English Spoken Here

By Teenaz Javat

Jyoti Kulraj Dhindsa hails from Patiala, the wheat bowl of India’s Punjab. She is married to Kulraj Dhindsa a Canadian citizen. Jyoti arrived in Canada in 1998 as a young bride speaking only Punjabi.

Hailing from an agrarian society she was barely out of high school, when she was married off to Kulraj. They settled in Mississauga, Ontario and 12 years later are parents to two girls and a boy. Her girls are now attending a public school in Mississauga.

For Jyoti it is a challenge to make sure her girls have done their homework. She also wants to volunteer in their school as a lunch room supervisor, where although she does not need to speak much, she still needs basic English language skills to qualify.

Being proactive and not one to waste any time she now attends English as a Second Language (ESL) classes being offered to her at a local settlement agency. “(Although) I speak little English, I want to learn with my girls. I cannot sit at home looking like (a) fool,” she admits with a shy smile.

“It is precisely for people like Jyoti that we have developed classes that teach English keeping our client’s needs in mind,” says Jaloo Cooper, retired Teacher for English as a Second Language (TESL) and a veteran ESL instructor. “When I started teaching ESL several decades ago in Toronto, it was a one-size-fits-all approach, but now look at what we have to offer,” says Cooper, “There is something for everybody.”

Learning one of Canada’s official languages is often a major challenge for newcomers. Many settlement service providers and educational institutions have partnered with the Government of Canada to offer free language training to permanent residents, newcomers, refugees and Minister’s Permit Holders.

These language classes are open to anyone over the age of 18 years. “You do not need a reason to learn English,” adds Cooper. “Whether you are looking for work, attending school, volunteering or simply interacting with others around you, being fluent in either English or French is a necessity to maintain a decent quality of life here in Canada.”

To get into one of these classes, first you need your language skills assessed. Some settlement agencies provide this service, or can indicate you where to go. After the assessment the institution will direct you to a program that specifically matches your requirements. They will:

  • Help assess your current English language skills
  • Help select the best training program for you
  • Refer you to full-time or part-time education
  • Help you find a school with childcare while you learn
  • Refer you to additional community resources in your area

There are several programs that are structured to meet the needs of anyone who wishes to learn English. A few of them are listed below:

LINC - Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada
ESL - English as a Second Language
SLT - Specialized Language Training
ELT - Enhanced Language Training
LBS - Literacy and Basic Skills

Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada is a settlement program, funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). It began in 1992 and provides basic language instruction in French or English to eligible adult newcomers, immigrants or refugees. It also provides an element of cultural training to enable successful social, cultural and economic integration into society.

English as a Second Language imparts training in English as a Second Language to anyone who needs it. You do not have to be a newcomer or landed immigrant to participate in the program. The provincial governments fund the ESL programs across Canada. There is a small fee/charge to attend. Most of these classes are free, but in some cases, some organizations charge a little fee). Some classes focus on specific skills such as conversation, writing and pronunciation skills, while others are designed for newcomers who are planning to attend colleges and universities. According to Frida Bhesania who teaches ESL in York Region, “ESL classes are a stepping stone for many newcomers to Canada. This basic language skill helps them transition back to work or back to school.”

Bhesania has over the years seen the course content evolve, “We offer customized training whether it is conversational English, preparation for the Canadian citizenship test or Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) Assessment. There is something for everybody once they approach us.”

Specialized Language Training is offered to those who are seeking career-specific language training. For example if you want to start a home day-care or child-minding service this program will help you with the communications skills you need at work or to get further education. It will help with vocabulary skills and impart techniques that will help you write better for work or college. It will enhance your reading skills thereby helping you better understand workplace or academic documents.

Enhanced Language Training is a federally funded program providing Training to those who already have a CLB level of 7 and over. “If your basic English skills are good but not good enough to apply to a college course or a work placement then ELT will help you bridge the gap,” says Fayyaz Walana recruitment officer at Sheridan College’s Skills Training Centre. “When an internationally trained client, let’s say an accountant, approaches me for a job, but he does not have the required language skills, I will always direct him to the ELT program. He may be great with number crunching but without the basic language skills he will have a huge problem getting a job, so it is here that ELT will help,” adds Walana.

Many provinces and municipalities have programs of their own like Toronto's Literacy and Basic Skills - a non-credit provincially funded program offered by the TCDSB which helps learners improve their reading, writing, computer and math skills. It is offered to Canadian citizens or landed immigrants over 19 years of age who have no post-secondary education, or whose skills are below Grade 9 level - and are looking to upgrade their education. LBS will enable them to complete their high school credits and move onto college or university. Clients must have a CLB of 5 and over to qualify for this program as they need that level of proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing in English.

cnm