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English tutors helping refugees and asylum seekers to live in Australia

Student puts her finger on an English worksheet. There are pencil cases, exercise books and mobile phones on the table.
Ayda* came to Australia from Burma and has been attending classes at Read Write Spell for one and a half years.

ABC: Allison Chan

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There is a volunteer organisation in Sydney that provides free tutoring in literacy, numeracy and computing — with a focus on equipping refugees and asylum seekers with the skills they need to live and work in Australia.

Having studied adult literacy and numeracy teaching, Tess Shannon started Read Write Spell in 2015.

"There were problems with funding for TAFE at this time. My partner and I decided to fund something else," says Tess.

Currently, refugees and asylum seekers from Burma, Iran and Afghanistan attend classes at Read Write Spell. There are also students from China, Vietnam and Thailand — as well as adult native speakers, who have difficulties with literacy and numeracy.

Teacher talking to student in a classroom with a whiteboard in the background.
Tess Shannon is the co-ordinator of the volunteer organisation, Read Write Spell.

ABC: Allison Chan

Tess and her core team of three volunteers, who all have teaching qualifications, provide small group and one-on-one tutoring four days a week. Tess has a clear purpose for making these sessions free of charge.

Nasira* came to Australia from Burma, with her parents, and learning English is a matter of necessity.

Having been tutored by Tess, Nasira is now studying Business Administration at TAFE. She is one of a number of Read Write Spell's students who have now reached the level of English required for entry to TAFE.

English tutor talking to student with a map of Aboriginal languages in Australia in the background
Jenny Stewart is part of the Read Write Spell team of volunteer tutors, who all have teaching qualifications and experience.

ABC: Allison Chan

"It was difficult at the start because the teachers speak really fast sometimes and sometimes I didn’t catch up," recalls Nasira.

"The first time [I went to class] I thought ‘Oh no, can I do it? All the students have very good English'."

Iesha* from Afghanistan has also started studying Commercial Cookery at TAFE, having benefited from the English tutoring.

"[Tess] helped me with reading and writing. I’m much much better now. I can read letters about appointments, emails, text messages," says Iesha.

Similar to Nasira, Iesha also has strong motivations to learn English:

Tess says the enthusiasm and determination of her students is infectious.

"My experience is people desperately want a good job — to be able to move on and get a new life ahead of them and learn to speak English and do well and do well for their kids," argues Tess.

Iesha first arrived in Australia five years ago. She now proudly says:

*names have been changed

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