Immigrating: Basic English Literacy

It isn't easy to help someone. Anyone.

Human needs are complicated.

Beyond the universal needs of food, clothing and shelter, the needs of every individual are different.

Some say we need love, but it's probably more accurate to say that while love makes living easier and happier, it's not absolutely necessary. There are many successful psychopaths and sociopaths who are complete strangers to love.

But most of us living in the modern world agree that our chance for a successful life is greatly enhanced by receiving a formal education. Literacy rates are a standard of measurement that has always been used in determining quality of life.

By moving to another country when you cannot speak the language of the marketplace, you become functionally illiterate outside of your own family or community circle, until you become fluent in that language.

Think about that.

Think about how it applies to your whole family. Young children learn English easily. Older children must work harder, but being submersed in the culture by attending public school forces them to learn the language. The same is true of you and your spouse if you are both working. But if you stay home most of the time, or seldom wander outside of your cultural comfort zone, then you are handicapped. If your spouse speaks poor English, or you have brought over parents or other family members who do not speak English, they become less capable of wandering out by themselves than the average schoolchild – and the attendant loss of status and loss of independence can be very hard for people to live with. Life becomes unhappy.

Low literacy equals low quality of life – that is a truth that we all accept without question. So, apply that truth to yourself: If you are functionally illiterate, how can you expect a high quality of life?  And if you weren't hoping to improve your quality of life and that of your family, why would you want to come to Canada in the first place?

So there is the first and most essential rule for new immigrants:  You need to speak the language.

Whether or not you're a fan of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney or the Conservative Party of Canada, you should applaud the changes made in April 2010 to the procedure for assessing language ability for the Federal Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience visa categories.  It will not only bring down the cost of integrating newcomers, it will make life more pleasant for those newcomers who are accepted.

In my years of editing Canadian Newcomer, the story I have probably heard more often than any other was from people who had been led to believe at the time of their application to emigrate to Canada, that their language abilities were very good, when in fact they were not up to the minimum standards of the marketplace.

Lawyer's Weekly recently posted that, "Canada-wide, 15 per cent of adults have serious problems dealing with any written materials and a further 27 per cent struggle with anything beyond simple reading tasks. That's a staggering 42 per cent of the adult population who have literacy issues — and this statistic plays out in potentially tragic ways each day in our courts."

Not only does lack of fluency in English make you less able to defend yourself in court; it makes it difficult to read medication labels or ingredients in food products – which can endanger your health or the health of family members with allergies; and it makes it hard to follow instructions or fill out forms – which can cost you time and money. It hurts you in hundreds of little ways.

The better and faster you speak the language of the marketplace – the sooner you'll be enjoying the quality of life that you came to Canada looking for.