Ursula Wilks Shares Her Tutoring Experience

Ursula has been one of our longest serving Migrant English tutors. Here, she shares her tutoring journey:

I commenced tutoring in the Migrant English Program in October 2015.

One particular quote rings true in my experience in teaching migrant English:

Though a sea of difference may divide us, an entire world of commonality lies beneath” – James Rozoff.

I have had the same learner for the last six years and the experience has been hugely enjoyable and rewarding. Whilst we come from vastly different and diverse cultures, and have led very different lives, we have formed a mutually respectful relationship and a strong friendship which, I am sure, will endure.

As I grew up in an area with a high density of migrants, I saw first-hand the importance of learning English as a pathway to assimilation in the Australian way of life.

Through the Program, I have become increasingly aware that there may be many learners who have undertaken many hours of tuition on grammar, but yet have spent little time in speaking English outside the class. This is certainly the case with my learner. Early in our relationship, she read a passage out loud, without a single mistake. I was very impressed and praised her, to which she replied, “But I do not know what I have read”. That was a wake-up call for me.

So, from the moment I arrive at her door, to be greeted with a beautiful, welcoming smile, the talk begins, and we barely draw breath for one and a half hours. She interrupts for clarification of expressions, words or sentences she doesn‘t understand, and I correct her when appropriate. She records everything that is new to her and more often than not, remembers it. Wow!

My learner expresses her gratitude to me every week without realising the pleasure I get from our encounters, the knowledge I have gained about her country and culture, and the satisfaction of witnessing her achievements and growing confidence.

The arrival of COVID with its subsequent lockdowns, presented a challenge since my learner did not feel confident to participate in classes via Zoom. Many months of conversation time were lost during this period, when she spoke only her native tongue. Finally, when the restrictions eased a little, I suggested we meet for a ‘Walk and Talk’, and so began our next adventure. I was amazed at the many things in our immediate, natural environment, which were unfamiliar to my learner and as always, she devoured this new information and vocabulary with great enthusiasm.

On one of our excursions, she repeatedly asked where we were and looked puzzled when I explained that we were still beside the Diamond Creek. All was revealed when we came to the spot where the Diamond Creek joins the Yarra River. It turned out that she had no idea what the word Creek meant and wondered why I insisted we were still in the township of Diamond Creek, when we had been walking for nearly an hour.

We had many laughs along the way, notably the day we spied two alpacas at Edendale Farm and my learner asked if they were wombats. I am eternally grateful to the parrot which flew into the hollow of an ancient gum tree, just as I was explaining why we do not cut down these majestic relics of the past. I know my learner has enjoyed our outings and found them very beneficial and I have rather enjoyed my role as a tour guide.

Thank you my interesting, conscientious, intelligent, compassionate, enthusiastic, caring, hospitable and funny learner. Now that’s a few new words for you to learn.

Ursula Wilks

If you would like to join the U3A Manningham Migrant English Program as a tutor, you will need to enrol in the training course, Workshop for Migrant English Tutor Training, listed under Special Project in the course brochure. The course runs over the first six Thursdays in Term 3, from July to August 2023. Enquiries can be emailed to the Program’s mailbox at manunipines@gmail.com.