English: ABC of ESL – Mind Your Language
English language ability is very important for any newcomer to Canada. As Dunja Metikos Debeljacki, Director, YMCA Language Assessment and Referral Centre, says, “Language is the single-most important determinant of success in a newcomer’s life in Canada.” Both the federal and the provincial governments offer programs to newcomers to test and improve their language skills.
Here’s a list of programs available to a newcomer to enhance English language skills.
Language Instructions for Newcomers to Canada is a federally funded program that began in 1992 and is operating across Canada. Landed immigrants and permanent residents are eligible for free assessment and training under LINC.
It is a two-stage program. In the first stage, the newcomer’s language skills are assessed by the federally appointed agency (for instance in Toronto, the YMCA is the assessing agency). At this stage, the newcomer’s listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities are assessed on the 12-point Canadian Language Benchmark Assessment scale (although there are 12 benchmarks, the YMCA assessment only goes up to 10.)
In the second stage, the assessor presents location options (if the client – the newcomer – does not indicate a predetermined school) based on the benchmarks, need for other services such as childminding, class time and specialized language training need. The assessor also enrols the newcomer on the spot as long as the program is one of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funded programs, and in some cases they might enroll you in programs co-funded by CIC and Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI).
LINC also attempts to impart the newcomer with cultural training as well as English language training. In the last few years, the LINC program has expanded its scope by introducing training programs that are specific to the needs of the newcomers such as employment specific language skills and bridge programs. “We now have programs for newcomers who have more refined language needs,” YMCA’s Metikos says.
Shabana Jatoi, a recent immigrant from South Asia, enrolled into a LINC program and progressed from level 2 to level 5. She received her training at a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) centre. Jatoi got a job after she completed level 5. She emphasises, “More importantly, I was able to understand the Canadian society much better.”
Provincial governments fund English as Second Language (ESL) programs across Canada. The ESL option is open even to those newcomers who are not landed immigrants or permanent residents. The institutions that offer ESL programs often charge a nominal (very small) fee.
Many settlement agencies as well as educational institutions, community colleges and school boards offer ESL programs. ESL programs assesses the applicant’s level of familiarity with all the four aspects of learning a language – listening, speaking, reading and writing. Although the assessments are broadly based on the Canadian Language Benchmark Assessment, they may vary in implementation at different institutes.
ESL programs are often customised and offer a variety of need-based training such as language instruction, orientation to the community services, academic preparation for further education, conversational English, citizenship preparation, language proficiency test preparation.
ESL programs also cater to specific needs such as English for Business Skills/Computers, English for Academic Purposes, English for Special Needs Programs and English for Testing.
Mary Moore, Program Leader, Student Services, Yorkdale Adult Education Centre and Secondary School (TDSB) is a veteran at helping newcomers enhance their language skills and then helping them get higher education in their field of expertise. Explaining the ESL programs, Moore says, “The ESL program is the first step for a newcomer to go back to school. From there, they can steadily improve their academic standing in Canada. I am full of admiration for any adult who comes back to school because learning or enhancing language skills helps build one’s own personality and also helps integrate better into the society.”
Laura Parraga works as an intern with Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration’s communication department. Although her first language is Spanish, she is an advanced user of English today.
However, when she immigrated to Canada four years ago, she wasn’t proficient in English. She joined an ESL program at Seneca College and got fast-track training.
“Though it was expensive compared to other ESL programs, I got what I wanted,” Parraga explains.
Launched in April 2003, the Enhanced Language Training (ELT) is a federally funded initiative that provides higher levels of language training (Canadian Language Benchmarks 7-10). ELT aims at providing job-specific language training, bridge-to-work assistance, including mentoring, work placement and other assistance to internationally trained professionals in getting and retaining a job in Canada.
Please notice that some ELT programs are available for newcomers assessed at a lower level. For example entrance benchmarks can be a 3 for ELT for bricklayers.
ELT helps newcomers and refugees reach their potential and quickly adapt to their new environment by enabling them to participate fully and effectively in Canada's social, economic, cultural and political life.
Most of the time, ELT programs are delivered at the local level by organisations that offer LINC and ESL programs. Some organizations do not offer either LINC nor ESL but most do.
Maheshwari (Maggie) Sivappa, a veteran teacher who immigrated to Canada recently, completed an ELT program – the College Teachers Training Program from George Brown earlier this year. Now she is planning to do the Teaching English as Second Language (TESL) course because it will open up a new avenue for her.
Sivappa says, “Language skills should form the basis for any newcomer trying to integrate into the Canadian society.”
Occupation-specific language training (OSLT) provides job-specific language training to help newcomers get and retain employment in their field. It is meant for newcomers who are either looking for work or are looking for rising up their career.
This program is only offered through selected Ontario colleges (see article “New Language Training for Employment in Ontario”)
English linked skills program is for newcomers who wish to acquire more knowledge or expertise in their chosen field of expertise such as typing or computers.
English literacy development (ELD) program is for those who are unable to read and write their own language. This coaching aims at improving reading, writing and basic math skills of the participants in English.
English for special needs program is ESL for students with emotional or mental health challenges.
English for special purposes program focuses on language skills related to specific areas of interest – workplace, school, ESL for academic reading and writing.
English as a Second Language home-study program is for newcomers who for whatever reason are unable to attend ESL classes and they have someone to act as a volunteer tutor. These courses rely on teaching aids such as audio cassettes or CDs, student workbooks, and include one-to-one telephone lessons with a teacher at Independent Learning Centre.
As is evident, a newcomer can chose from an array of programs. The best course of action in determining which program to choose is to seek guidance from the local settlement counsellor.