Published Writers browse by location | browse by topic | add listing  |  edit listing  |  faqs

Beniamino Petrosino

Christchurch, New Zealand


Home page:

I was born in the province of Salerno, in Italy in 1955.Trained as a chef at the State Polytechnic in Potenza and after qualifying, emigrated to Switzerland where I lived and worked for four years. In 1976 i was conscripted by the Italian Army and sent to the Far North for twelve months. I later travelled to London where I met a New Zealander and in 1983 I moved to Christchurch, New Zealand where I lived ever since.

Italian writer tutors a motivated Afghan student in Christchurch By Sarah Johnston

From epic to short story
Writing the draft of his first novel was the trigger that set Christchurch author Beniamino Petrosino on the road to becoming an ESOL home tutor.

The Italian-born former chef had lived in New Zealand since 1983 and believed he had a good grasp of the language. "I thought my English was pretty good. It wasn't until I showed my friends and family the first draft of my novel they told me, "This is no good. You're going to have to improve your English first."

The news came as an unpleasant surprise. Beniamino had lived in New Zealand for 20 years and had run several businesses, but he had never realised when he was making mistakes in grammar and syntax. He puts this down to the "Anglo-Saxon politeness" of New Zealanders. "No-one ever corrected me when I spoke," he says, "and even my closest friends were too polite to say when I was making mistakes."

Beniamino struggled on and last year he completed his novel, which is partly based on his Southern Italian childhood. He says his written English improved a lot through the writing and, when he heard about Christchurch's ESOL Home Tutor Scheme, he decided to become a tutor.

"I was determined to try and stop the same thing happening again. I wanted to give someone like myself an opportunity to learn English much earlier than I did, so that they don't have to go through almost 20 years of grasping at the language when they can actually achieve it much quicker."

However, he admits his reasons for becoming a home tutor were not entirely altruistic. "I had two motives. I thought, I can help myself while I'm helping someone else, and improve my own English too."

Last August, Beniamino was matched with learner Khanzadah Sharifi, an Afghan refugee who is strongly motivated to learn English so he can help his wife and eight children adjust to life in Christchurch when they eventually arrive from Afghanistan.

The two men meet regularly, often more than once a week. Beniamino is working through the Correspondence School's ESOL course with Khanzadah.

"We are both learning at the same time. Our relationship is not "teacher-pupil". We are both learners and it means our lessons are very relaxed. If we come across something I don't understand, I ask a native English speaker to explain it to us."

"Khanzadah is learning correct English from the Correspondence School courses and I am backing him up, and it's working beautifully. When we met, he had very little English at all, but now Khanzadah is much more relaxed and confident."

Beniamino has been able help Khanzadah by drawing on his own experiences as an immigrant. Beniamino followed his Kiwi girlfriend to New Zealand and, as a trained Italian chef, soon found work in an Italian restaurant. "Athough I was able to speak English at work, my partner spoke fluent Italian, and we mixed a lot with the Italian community, so I still didn't have to speak a lot of English."

Beniamino says the same situation develops among the local refugee communities, and he encourages his learner to mix with Kiwis and practise English as much as possible. To this end, Khanzadah recently moved out of the house he was sharing with other Afghan men and into his own flat.

"I told him, when you go to the supermarket, make sure you go by yourself," Beniamino says. "Go to the dairy, get on a bus, go to the library, and when you don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask someone. As long as you speak up, New Zealanders are very friendly and very helpful."

Beniamino has advised Khanzadah to regard learning English as a job. "I've told him that during the week he should really work at it and speak it as much as possible, and on the weekend, go and see his Afghan friends, talk Farsi and relax!"

Using the scheme's language tapes
Both Beniamino and Khanzadah are full of praise for the support they receive from the Christchurch scheme co-ordinators. "I couldn't do without the help of Lyn" (coordinator Lyn Mattson), says Beniamino. "I don't want Khanzadah learning my Italian accent, so I use tapes a lot in our lessons, and Lyn is very helpful there."

Khanzadah says the day Lyn matched him with Beniamino was a very happy day for him. "We are brothers," he says. The book that brought the two together - Beniamino's novel "The Passage of the Frog and the Wild Strawberries of 1942"- has been published to positive reviews in many of the country's major newspapers.

Benjamino Petrosino: The Passage of the Frog and the Wild Strawberries of 1942
Published by Hazard Press
From the NZ Herald review of January 2004: "He portrays a rimitive, superstitious world that traces the effects of ignorance and poverty on the numerous descendants of the murderous Count. His curse is considered responsible for all the family's troubles, although the age-old exploitation and neglect of the south by an indifferent state cops the real blame....a compelling read."

By Sarah Johnston
See publisher's link

Interests: Writing, Reading,Chess

Published writer: Yes

Freelance: Yes


Published works:


  • the passage of the frog and the wild strawberries of 1942