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Learner Spotlight, English and Maths, March 2022

We recently caught up with Haiqing Liu who started her WAES journey two years ago and completed her maths GCSE in just one year. We discussed the different courses she’s been taking, her plans for the future, and her favourite things about learning here including meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds.

She also told us about her role volunteering as a WAES Digital Ambassador, helping other learners to develop their own digital skills and get the most out of the technology available at WAES.

Heidi being interviewed

Hi Haiqing! Thank you so much for giving us some of your time today. First things first, if you’d just like to introduce yourself.

Okay, I’m Haiqing. I’m Chinese and I came here more than three years ago. I’m alone for now, so I just focus on study, English and mathematics. I started at this school like two years ago, beginning with ESOL Entry 3. One of the lockdowns I stopped for one term, but now it’s continuing, I now study English at Functional Skills Level 1. I finished GCSE mathematics here in one year.

So why did you apply for these courses?

So, I wanted to live here for a long time, so I know the English language is the basis, one of the essential things I have to do. I graduated university in my own country, I learned English, but it’s not real English, you know, we just wanted to pass the exam, so there was less speaking. When I came here, I just realised, I need to learn more because otherwise I can’t understand the local people who talk to me, so yeah I have to learn these things like passive verbs.

The mathematics, I’m interested in. In the beginning I heard from my tutor, if you’ve got English class – at that time I had to pay – so you get free mathematics. It’s good because in the beginning I only thought, it’s going to help my English, but as I learned mathematics, and I think because I’m top three in the class, it’s built a lot of confidence to me. I know how to do it, but sometimes I can’t exactly tell them how, so it’s funny.

So English helps me to talk about mathematics. With mathematics, the confidence helps me to communicate with other people, so I quite enjoy both of the lessons.

It’s interesting how subjects you wouldn’t think would work together end up being so beneficial. So, why did you decide to study with WAES?

In the beginning, I didn’t know about this school. I was told by my friend, she said ‘the Chinatown community, they host free English lessons, why don’t you go?’ So I asked and I registered and learned. One of the teachers was Dorottya from WAES, she is very lovely, and after one month, she said ‘oh these classes are just normally for older people, retired people, learning about housing, like how to get a mortgage or something, but you, if you want to get a job or something, you should go to college here at WAES to learn and continue with not just older people’. I said ‘yeah’, then she transferred me here. I live quite close to here, close to Kilburn. It takes like twenty minutes to take the bus so it’s convenient.

So can you tell us what you study on both of your courses, and do you have any favourite bits?

For English, I quite like the discussion in groups, you know. We share different ideas, with our backgrounds, different nationalities, different cultures and traditions. For example, last time, one of the mums told me, during the lockdown, how tough it was with four children, and doing everything about their health, online learning even, and she told me a lot – I’m quite interested in that. And finally, I ask her: ‘Where is your husband? Did your husband do anything?’ She said ‘nothing’ and, you know what, I can’t believe that. She said ‘yeah, it’s just normal for our country or culture’. So it’s quite, you know, you‘re surprised at some things from other cultures.

When I’m talking about China, how the Chinese control the virus, they ask me a lot of questions because we are totally different – we have, like, a zero Covid policy, so so strict. It’s funny, I can answer. Some people maybe a little bit disagree with our policy, I have to try to figure out why. You know, some think it’s negative, some think maybe it’s better than here. When we hear from other nations, cultures, we open our mind. One of the benefits for me studying here is because we’re all from different countries, we want to know different ideas, so this is why I enjoy school, truly.

Amazing. So what do you hope to do once you’ve finished your course?

Number one is, I learn English because I want to get a better job like I used to do in China. I have been working in China more than ten years, and since I came here I can’t find a job I want, so I have to learn. In China I was working in a hotel, part of the management, but here, without the language, if you can’t communicate with other people, how can you manage other people? This is the thing.

When I finish I may go to two ideas. One is as a mathematics tutor. The other, I was learning gardening technology, but I don’t have too many ways to find a job related with that, but maybe one day I can try to find something to continue with it because I’ve got specialist knowledge. So it’s two plans, but not very clear.

Heidi helping a learner

They both sound like really good options. Like you say, having those English language skills will be so beneficial whatever you decide to do next. They must also be helpful with the Digital Ambassador Programme. How long have you been a Digital Ambassador for?

Two months, since last term. I quite enjoy helping people. Some older people still study here, they have a strong desire to learn with computers because most lessons, for example in lockdown, we had to go online to learn, and they ask me to help. This morning was quite busy, because they want to work with the new app OneFile and they’ve got a lot of questions: they don’t know how to log in, they don’t know how to upload pictures. Today I feel I’m quite useful, you know? So I’m busy, I’m happy to help other people.

And two of the students, they asked me for my timetable, so which days I’m here, and want to, you know, come at the same time. I feel I’m useful, so yeah essentially I’m quite appreciative of the school giving me the chance to be a volunteer Digital Ambassador, to help them with computer things.

Can you tell us more about the work that you do day to day?

In the beginning we were trained by the teacher, so what related with the role, what things someone may ask us some questions about when we’re on duty. So we knew, for a lot of people, what they really want. In the beginning, it’s the basics like how to log in, some mistakes maybe, where these come from. Then, I think the people who learn here are quite inquisitive, like they just want to learn something – I quite like the students here.

If I’ve got time, I’m going to learn further information about computers so I can help more people. Also I find sometimes it’s above my knowledge so I have to ask Reception or IT or someone, so I also learn something always.

Is there anything else you really like about being a Digital Ambassador?

To be honest, when they told me we can get a benefit, not only purely volunteer. We get time points which we can go to the website to find something we’re interested in, and get it for free just using the points. Each hour we work turns into one point, so when I got more than 20 points I exchanged them for another activity. I exchanged them once to see a show, Little Women, which was very nice – I was touched and in tears. I also invited my friend, I was so proud, I said: ‘I volunteer, I got a benefit, come and join me to see something’. Normally I may not be willing to pay money for that, but now I got a chance, it’s very good.

That’s amazing to hear. So what advice would you give to someone who was thinking of becoming a Digital Ambassador?

Be confident to help other people. Even if you don’t know the answer, it doesn’t matter, just ask someone who maybe knows better than you. You’re helping and you’re learning, always.

Sign up to be a Digital Ambassador

Lovely. Would you like to say anything else about your tutors?

Yeah, to begin with I have to say something about Dorottya because she guided me here, you know, gave me advice to come here to continue learning English – it’s deeper than the Chinatown community English.

Now it’s Fatema who’s teaching me English, she is wonderful. I not only learn something from the topic of the language, but I also learn something from the teachers about how they manage things. You know, they talk to you not only about a topic, but like ways of doing and thinking, so they enlighten me on probably another or better way to do things.

This is what I’ve learned, and am continuing. Sometimes people, classmates, go ‘I like this tutor, I don’t like this one’ but I like all of them. I can see through each of them the benefits I can get, so I quite enjoy all of it.

If you could give any advice to someone thinking of starting with learning at WAES, what would you say to them?

I think one of the things I would mention is proactively to learn, not only to go to school and follow your teacher in class, then just go home and do other things. You have to learn too by yourself. For example, in English, writing is probably the weakest part for most people, so why not try to practise your spelling or something, like write a diary every day, every week or month – it’s up to you, but just keep practising. Also, read some books or newspapers, even when you travel, pick up the newspaper wherever, even just read subtitles. Try to understand the news recently or something you’re interested in, for example, I’ve played tennis for a while, so I focus on some news with what I want to know, so that’s it.

That’s really good. Would you recommend adult learning generally? Do you think learning and still being in education as an adult is beneficial?

Of course, yes. As adults we are not children anymore, so some things we should learn by ourselves, not only rely on the teacher. But you get purpose, a plan, targets, and try to approach as close to it as you can.

Find out more about learning English and Maths at WAES.