Learning to speak and write English is a key skill for migrants to Australia. The federal government encourages adult literacy education across the country, particularly for newly arrived migrants and refugees where English is not their first language. Many English learning programs are available for free, through hundreds of locations across the country.
All newly arrived migrants and refugees are encouraged by the Australian Government to learn English. Speaking English is a way for culturally and linguistically diverse communities to connect with the broader Australian community. Mehako Obaidullah, a former refugee from Afghanistan, believes migrants with adequate levels of English literacy are better able to cope with life in Australia.
Speaking English is a way for culturally and linguistically diverse communities to connect with the broader Australian community
“Finding your way around, accessing services, communicating, these all are important parts of daily life, so it’s not only about coming to Australia, it’s also about settlement. So in the long term you need a job and in order to get a job you need literacy, you need education, you need language, you need skills.”
He says not developing language and literacy skills can lead to social barriers, particularly for newly arrived migrants and refugees.
Not developing language and literacy skills can lead to social barriers, particularly for newly arrived migrants and refugees
“Most migrants, refugees or asylum seekers who come with lower levels of literacy, they experience very harsh situations in the labour market. Their limitations in terms of language, keeps them in the shadow of the corporate world. By that what I mean is that they cannot complain, they don’t know how to complain, they cannot raise their voice.”
Laurie Nowell from language service provider AMES Australia explains that it’s important to distinguish between English oracy (or speaking) and literacy (writing).
A lot of people come to Australia from countries where they may not have had a lot of formal education
“A lot of people come to Australia from countries where they may not have had a lot of formal education. They may be able to speak English, so their oracy is quite good, but they have no literacy at all, even literacy in their own languages, so it’s really difficult to learn English if you’re not literate in your own language.”
Not being able to write in English can be a problem when looking for work
“To hold down a job, in an increasingly sophisticated economy where there aren’t the manufacturing jobs that we saw in the 50’s and 60’s where maybe literacy wasn’t so important, you need to be literate.”
By developing a solid literacy foundation, newly arrived migrants and refugees are able to improve their learning and understanding of Australian culture.
“If for instance you have children in school, you need to be able to go along and speak to the teachers, you need to be able to read the material that comes home with the children from the school; connecting with local clubs or churches or any community based organization you need to be able to read, to fully engage in those things. And it’s that engagement in community that’s really important in terms of maintaining the high levels of social cohesion that we have in Australia compared to other places in the world.”
Mehako Obaidullah arrived from Afghanistan with strong English literacy skills. He says this has helped him identify better opportunities to further his education and job prospects.
Service provider AMES Australia says adult literacy programs for migrants and refugees can be accessed through local Adult Migrant English Program providers and for most eligible people the courses are free
“I had to go to skill migrant program, which is delivered by AMES, which is focusing mainly on people who are coming with skills sets. It’s aligning those people with the job market in Australia. And then I went on to do my Interpretation Diploma; I got a scholarship through an organization in Melbourne and I had to take a test, an entry test, and score well to get that scholarship and luckily I was able to continue this course which I’m doing now.”
The federal government provides over 500 free hours of English tuition to migrants and refugees, delivered through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)
AMES Australia’s Laurie Nowell says adult literacy programs for migrants and refugees can be accessed through local Adult Migrant English Program providers and for most eligible people the courses are free.
People can take lessons in a classroom full-time or part-time, or distance learning with internet or telephone guidance
“The federal government provides 550 free hours of English tuition to migrants and refugees. It’s delivered through the Adult Migrant English program (AMEP) so anyone arriving here is entitled to 550 hours of free English tuition provided by organizations like AMES Australia. So you go along to a classroom and you learn English taught by a specialized ESL teacher, in a very engaging, informal and non-threatening way.”
There are many ways to learn English under the program.
Lessons are held in 250 locations across the country, including cities, regional and rural areas
People can take lessons in a classroom full-time or part-time, or distance learning with internet or telephone guidance, with tutors who make home visits or using online websites. Lessons are held in 250 locations across the country, including cities, regional and rural areas. Laurie Nowell says courses cater for different levels of proficiency.
“There are four main streams, ranging from people who have no literacy to people who just need to polish what they have in terms of being able to find a job. We also have partnerships with community organizations that teach literacy in the first language of the person.”
Every adult migrant and refugee can access literacy services, even if they’re not able to read or write in their native language
This means every adult migrant and refugee can access literacy services, even if they’re not able to read or write in their native language.
“So if someone comes from the Horn of Africa and is not literate in their own language we can connect them with services that will give them some literacy in their own language which will then enable them to achieve some level of literacy in English. Like last week I was in Footscray and there’s a ladies sawing group that is also a language school for people from the Horn of Africa who are learning literacy in their own languages and also a little bit of English.”
So how does someone know which literacy course best meets their needs? Laurie Nowell says there are special counsellors whose job is to guide migrants and refugees through this process.
“We have people who are called AMEP counsellors. So what they do is they talk to the students, assess their level of literacy, and then talk to them about what opportunities they might have to take on certain courses that will improve their literacy, that will give them English related to the workplace, and ultimately will give them the potential for job opportunities.”
There are special counsellors at AMEP whose job is to guide migrants and refugees through the literacy courses which best meets their needs
He says the type of tuition assigned to a person is geared to his or her own circumstances, strengths and employment ambitions. Hence, he encourages people not to be afraid of speaking to an AMEP counsellor about their literacy concerns or needs.
“I think they should just go along, talk to one of the counsellors, give it a go, it’s free. There’s also opportunities for mothers who’ve got children to do distance learning where the learning is online so they can do it from home. But I think it’s important to reach out, to speak to people who can advise you about what the opportunities are, what your specific needs are, and move from there - it’s not a one size fits all system, there is a lot of flexibility in the system.”
Find more information on the Adult Migrant English Program in 26 languages.
Or contact AMES Australia on 13 26 37 for information on their courses.