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Newcomers receive English instruction in new country

Newcomers to Outlook build community through English classes.


OUTLOOK - It’s all smiles and friendly greetings as adults from countries around the world begin filtering into the education wing of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Outlook for an evening ESL class. These newcomers to Canada bring fluency in Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Russian, Cantonese, Dari and more, and are now attending class to improve their skills in English.

Coordinating this international gathering is Krystal LeBlanc, the facilitator of English as a Subsequent Language, a program offered through Great Plains College. Krystal has a degree in International Studies and additional courses specific to ESL so when the opportunity arose to be involved with teaching the program, she pursued it. “It really related to my interests,” she explained. “I love learning about other cultures and I like being involved in helping people around the world in different ways.”

This year she is teaching a class of 20 students with widely varying degrees of English fluency. Once registered, arrangements are made for language assessments so Krystal knows what level they are at. She focuses on learning a bit about each student. “It’s a needs-based program,” she said. “At the beginning of the year we get to know each other, we write autobiographies and we set our English language goals.”

Since there’s no set curriculum, she puts lesson plans together that reflect students’ interests. As a group they decided they wanted to study health, so Krystal used that as the starting point and then developed the module so all could learn. “To help reach all levels, I do everything from basic English in the stage 1 class that has four beginner levels, to the stage 2 class with four intermediate levels,” she shared. “I try and reach all levels.”

LeBlanc joined by team of volunteers

A team of very capable volunteers that includes John McPhail, Conny Behenna, Judy Genereux and Bea Adelman assist with the teaching. “They all have their education degrees,” Krystal said, “and two are retired English teachers so we are very fortunate to have such an experienced group.”

Students get six hours of instruction per week over two evenings, at no cost to them since it is funded by the government. Those whose schedules allow can also attend a conversation class offered two mornings each week. John McPhail, Margo Linsley and Darlene Hovdestad facilitate the class that focuses on conversation. John remarked, “Knowing English fluency is critical for success of newcomers to Canada, our goal is to complement the evening class by offering additional opportunities to learn and practice all four strands of English; listening, speaking, reading and writing.” He said they have fun in the class and students are eager to learn. “It is both a privilege and a pleasure to work with such highly motivated and positive newcomers. We enjoy every class as we see evidence of improved English skills.”

Halfway through each evening class the group takes a coffee break, provided by a group of volunteers from the church, and once again the room is filled not only with conversation, but the building blocks of friendship, an important component for many students.

Olexsandr arrived from Ukraine in 2019. He began preparing documents seven years earlier on the encouragement of friends. “Some of my friends lived here and recommended this country and said it was a beautiful country for living,” he explained. Joining the English class has served multiple purposes. “I want to improve my English, because my English is pretty poor. I also want to meet more friends and find out something new about living in Canada.” He says he likes learning about the government, rules and laws in the country he is happy to call home. “I want to stay in Canada. I like it here. There are clever people, polite people. It is a beautiful country to live in.”

The ESL class provides an important step on the pathway to citizenship since those who complete a year of instruction are eligible to receive their Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) certificate, which is necessary for citizenship.

More than just language

But the goals of the program go beyond language. “We are required to have community connections each month as part of our program,” Krystal explained. “It is a way to help newcomers get integrated into the culture, so I like to get lots of people from our community involved in our classes.”

It also means taking the class out to participate in events such as attending an Equinox Theatre production, and recently an evening of curling with expert Kirk Pederson. Habibullah, a recent arrival from Afghanistan said with a big smile, “I had not done this before, but I try it, and it was fun.”

These new opportunities also mean a lot to Yana, a Ukrainian woman who is delighted that she and her daughter are reunited with her husband who arrived in 2016.  She appreciates the class not only for the instruction it provides, but for the people it has brought into her life. “I have a lot of fun and I met many people. I have met different nationalities. You hear a lot of stories about a lot of different countries, not just Ukraine. I need to improve my English, but for me it’s more than just learning English.”

For Krystal, that is where the joy comes in facilitating the class. “My favorite part is meeting people, hearing their stories and really getting to know them,” she said. “It’s always a really positive atmosphere. They come with good attitudes. They want to learn and are here by choice.”She sees this class as an important facet of helping newcomers begin to establish themselves in their new home. “Most of them are coming to make their lives here and so I want them to see what living in a small town in Saskatchewan is like,” she remarked, “all the good things and fun things we can do. The more I can connect them to the community the more they can become part of our community.”


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