The Art of Conversation

I often get quite a few suspicious looks when I knock on people’s doors on Saturday mornings to welcome them to the community of Thornton. Sometimes there are pyjamas. Or cats trying to escape. Or curious, exuberant children. Or weekend brunches in full swing.

But once I explain that I’m welcoming them to the neighbourhood and asking for their ideas for the community, I get surprised smiles and many suggestions. However, what is proving a bit tricky is not being able to explain why I’m there. Not being able to explain much at all, because the latest residents to open the door to me do not understand more than a word or two of English.

And that is why there is now a conversational English class for beginners running at Thornton. After meeting hundreds of residents of Penrith’s new residential development, it became clear that there was a significant need to provide this service for the community.

“I love seeing Thornton’s Chinese and Indian residents laughing and supporting each other as they learn this funny, confusing language together.”

The classes are provided free of charge by another Thornton local, the lovely Sue Wellings, and they offer a chance to not only improve language skills but also develop the social connections which are crucial for a community’s engagement and resilience. The chance to work in the vibrant and diverse community of Thornton has provided an insight into the changing face of Penrith – how exciting to be part of Penrith’s journey as it continues to grow and mature as a city! I love seeing Thornton’s Chinese and Indian residents laughing and supporting each other as they learn this funny, confusing language together.

One of the most telling moments came the day after the class covered simple phrases to use whilst shopping – things like “how much is this?” and the names for items of food and clothing. The next day I saw one of the English students on the street with her shopping trolley. “Hello,” she said to me with a smile. “I was shopping,” she told me happily, as she waved and continued on her way home. That small moment showed me the huge difference these classes are making in allowing non-English speaking residents of Thornton to be part of the community, to buy their groceries and to simply say hello to their neighbours.

Thank you Sue Wellings for always being so enthusiastic, patient and welcoming.

Casey Holtom is the Thornton Community Facilitator

Thornton Community Development Project is funded by UrbanGrowth NSW to facilitate the development of sustainable, community-led activities in the new residential development of Thornton, located on the northern side of Penrith’s train station and CBD.