Supporting women’s financial and social wellbeing through English classes

Senior case worker at HopeStreet Women’s Services, and native Mandarin speaker, Peggy, shares just how critical language is for migrant women living in Australia who need access to support.

For two years, I’ve been working alongside Yumi, a massage therapist based in the Inner City, and supporting her to access services mostly related to the challenges she faces with English as a second language. I connected with her initially in Mandarin and have since become her English course facilitator.

It can be difficult for women who are financially and socially vulnerable to access language support that is both affordable and amidst the demands of life. HopeStreet is one of the few organisations that offers free language support to women experiencing injustice and disadvantage in Sydney’s inner city.

Yumi moved to Australia six years ago from Taiwan. She didn’t speak much English when she arrived, which prevented her from completing everyday tasks such as making a phone call to book a medical appointment and navigating her way around on public transport. Yumi found it particularly challenging to communicate with clients in her work context and to connect with people in her personal life. This was having an impact on her financial and social wellbeing.

When English is a person’s second language, I think they will always face unique challenges in their day-to-day life while living in Australia.

For Yumi, these challenges grew to include difficulty in talking with her partner who is English-speaking. The couple learned to communicate through translation apps but there was always miscommunication.

Yumi has been taking English classes with BaptistCare HopeStreet for over a year now. She previously came to our Inner City Women’s Space for a one-hour face-to-face class with me each week. When COVID-19 sent Sydney into lock-down, we adapted using WeChat - an online platform - and Yumi was able to continue to develop the language skills vital to her wellbeing.

Yumi’s confidence has definitely improved with her English. Yumi is very independent and a hard worker. To remain financially secure, she works six or seven days a week. Yumi is also adapting and engaging more with her community and is now able to reach out, to make more friends, and access more services. She has also shared that her communication in her relationship has improved.

Day to day communication with those closest to you is so important to one’s quality of life. We see many migrant women facing trouble in this area. I am always amazed by how proactive these women are and how willing and eager they are to learn and improve their own lives, especially when they are living away from the familiarities of their home country and often without their closest family and friends.

I think it’s important to share these stories as a reminder that sometimes language is a key barrier to equality and social access for women who migrate to Australia.

Giving to HopeStreet makes a tangible difference to real people; it means we can give support when there are no options available. Visit hopestreet.com.au/donate

Peggy Mak

Senior Case Worker