary to have tenses in Mandarin since the beginning of the sentence already makes it clear when the action is taking place.

Another common mistake for Chinese learners is a gender mix-up because all gender in Mandarin has the same sound ‘ta’ in pinyin (romanised Chinese based on pronunciation). So, it is not uncommon for Chinese learners to often refer to ‘he’ in English for both males and females.

If you would like to join the Migrant English Program as a tutor, you will need to enrol in the training course, Workshop for Migrant English Tutor Training, listed under the category Special Project. The course runs over the 1st six Thursday afternoons (1.30 – 4.20pm) in Term 3, from  13 July to 17 August. At the completion of the training course, you are expected to make yourself available to take on a learner. Information about the Migrant English Program can be found on our U3AM website – Enquiries can be emailed to the Migrant English Program mailbox at